Written by Okechukwu Umelo

In the age of hashtags and viral videos, can social media be a powerful tool for social marketing? As a digital communications specialist I’m keen on finding examples and best practices.

First thing’s first though – it’s worthwhile to clarify the distinctions between social marketing and social media marketing, as these two approaches are not the same.

Social marketing, as defined by iSMA, “seeks to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviours that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good.” Social media marketing on the other hand utilizes social networking websites specifically as a marketing tool, to build brands, market products and services and broaden stakeholder reach. But it is worth noting that the two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Different combinations of these approaches can be used in an organization’s marketing strategy.

Here, I’m concerned with social media as a tool supporting social marketing. With that said, I’d like to share three examples that I believe exemplify this link in very creative ways.

The 2014 #LikeAGirl campaign, run by the feminine hygiene company Always, used a powerful video and social media to show that this phrase – which had become an insult – could be empowering. Using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, people were encouraged to comment on and share the video, as well as the #LikeAGirl hashtag, together with examples of how the phrase can mean amazing things. A range of social media influencers – including celebrities and government leaders – participated. By the official end of the campaign, the #LikeAGirl video was viewed more than 90 million times, becoming the number two viral video globally. And there were 177,000 #LikeAGirl tweets in the first three months of the campaign. #LikeAGirl generated significant global awareness and changed the way people think about the phrase. Positive perceptions of the phrase increased from 19 to 76 percent among the youth surveyed. What’s more, two out of three men who participated in the campaign said they’d now think twice before using ‘like a girl’ as an insult. Read the full case study

In 2013, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) catalyzed a movement supporting marriage equality, helping overturn Proposition 8 in California and the Defense of Marriage Act. HRC modified its logo by changing its colors to red and pink—colors frequently associated with romance and love. On March 25, 2013, the day before the Supreme Court was scheduled to start deliberations on Proposition 8, HRC posted on Facebook encouraging users to adopt the modified logo as their profile picture. The message was shared over 125,000 times. The logo and variants spread through the network, through millions of everyday users and social media influencers, such as Martha Stewart and Beyoncé. The campaign drove over 700,000 unique visitors to HRC’s website in just 24 hours. They signed and shared HRC’s ‘Majority Opinion’ petition, recruiting more than 67,000 new supporters. Government leaders showed their support through Facebook blog posts and images. With the help of the campaign, it became much more socially acceptable to advocate for same-sex marriage. Read a case study

The World Lung Foundation has run many public health behaviour change campaigns through social media. In 2009, the organization released the ‘Pack Head’ app on Facebook, allowing users to add rotten teeth, throat tumors, bleeding brains and other smoking-related illnesses to their profile pictures, as well as pictures of friends. Users then placed the altered images on generic packs of cigarettes and shared them. The app raised awareness and support for graphic package warnings, which are reported to be more effective at communicating the harms of smoking than standard text alone. Read the press release

So there you have it – three examples showing how social marketing techniques have been successfully integrated with social media. Are these good examples, and are there better or similarly creative ones out there? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.


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