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The 2024 State of the Media Report

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Social Media and PR: 5 Brands That Got It Right

For decades now, companies have been using social media to push their marketing and public relations messages – often to mixed results. As social media users become increasingly aware – and dismissive – of blatant marketing tactics, using social media as a PR tool has become increasingly tricky. But not impossible. The brands below exemplify how companies can blend social media and PR strategy to winning results.

Starbucks’ #whatsyourname Campaign

The background: Known for often misspelling the names of customers on their iconic cups, Starbucks  created the #whatsyourname (“What’s Your Name?”) campaign in the UK in late 2020. At the heart of the campaign was an online video that followed a female-to-male transgender student who’s struggling to let go of his “dead-name,” or name given at birth. When the student ends up at a Starbucks, where a barista asks him what name she should write on his coffee cup, he is delighted that he finally has the opportunity to proudly exclaim his chosen name, “James.”

The details: Starbucks highlighted these video spots across their UK social media handles and encouraged their followers to share images of their special edition mermaid-themed cookies using the hashtag #whatsyourname. For every post shared under the hashtag, Starbucks pledged to donate funds up to £100,000 ($130,000) to Mermaids, a British non-profit dedicated to raising awareness around transgender issues.

The result: Although designed for the UK, the campaign quickly became viral across the globe. Users applauded Starbuck’s commitment to inclusivity and used the campaign’s hashtag as a vehicle to share their own personal stories and connect with members of the transgender community.  

Proctor & Gamble’s #DistanceDance Campaign

The background: In March of 2020, as governments worldwide urged citizens to stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Procter & Gamble (P&G) decided to partner with popular TikTok influencer Charli D’Amelio, for a campaign designed to amplify those messages to younger audiences.

The details: The “#DistanceDance” challenge invited users on TikTok to post videos of themselves (at home) performing D’Amelio’s “distance dance.” For the first 3 million videos posted, P&G promised to donate to Feeding America and Matthew: 25 Ministries .

The result: Users across TikTok submitted more than 1 million videos in the campaign’s first week alone, and the videos generated over 15 billion views. Not only did the campaign succeed in communicating its message to its target audience, but it also resulted in in-need charities receiving critical funding during uneasy economic times.

Dove’s ‘Courage Is Beautiful’ Campaign

The background: In April of 2020, as the severity of the COVID 19 pandemic increased across the country, personal care brand Dove executed a social media campaign designed to both salute America’s frontline workers and reiterate the importance of personal hygiene.

The details: The company published two videos across their social media channels. The first, titled “Courage is Beautiful,” featured frontline workers revealing scars and dark indents they’d gotten using protective personal equipment (PPE). The video highlighted the importance of frontline workers and ended with Dove pledging a donation to Direct Relief to help frontline workers.

The second video focused on the importance of handwashing, and instead of  promoting their own products, Dove included the message "We don't care which soap you use, we care that you care. For you. And for all."

The result: Users across social media praised the campaign, particularly front-line workers, who began sharing personal images depicting the pandemic’s impact on their physical and personal wellbeing. Users also acknowledged Dove for avoiding being opportunistic and making a sincere attempt to raise awareness around important health and safety issues.

Cincinnati Zoo's Digital Safaris

The background: With leisure activities restricted due to COVID 19 lockdowns across the country, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden took a creative approach to both encourage people to “stay inside” and enable them to enjoy a service that was no longer possible in-person.

The details: The zoo launched a series of daily Facebook Live sessions, which let viewers explore and learn about the zoo’s animals from the comfort and safety of their homes. Users could even submit questions and participate in activities in real time.

The result: The Facebook Live sessions managed to engage thousands of viewers from across the country, and the zoo was applauded across social media for creating a safe entertainment outlet for both adults and children.

Ben & Jerry’s Black Lives Matter Campaign

The background: While not the only brand to release a statement of solidarity during the 2020 summer amid Black Lives Matter protests, Ben & Jerry’s statement was unique in being one of the few that didn’t generate social media backlash.

The details: In June of 2020 on Twitter, the company published a statement that read more like a manifesto than a company statement. It included everything from recognition of white supremacy to a concrete action plan detailing how the company would seek to address racism in the United States, as along with a pledge to contribute to civil rights organizations.

The result: Users across social immediately and overwhelmingly praised the company for its bold and powerful message. Given the company’s history of voicing support for progressive and social justice movements, users  welcomed the statement as authentic. Affinity for the brand grew, with users flooding Twitter with positive messages that described the brand as “their favorite” due to their consistent track record of social justice activism.