Ever wondered if you are making the most out of your social media marketing? Want to know how to maximize the potential of some of the most powerful online networks? What better way to learn than explore how some of the world’s leading brands are using, and succeeding, from using social media in their marketing.

Here I discuss some excellent uses of social media by top brands and the implications for your own business.

Provide networking platforms

Example: Dove launched a campaign for real beauty to bring together those who share a desire to enhance women’s self-esteem by helping to establish realistic standards of beauty.

Implication: As consumers like to network with those sharing similar interests to their own, creating communities of like-minded individuals can be very powerful.

But don’t ignore traditional channels. In fact, you can utilize both online and offline channels

Example: In addition to its online channels, Harley-Davidson sponsors rallies for motorcycle enthusiasts who are members of the Harley Owners Group.

Implication: Use both online and offline channels to engage customers.

Encourage customer feedback through blogs and social media

Example: Toyota enables its customers to provide feedback (including criticism and suggestions) via its “Open Road Blog”. The feedback contributed to a sense of community and customer engagement increased.

Example: Ideastorm by Dell is a site where people can send their ideas and people vote on them. It’s a useful way for Dell to find out what their customers like, and essentially provides a form of free market research.

Implication: Consumers feel more engaged with brands when they are able to submit feedback. You should utilize user-generated content as an opportunity to listen to consumers, and find out what meanings they attribute to your brand.

Stimulate positive word of mouth

1. By designing products with talking points and consumers’ desired self-images in mind to promote online/offline dialogue.

Example: Apple’s innovative and stylishly-designed products stimulate positive word-of-mouth.

2. By supporting causes that are important to consumers.

Example: Ben & Jerry’s launched a social campaign highlighting the importance of World Fair Trade Day, called “Fair Tweets”, in line with the brand’s history of supporting social causes.

BUT CAUTION: Social media can have negative repercussions if your brand is perceived in a negative light.

Example: McDonalds used the hashtag #McDStories to encourage people to share fun stories about their Happy Meals. However, unsatisfied customers used it as an opportunity to share their negative experiences.

Implication: Be sure to establish positive PR around your brand before diving into social media.

People trust people...it's called word-of-mouth

Be outrageous

Example: Burger King played a joke on its customers by telling them the Whopper was no longer being sold. Reactions were video-recorded. Viewers could visit WhopperFreakout.com to view videos of customers’ reactions.

Implication: Get people talking by doing something out of the ordinary. After all, people are more likely to mention or forward something that is different, even if it is a little crazy.

Provide exclusivity

Example: Roadrunner Records enables online users to subscribe to weekly e-newsletters and pre-order new albums. It provides daily news pertaining to the heavy metal music community and an updated list of heavy metal tours. Participants are also allowed to hear new songs before they are released to the general public and can watch music videos of various artists.

Implication: Make your customers feel special by offering products, information, and special deals that are available exclusively to a subset of consumers.

In conclusion, you can learn a lot from observing other brands. Taking note of successful and unsuccessful social media campaigns provides useful insights for developing your own campaigns. It can be a great source of inspiration and teach you important lessons about what to do, and what to avoid.

But don’t let their successes and failures constrain your own ideas. Be inspired by their successes. Learn from their failures. And continue to innovate and improve.

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