14 Must-See Social Media Marketing Success Stories

How do you break through all the noise on social media sites? Here are 14 creative, timely and, in some cases, crazy, examples of how organizations achieved social media success.

social media marketing

What makes a social media campaign successful in 2014? It's often about seizing the moment on Twitter (Arby's). It can help to use emerging social media networks such as Snapchat in clever ways (Audi). You could drop someone off in Istanbul with no way to get home (Skype) or surprise customers with Christmas gifts (WestJet).

The following slides highlight 14 of the best social media marketing campaigns we've seen since we published our last roundup in August 2013: "12 Buzz-Worthy Social Media Success Stories." None of our expert judges were involved in the campaigns; the judges simply expressed admiration for their creativity and effectiveness. (Note: Don't miss the final slide, which features our Social Media Campaign of the Year.)

Ellen DeGeneres Oscar Selfie
Ellen DeGeneres Oscar Selfie

Ellen DeGeneres's 2014 Oscar selfie made a huge social media splash. Taken with a Samsung Galaxy during the broadcast, it broke the record for the most retweeted photo on Twitter. "It was organic, wasn't overly branded, and Samsung wasn't pushing it out everywhere," says Leslie Skelton, digital strategy manager, Sullivan Branding. "The selfie also was something people wanted to share. The content and platform were good, it was relevant." It may even have influenced Apple, according to Jim Stroud, senior director, RPO recruiting strategies and support, Randstad Sourceright. Stroud points out a recent Apple 'Buzz Marketing Manager' job posting stressing Apple's desire for someone to create exposure of its products among users in "film and television."

Skype Rerouted
Skype Rerouted

In November 2013, Skype dropped travel blogger Mike Corey off in Istanbul with no bags, no plane ticket home and no idea where he was going next. During the 15-day, five-country Skype Rerouted adventure, Corey only had access to Skype and Twitter, which were used to provide clues about his next adventure. The campaign "showed the power of a business stepping out of its usual comfort zone and interacting on a personal level with users," says Erin Walsh, director of PR for Boost Software Inc. "Skype was a dying brand, and this put them back on the map with everyday users and gave them a reputation for being more than a corporate IM tool."

Affordable Care Act: #GetCovered
Credit: YouTube.com
Affordable Care Act: #GetCovered

The Obama administration's Affordable Care Act had a famously bumpy start, but what its #GetCovered campaign achieved was "nothing short of a miracle," says Rachel Everett, CEO of Viderity Inc. The campaign sought to encourage 26-to-35-year-olds, as well as older adults, to sign up for Obamacare. It succeeded in part by "giving real people a voice" on the HHS.gov site and making that content easy to share on social media sites. #GetCovered boosted enrollment among Millennials and incorporated an Obama appearance on the comic Web series Funny or Die, which increased traffic to the healthcare.gov site by 40 percent, according to Everett.

Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger Love Songs
Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger Love Songs

Wendy's released its Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger during the summer of 2013, and it became the brand's most successful product launch ever. Fans tweeted about their love for the new burger, and Wendy's turned the tweets (misspellings and all) into a series of goofy "love song" music videos, including one starring Nick Lachey. The resulting media attention (CNBC's Jim Cramer called the campaign "genius") and the social media reaction (7.5 million Facebook views) was "massive," according to Viderity Inc.'s Everett, and it sent Wendy's stock soaring. "When every major news channel picks up the story and Jim Cramer repeats your hashtag and yells about Wendy's rising stock, you've probably done some things right," Everett says.

Taco Bell Native Ads
Taco Bell Native Ads

"Native ads" are a form of advertising in which the advertiser provides content within the context of the user experience. Taco Bell is particularly adept at native advertising, according to Brad Hines, a ​digital marketing strategist. "Most brands screw this up with obvious stuff that stands out as an ad and just aggravates the social media user," he says. But Taco Bell's recent "Live Más " campaign, aimed at Millennials, is an exception. The fast-food chain's Instagram account, for instance, featured images that were "laid back, unobtrusive, even amateurish in the photography sense, giving Taco Bell an approachable, fun feel and making them almost like a lifestyle brand," Hines says.

Arby's Tweets to Pharrell Williams
Credit: AdWeek
Arby's Tweets to Pharrell Williams

Arby's "scored the tweet of the night" during the 2014 Grammy Awards, according to AdWeek. The company logo that includes a big hat, tweeted to Daft Punk's big-hat-wearing Pharrell Williams during the music awards telecast: "Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs." The tweet generated 81,764 retweets and 48,437 favorites on Twitter. Arby's followed up at the Oscars, when it revealed on Twitter it had purchased Williams's fedora from eBay for $44,000, and the money was donated to Williams's charity. Arby's efforts illustrate "that simple humor and less than 140 characters can lead to great exposure and success for multiple brands, and that timing is of the essence," says Alex Bimonte, director of social media, The Buzz Agency.

