Ever notice how most social media campaigns are so… pedestrian… middle of the road… safe? Maybe that’s why we expect so little from them in return. I suspect the issue begins with what we call this channel. I’ve always found the term ‘social’ to be rather lukewarm. It’s like ‘nice’ or ‘cute’. Social implies a lack of ambition. It is damning through faint praise. This must be the only channel where marketers get to be evaluated on ‘engagement’ and ‘conversation’. 3,000 people liked your brand because you gave something away? Brilliant. Did they like you or the fact that you were giving away free stuff? By the way, when was being liked good enough? What about being loved? How about a little passion, a little excitement?
Arguably the best use of the channel that I’ve seen is now a little dated but it remains a masterpiece. This campaign was detailed in a Mashable article, but in a nutshell, in May of 2011, over a year before the release date of the new Batman film, visitors to the official website of the movie The Dark Knight Rises were confronted by a black screen and chanting on a continuous audio loop. One particularly tenacious fanboy discovered that putting this loop through an audio program produced a spectrum that spelled #thefirerises. This in turn led to the Twitter account @TheFireRises, which led to a site featuring an image of the villain of the movie, Bane. But wait! There’s more — this image was not a simple photo or movie still. It was a composite created by images of users that chose to share the website through Facebook or Twitter.
For this campaign to succeed, it was necessary for an individual to be motivated and capable enough to crack a complex code. And then share a website. For no material gain. And yet it happened in such a way that the campaign went viral. The key lessons here are:
- Really understand your audience: It’s not enough to understand your audience in a superficial way — spend the time, energy and resources to truly understand what makes these people tick. Invest in quality research that is specific to your brand and your target audience. The better the quality of the research, the more nuanced and effective your campaign.
- Start with a big idea: No one ever sets out to be average. And yet that is typically what advertisers achieve through the channel due to the extreme risk aversion that hobbles so many brands. Be bold and think big. Most of all, design a campaign that appeals to your audience at a visceral level.
- Trust your audience: Brands often treat their audience like sheep and rely on them simply to spread the (approved) word to their networks. Challenge your audience. Give them something to do that will appeal to them (based on the research conducted in step 1) and they will reward you. But only if you excite them.
- Integrate your campaign across channels: The beauty of the campaign outlined above is that it took place across multiple channels. People don’t spend their digital lives exclusively on Facebook. Brands are starting to understand this. Case in point: almost all the major (TV) Superbowl ads included a hashtag for people to follow them on Twitter.
- Plan early: This campaign ran more than a year before the scheduled movie release. Taking the time before a campaign launches allows for the type of careful planning and preparation that is necessary for a spectacular success.
Social media can make us lazy when it comes to expectations. Focus on generating excitement, heat and passion. Leave the conversations to the competition.
Nasser Sahlool, VP Client Strategy