Social media can be used for a lot of frivolous things – updates on what you've had for lunch, your relationship status or your latest game achievements. But despite social media’s generally lighthearted nature, there are a few brands that were able to recognize how useful it can be in raising awareness for good causes. Every now and then brands and charitable organizations execute a social campaign that tugs at our heartstrings and restores our faith in humanity. Here are four examples from 2013.
1. Human Rights Campaign – Marriage Equality
Many people are familiar with the Human Rights Campaign's distinctive logo, a blue and yellow equal sign. In March 2013 the organization produced a new version of the logo, with the colors red and pink for love, posted it on its Facebook page, and urged supporters of marriage equality to use it as their avatar. The response was overwhelming. From March 26 onward, more than 2.7 million Facebook users, including social media sensation George Takei, celebrities, politicians and major brands announced their support for marriage equality. According to CNN, more than 10 million people saw the image, while Facebook reported a 120 percent increase in profile photo updates during that period.
The HRC didn't work in isolation on this issue. It partnered with other organizations that shared the goal and used the red logo as part of a wider TV, advertising and social media campaign.
Why we liked it: This campaign showed that there was a groundbreaking amount of people in favor of marriage equality, and the numbers talked. It also started a nationwide conversation, showing that social media has more power than people may have realized.
What we learned: The red logo campaign showed that combining a hot button issue (hearings on marriage equality) with a simple action (there's nothing easier than changing an avatar) plays to the strengths of social media. Also, adding partnerships with other groups and their audiences for increased reach was an inspired touch.
2. Dove – Real Beauty
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Why are we quoting this truism? Blame it on Dove, who launched "Real Beauty Sketches", a series of videos highlighting how women perceive themselves in contrast to how others perceive them. In the videos, a forensic artist asks women to describe themselves and draws what they describe. Then, someone who's just met the same women describes them, and the artist draws them based on that description. In every case the second image is more beautiful. Dove uploaded the video to 33 YouTube channels in 25 languages, and the 3-minute version soon became the most viewed video ad of all time. At the time of writing, the 3-minute video had racked up 56 million views, with another 3 million for the 5-minute version.
Why we liked it: It was hard not to feel moved by the moment when the artist revealed the differences between the women's perceptions and how others saw them. The positive message resonated with audiences worldwide and resulted in an outpouring of understanding, comedy, and also parody.
What we learned: Tackling an issue that everyone has an opinion on leverages the power of social media. In addition, these videos had no sales pitch other than a link to Dove's ongoing campaign to redefine real beauty. This campaign truly exemplified how powerful storytelling can be.
3. Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada - Surrender Your Say
The Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada ran a campaign to improve understanding of the syndrome which affects sufferers with verbal tics. These tics can result in them saying embarrassing, offensive or strange things. The campaign aimed to give Twitter users who joined the campaign the experience of Tourette syndrome by posting random garbled tweets on their profiles based on something real Tourette sufferers had said with the hashtag #surrenderyoursay. The campaign was taken up by 8,900 people, including Stephen Fry, and reached almost 4 million people.
Why we liked it: While most Twitter campaigns call for people to only utilize hashtags, or retweets as a means for spreading the word, this campaign used an innovative idea to spread their message.
What we learned: While we knew it before, the campaign proved that getting buy-in from a celebrity with a huge following gives any social media campaign a big boost.
4. Land O’Lakes – Pin-A-Meal, Give-A-Meal
The Land O’Lakes Foundation decided that it wanted to utilize the popularity of Pinterest to do more than highlight its recipes. With the Pin-A-Meal, Give-A-Meal campaign, the company joined forces with Feeding America to help fight hunger in the United States. With each Land O’Lakes recipe that a user pinned on Pinterest, the Land O’Lakes Foundation donated $1, which equaled eight meals for someone in need. The campaign gained more than 8,000 followers and ultimately reached its goal of donating 2 million meals to families in need.
Why we liked it: We already know people pin recipes, meals and photos of food on Pinterest. This campaign simply rewarded people for doing something they were already doing, but gave them a feel-good incentive for continuing to do so. There is nothing better than finding a way to leverage something people were naturally doing and enjoying, and adding a charitable action on top of it.
What we learned: Pinterest is one of the newer kids on the block. By utilizing this social network, Land O’Lakes showed that each network has its own unique qualities that can lend itself to different types of campaigns. This campaign also proved that it’s important for organizations to experiment with new social networks.
Together, these four campaigns raised our awareness, made us think, and taught us something about how social media can be used for good. But there's an important final lesson from UNICEF Sweden. Social media is an unparalleled tool for raising awareness, but supporting charitable organizations financially is also crucial to help them foster change.