Michael Kors Instagram Ad
Michael Kors Instagram Ad

Instagram posted its first ad in November 2013, from fashion house Michael Kors. The ad "was met with a resounding chorus of boos from Instagram users," according to Business Insider. But the ad was actually a success. During the 18 hours after it was shared, the promoted post received 370 percent more "Likes" than the average Michael Kors Instagram post, according to Nitrogram, and Kors gained nearly 34,000 new followers. The post "demonstrated the power and growing popularity of Instagram and the importance of visual promotion to build exposure and, ultimately, sales," says The Buzz Agency's Bimonte. "It further shows that Instagram works well for fashion brands to be influencers and get in front of another audience."

Heineken's 'Crack the U.S. Open'
Heineken's 'Crack the U.S. Open'

Heineken staged an elaborate Instagram campaign tied to its U.S. Open sponsorship. The campaign used Instagram's grid feature to "create a massive picture that serves as a photo scavenger hunt that is orchestrated through mobile and social media," according to Mobile Marketer. "No one had used Instagram this way before," says Viderity's Everett. About 1,500 people participated in the contest, and Heineken's Instagram followers increased by 20 percent, Everett says. "That's not massive impact, but considering the brand audience, the event draw and the channel, it's not bad. They got noticed in a place where it's hard to get attention."

Make-A-Wish Foundation's 'Batkid'
Credit: YouTube.com
Make-A-Wish Foundation's 'Batkid'

A memorable Make-A-Wish Foundation project occurred on Nov. 15, 2013, in San Francisco, thousands of volunteers, city officials and businesses worked to turn San Fran into "Gotham City," so it could be "saved" by five-year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott -- who became "Batkid". The stunt resulted in huge media exposure. There were 406,960 related tweets that day, and more than 21,683 photos were posted on Instagram and Twitter. Make-A-Wish "accomplished something huge," says Chris Martin, social media strategist for FletcherPR, and its Batkid campaign "got people to love them even more." People were inspired by Batkid's courage and wanted to "share in the communal endorphin rush," says Steven Z. Ehrlich, global vice president, client development, TMP Worldwide.

HBO's Girls on Snapchat
HBO's Girls on Snapchat

To help promote the upcoming season of its hit show Girls, HBO posted daily updates on Snapchat using the social network's "Stories" feature to highlight behind-the-scenes video and images. "These 10 second-or-less photos/videos were a great platform to reach out and engage Girls viewers on a personal level," says Kim Kenney, PR and administrative associate, The Buzz Agency. "It was an effective cross promotion of the brand and the social-media platform." Since the campaign ran in January 2014, multiple brands have used Snapchat to engage with their customers/fans. "Sending videos/photos directly to audiences' phones offers the best targeted advertising for free," Kenney says.

Audi Snapchat Super Bowl
Audi Snapchat Super Bowl

With its Snapchat Super Bowl campaign, Audi "showed how an established, well-regarded brand can expand into new social channels and generate excitement, new conversations and positive brand sentiment," according to Matthew Clyde, founder and chief strategist, Ideas Collide Inc. The car maker "took stock images and posted humorous captions, much of which had little or nothing to do with the actual game on Super Bowl Sunday." The Snapchat sessions "accounted for about one-third of all social media activity for Audi surrounding the Super Bowl," according to Audi. The company attracted 10,500 followers to the campaign within 48 hours, which led to 100,000 "Snap views," Audi said.

The Home Depot's Great Giveback
The Home Depot's Great Giveback

BeforeThanksgiving 2013, The Home Depot ran a contest called "The Great Giveback". Fans and followers of the company's Facebook and Twitter careers pages were asked to share what they were thankful for in their work. For each entry, The Home Depot donated $5 to Team Rubicon, a national disaster response team that works with veterans. Along with raising $28,000 for Team Rubicon, the contest increased positive sentiment about The Home Depot as an employer, drove up its Facebook and Twitter engagement rates and boosted job applicant morale prior to the holiday season. "Using social media in this unique way to engage job seekers truly makes The Home Depot a standout employer," notes Shannon Seery Gude, VP, digital and social strategy, Findly.

#NOH8onTheHill 4 Love
#NOH8onTheHill 4 Love

The NOH8 campaign "is a photographic silent protest" created in response to the passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008, which banned same-sex marriage. On Valentine's Day 2014, the group launched its fourth NOH8 On The Hill photo session via social media, which featured U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives striking various trademark NOH8 poses. The campaign "has spread awareness not only in the United States, but internationally, as well," says Jill Pavlov, social media account executive, The Buzz Agency. "The use of social media coupled with celebrity endorsement greatly helped to catch the attention of people who otherwise might not be interested in the issue."

Social Media Campaign of the Year: WestJet Christmas Miracle
Credit: YouTube.com
Social Media Campaign of the Year: WestJet Christmas Miracle

Airline WestJet asked some travelers what they wanted for Christmas. Then, while the passengers were airborne, WestJet shoppers raced to buy and wrap the requested items, which were delivered to recipients via the destination airport's baggage carousel. The campaign's YouTube video received more than 36 million views, won a Shorty award, and gave WestJet the kind of "good will that money can't buy." (Forbes) The campaign "gets my vote for a truly successful campaign in every way," says Randstad Sourceright's Stroud. "For sheer ambition, it's hard to beat," says Viderity Inc's Everett. "It was an amazing, stunt-based campaign," adds Tania Yuki, founder and CEO of Shareablee.