One thing is for sure: There’s very little gray area when it comes to social marketing. In almost every case, it’s either brilliant or it’s terrible. For the brands that “get it”, social is a veritable gold mine.

The best social marketing strikes a balance among five goals:

  1. Raising brand awareness
  2. Building loyalty and advocacy
  3. Driving sales
  4. Increasing site traffic
  5. Soliciting feedback

With $33 billion in ad revenue on the line, it’s clear that social marketing is more than just a buzzword and lip service. Companies are taking it seriously, and their customers are too.

In this article, we’ll highlight 31 of the best campaigns and methods, giving you some insight into what works and why.

1. Wendy’s Weaponizes the Clapback

There’s brand voice, and then there’s Wendy’s. The company has taken to witty sparring matches on Twitter, and the risk is paying off. Wendy’s has won accolades from customers and media alike for removing the filter that we normally see.

When a brand decides to stop talking like a brand, there’s a fine line to be walked between “genuine” and “trying too hard”. Wendy’s has managed to toe it perfectly. A quick Google search will show you thousands of articles written about the company, and it just reported its 17th straight sales increase.

2. Nat Geo Taps Facebook for Photos

My Nat Geo Cover Shot was a Facebook-powered contest, used to promote the CoverShot television program. It tapped the network of over 10 million people who had Liked the National Geographic page, allowing them to create their own cover via photos uploaded through the app.

National Geographic connected with their audience by understanding the powerful link between photography buffs and nature. The contest allowed users to share their created covers, and in doing so, it entered them into a contest to have their photo featured in the magazine as well as an expenses-paid vacation.

3. Oreo Dunks in the Dark

Some of the best marketing moments are created by allowing a team to have autonomy. Oreo found that success in 2013 by taking instant advantage of an awkward power failure during the Super Bowl. The company’s spur of the moment, genius ad was retweeted more than 10,000 times in a single hour, and still gets engagement today.

More brands are finding the second screen to be a welcoming home, but unfortunately, that also means that we see a lot of imitators trying to make lightning strike twice. The true spontaneity of Oreo’s tweet was the magic that made it a success.

4. The ALS Association Gets Hot in the Cold

Remember a couple of years ago when your friends were pouring buckets of ice-cold water over their heads? The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge struck a chord that led to viral success, and over $115 million donated to finding a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease.

This was a prime example of using social marketing for brand awareness. The ALS Association has long felt the challenge of being relatively unknown. But when everyone’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds are filled with videos, it’s hard to stay in the dark.

5. The White House Has You Covered

President Barack Obama entered the White House with a promise to make healthcare more affordable for all Americans. The website launch was marred by downtime, and the ACA itself had enough opponents that any campaign surrounding it was risky. So by asking people to share their story with the #GetCovered hashtag, the White House was facing its own giants.

While the results of the Affordable Care Act can be argued to some degree, the success of the #GetCovered campaign cannot. With over 20 million more insured people to date, and a social campaign that told their stories, #GetCovered was a shot across the bow to would-be detractors.

6. But First, Let NASA Take a Selfie

NASA is a bit of a darling in the social media world. Between its NASA Socials program and the agency’s willingness to engage across different platforms, it has found advocacy far outside of the United States.

For Earth Day 2014, NASA took an interesting approach and capitalized on an existing base of proactive users. NASA asked people to send photos of themselves from around the world. The agency then took the photos, melded them all into a gigapixel photo collage, and created an astounding map of the earth.

7. Fandango Masters UGC

Fandango strikes a fun balance with its Facebook-based caption contests. The company posts a photo or frame from a current movie, and asks fans to caption it. The chosen winner gets a pair of tickets to see the movie of their choice.

The magic here is in how much engagement Fandango sees for a prize that costs them next to nothing. (We all know that the snacks and drinks are the money makers anyway!) The company knows that, for their fans, the prize is less about the tickets and more about the dopamine hit that they’ll get from seeing Likes pile up on their suggestions.

8. The Legend of Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson may still be the leading motorcycle seller in the United States, but even as worldwide demand continues to rise, the lumbering giant is seeing sales fall. A big part of this is due to Harley’s aging customer base. The company knows that it has to make a big push into messaging that resonates with younger buyers.

The moto maker brought out the Live Your Legend campaign in early 2016, and has found some pretty great success. It currently has over 81,000 posts across Instagram, and over 100,000 more on Facebook. When you’re trying to raise the awareness of your brand to a younger market, there’s hardly anywhere better.

9. Walt Disney Shares Ears, and Dollars

Walt Disney’s liberal use of social has led to some amazing campaigns over the years. One of its most recent is also one of its most successful. The #ShareYourEars campaign encouraged Disney fans to share their photos with the hashtag. For each photo shared, Disney would donate $5 to the Make A Wish Foundation, up to $1,000,000.

Disney followed an old rule of interaction – don’t make the user change their behavior. Park visitors are prone to sharing their selfies anyway, so the “feel good” benefit of adding a hashtag was an easy transition. The campaign surpassed even Disney’s expectations, eventually garnering over 200,000 shares, which Disney echoed by upping its donation to $2 million.

10. WestJet Makes 12,000 Dreams Come True

How do you own national media for an entire day, while involving every single person in your organization? If you’re WestJet, you perform 12,000 small “miracles” in 24 hours. From a hot meal for a homeless person to sending a veteran and his family to Hawaii, the company found ways to interact on a personal level with people from around the world.

WestJet pulls on heartstrings through the video, and relied on the collective desire to do good through the holidays. We could say so much more, but this 4-minute video is a better use of your time.

11. Heineken Brings Worlds Together

In a timely move after a Pepsi ad flopped, Heineken found a way to raise conversation around its brand by showing that we aren’t so different after all. The video, and its associated #OpenYourWorld hashtag, has garnered nearly 12 million views in its first three weeks, and rave reviews from the media and customers alike.

The video’s success can be attributed to having the courage to face tough scenarios. It focuses on hot-button topics in today’s climate, then shows how people of vastly different opinions can still work together. The placement of “having a discussion over a Heineken” only appears at the end of the video.

12. BuzzFeed Makes Tasty Videos

Tasty, a food-focused section of the BuzzFeed domain, follows the methodology that the brand uses elsewhere. List posts, tips, and reaction videos are the standard, but it’s the 1-minute recipes that are the star of the show. These videos garner tens of millions of views across the site, Facebook and Instagram, helping to raise awareness for the BuzzFeed brand of content.

The key to Tasty’s success is in having quick, bite-size content that is also topical. You’ll see recipes for Super Bowl parties, Mother’s Day,…