11 most memorable social media marketing successes of 2015

Marketers took to social media in droves in 2015 to reach the coveted millennial generation, but the wave of interest made it harder to stand out from the pack. These 11 social media success stories are buzzworthy examples of campaigns that effectively achieved their goals and bolstered brands.

01 social media success title
Thinkstock (Thinkstock)

Social media marketing hits on Instagram, Periscope, Snapchat and Tumblr

Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are still the go-to social media channels for the majority of digital marketers, but in the past year or two, many brands turned to younger social networks to experiment with edgy, funny and, some say, more interesting campaigns. Companies such as GoPro, Nordstrom and Spotify made big impressions on Instagram, while some unlikely names — Hillary Clinton and Taco Bell, for example — gained followers on popular "disappearing video" service Snapchat.

We asked social media experts to weigh in on their favorite social marketing posts or campaigns from the past year. The following examples — including a skateboarding feline— show what's possible when brands use Instagram, Vine, Periscope, or Snapchat to creatively engage their audiences.

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GoPro's skateboarding cat on Instagram

Adventure camera maker GoPro had a marketing hit earlier this year with its Instagram video of a skateboarding cat from Australia.

"Content that captures cute animals engaged in human activity is a surefire way to generate social buzz," says Lux Narayan, CEO of social media intelligence platform Unmetric. "In this case, the authentic nature of a consumer-generated video, coupled with the Web's obsession with cats aloofly doing funny things, was the perfect recipe for a viral video." The video earned the highest engagement score on Unmetric's platform of all GoPro's 2015 Instagram posts (as of Sept. 23), according to Narayan. The sidewalk surfing cat also received more than 250,000 "likes" on Instagram.

03 expedia instagram

Expedia's South American Getaway contest on Instagram

Travel site Expedia ran an Instagram campaign that offered a chance to win a trip to South America, and it also earned a high engagement score (999) on Unmetric's platform, according to Narayan. "Pictures of exotic travel destinations do well because they stir up our innate sense of adventure and excitement of exploring new places," Narayan says. "Contests generally drive high engagement on social, and here, layering on a chance to win a trip by commenting, contributed to this post's success." An associated photo of Rio de Janeiro at night, for example, had 499 likes and 463 comments on Instagram as of late September.

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TOMS #withoutshoes hashtag on Instagram

Ecommerce vendor TOMS Shoes launched in 2006 with the goal of donating one pair of shoes to needy children for every pair sold. In May 2015, TOMS took its philanthropic efforts to Instagram. Whenever someone posted an Instagram photo of their bare feet using the hashtag #withoutshoes, TOMS donated a pair of shoes.

The campaign "really demonstrated the company's commitment to its cause," says Lily Croll, senior social strategist, Wire Stone. TOMS also "cleverly piggybacked on a common Instagram trend, where users post photos of themselves looking down … at their bare feet." The campaign, which resulted in the donation of 296,243 pairs of shoes, shows the importance of "putting your money where your mouth is" and "not overthinking" your social media efforts, according to Croll.

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Taco Bell's Snapchat stories

Taco Bell courts millennials via a social media channel that's particularly popular with the age group: Snapchat. "Millennials love Taco Bell, so it would only make sense to appeal to this

specific demographic on a platform they're using the most," says Elizabeth Ninivaggi, social media manager, Main Path Marketing.

Taco Bell creatively launched new menu items and contests by uploading "snaps" to its Snapchat story feed, which has over 200,000 followers. Taco Bell uses Snapchat for everything from "short-form video stories from the MTV Movie Awards red carpet" to "fun quizzes like 'What Taco Bell Menu Item Are You?,'" according to Digiday. The company also earned kudos for its "playful, funny and interactive" Valentine's Day campaign.

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Lowe's 'Fix in Six' Vine video series

Lowe's six-second DIY Vine videos, aptly named "Fix in Six" (#lowesfixinsix), have been a hit since shortly after the Twitter-owned Vine video platform launched in January 2013. (Several social media experts cited the campaign as a favorite.) Thanks to the continuing series, Lowe's has 33,000 Vine followers and more than 44 million "loops," or views.

"Lowes does a great job capturing the spirit of Vine in its videos," says Jenn Deering Davis, cofounder and editor in chief, Union Metrics. "They're cute, concise and just the right amount of fun."

