Blog Entry

4 Successful Social Media Campaigns: How to make a social media campaign go viral

4 Successful Social Media Campaigns: How to make a social media campaign go viral


In a previous blog post we looked at Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, which offers insight on how to make a social media campaign go viral. Through his research he revealed that there are six characteristics that successful social media campaigns often share. He defined these as social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories (or S.T.E.P.P.S. for short). In this post we will explore 4 highly effective social media campaigns and determine which of Berger’s concepts the campaigns employed.


Social Media Campaign Examples 


Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge was a paragon of viral success because it incorporated a high number of Berger’s concepts and was beautiful in its simplicity, demonstrating that the best viral ideas don’t always have to come from a high-powered marketing or PR agency. Let’s take a look at the Contagious concepts that the Ice Bucket Challenge had going for it. Social currency refers to the idea that people share things that make them look good. People shared the Ice Bucket Challenge video because it was an easy way to show others that they cared about a good cause: raising money to find a cure for ALS. Triggers means that ideas that are “top of mind” spread. The Ice Bucket Challenge employed triggers by making it a campaign shared on Facebook. Every time a Facebook user logged into their Facebook account they were greeted with videos of their friends showering themselves with ice water, thus keeping the campaign “top of mind.” It also gained popularity at the height of summer. When people are hot, they think about cooling off which triggers a memory of seeing their friends drenched in cold water. Emotion was also at play. Berger states: “Emotion is one factor that drives sharing. We see lots of funny stuff go viral on YouTube, but we also see angry political rants get shared. Any emotion that fires us up–humor, awe and excitement, but also anger and anxiety–drives us to share.” It’s humorous and amusing to see your friends get drenched with extremely cold water so these emotions drove sharing the Ice Bucket Challenge. Public refers to the idea that if it’s built to show, it’s built to grow. Built in to the Ice Bucket Challenge was the concept of passing the challenge on to three friends, another reason the challenge spread so quickly. Stories was also a strong component of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Pete Frates, a 29-year-old Massachusetts resident diagnosed with ALS, started posting about it on social media with his father’s help. It really gained traction, however, when friends and family of the former Boston College baseball player used it to raise awareness about his plight. Frates was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease, which has no cure, in 2012. He is now paralyzed, eats through a feeding tube and cannot talk. This story of a former athlete struck down by disease brought awareness to the issue of ALS and helped in the initial growth of the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign.

HRC Viral Logo Campaign

HRC social media campaign example

The Human Rights Campaign’s red logo, which was shared across the internet in 2013, is a perfect example of Berger’s concept of Public or “built to show, built to grow.” In the weeks before two landmark marriage equality cases reached the United States Supreme Court, the Human Rights Campaign launched a marketing campaign to raise awareness. The campaign, initiated on March 25, spread virally throughout the week, filling users’ Facebook news feeds with a sea of red and pink. In Likeable Social Media (2011) by Dave Kerpen, he states, “The average person on Facebook has 130 friends. So even if you just have 100 people who like your page to begin with, an ad seen only by friends of connections has a target audience of roughly 13,000 people. If you have 1,000 fans that’s an average target audience of 130,000 people.” The act of changing a profile photo on Facebook is a simple action that anyone can do and allowed this campaign to spread quickly, reach many people, and accomplish HRC’s goal of raising awareness in a timely manner. 


Solar Freakin’ Roadways

Solar Roadways was having a difficult time raising money after its initial research funding dried up. That’s when director, writer, and animator Michael Naphan stepped in. “Solar Roadways is a pretty thrilling idea and I thought it deserved a chance to reach a larger audience,” says Naphan. “I got in touch with their team and offered my animation services. I had no idea that they had an Indiegogo campaign soon launching. I agreed to do an animation of a moose crossing the road initially. After the campaign had begun, they asked me how it was going and were hoping that it would go viral. I knew that it wouldn’t. But I told them I thought I could make a viral video that could do more for their campaign. I basically said what their initial Indiegogo campaign video said, but I said it louder with more humor and excitement.” Louder. With more humor and excitement. Can you guess which Berger concept the video is using? That’s right, the Solar Freakin’ Roadways video employs the element of high arousal emotion to spur its viewers to share it amongst their networks. “SOLAR FREAKIN’ ROADWAYS” is exuberantly hollered many times throughout the video building excitement in its viewers and increasing their urge to share. Solar Roadways also had a story. The couple behind the startup, Scott and Julie Brusaw, speak about themselves in the video. The Brusaws tell the viewers that they are engineers who met when they were kids. They express their belief that their solar invention could be the solution to the world’s energy needs. Their story was compelling on its own but when the Brusaws told it in this new high arousal way, it stimulated emotions in viewers, leading to many social shares. 


L.L. Bean’s Facebook page

LL Bean successful social media campaign

L.L. Bean’s Facebook page is an excellent example of a brand that knows how to leverage practical value. L.L. Bean uses their Facebook page to post updates with engaging photos, videos, and tips for people who enjoy the outdoors. They also include tabs dedicated to their free shipping policy, a “Base Camp” where customers can post photos using specific hashtags, and a “Join the Conversation” tab where you can get on their mailing list or follow their other social media accounts. These offerings add an element of practical value to their social media, increasing engagement, brand advocacy, and social sharing.