"While Vine appeals to a younger demographic, Lowe's was able to position its brand to lure a younger audience they may not have reached before," thanks to its innovative videos, according to Main Path Marketing's Ninivaggi.

07 nordstrom instagram

Nordstrom announces annual sale on Instagram

"Our biggest sale of the year deserves a really big @instagram post!," wrote upscale retailer Nordstrom last summer. The company created a 13,398-square-foot art installation on the roof of its Seattle flagship store, which included a 25-foot-long dress, according to AdWeek. And the related video post indeed turned out to be "big," with more than 16,000 likes.

"Nordstrom hit all the right marks" with the 15-second Instagram video, according to Selina Petosa, chief creative strategist, Rational Interaction. The video "starts off as cool" but turns "pretty mind-blowing at the end, when you realize that Nordstrom converted the top of its building to announce the annual sale, demonstrating the size and scope of the sale and building buzz among shoppers." In other words, she says, Nordstrom wasn't afraid to go big, and the effort paid off.

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L'Oreal Paris's Golden Globe GIFs on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter

For the 2015 Golden Globes, beauty brand L'Oreal Paris set up "an elaborate digital hub" in a New York studio, complete with models and "eight style influencers," according to AdWeek. The team shot video clips to recreate makeup looks inspired by celebrities as they walked the red carpet. And the clips were then transformed into animated GIFs that the team shared on its Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter feeds, along with an ecommerce link to "shop the looks."

The GIFs were "beautiful, high-quality moving images, perfect for Tumblr and Instagram's audiences," says Deering Davis of Union Metrics. L'Oreal's efforts were an example of brands that "aren't afraid to experiment" on newer social channels, offering fresh content "unlike anything the audience has seen before."

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Spotify #foundthemfirst hashtag on Instagram, other social sites

Spotify recently launched an online tool that scans its users' music histories and informs them if they were early listeners of artists who later became mainstream. The company took to Instagram to promote the new tool, using the hashtag #foundthemfirst.

The campaign was successful because Spotify "didn't overthink it," according to Trisha Antonsen, editor in chief of on-demand alcohol delivery service Drizly. "Spotify is about connecting fans to the music and giving consumers a behind-the-scenes look into that world," Antonsen says. "They leveraged the platform perfectly and I'm excited to see how they continue to evolve their strategy." Spotify's campaign also highlights the company's timely decision (and ability) to put its user data to use for marketing.

10 hp vine

HP's #bendtherules campaign on Vine

Hewlett-Packard (HP) isn't generally known for its social media prowess, but the company's #bendtherules Vine videos, designed to showcase the HP Pavilion x360 convertible laptop, was among the best social media campaigns of the year, according to Nathan Engels, senior engagement strategist at Northlich. "HP was smart," he says. "Instead of just buying social ads, they worked with paid social influencers on Vine. They let people like Marcus Johns, Robby Ayala and others have the product to raise awareness about it" in a funny campaign that was "absolutely fantastic."

One HP Vine video in particular, featuring Ayala (one of the most-followed "Viners") trying to bend a competitor's laptop with comic results, earned nearly 250,000 likes and more than 7,000 comments.

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Hillary Clinton's Snapchat stories

Critics sometimes call Hillary Clinton chilly, calculating and too controlled, but the Clinton campaign took steps to overcome these negative perceptions using Snapchat this summer, according to Andy White, director of social business strategy, Sprout Social. And it worked, he says. "Hillary's Snapchat stories succeed brilliantly because they humanize her character and her brand better than 100 stump speeches ever could," White says.

Given the Democratic presidential contender's history, Clinton unsurprisingly stirred up controversy on Snapchat when she joked about how snaps, unlike email, disappear on their own.

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Burberry's live-stream fashion shows on Snapchat, Periscope

In June 2015, Burberry used Periscope to live stream a menswear fashion show and Snapchat to provide ephemeral photo updates. The efforts received the best digital engagement the iconic British fashion brand had ever experienced. A month later, Burberry live streamed video and photos of its Los Angeles fashion show over Snapchat and Periscope, and created "record customer engagement" of over 100 million impressions, the company said.

Burberry "hit the sweet spot" between finding fans at their most engaged (at live events) and marrying engagement with the "live exclusivity of streaming apps," according to Samara Anderson, retail strategist, redpepper.