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5 Surprising Social Media Strategies That Actually Helped These Brands

As a social media marketer, you are constantly on the lookout for new evidence and case studies that showcase the what’s possible for businesses on social media. But while most brands are still trying to figure out the best practices that make up a solid social media strategy, some of the most successful campaigns are those that go against the grain and find a way to surprise their audience. While we can’t recommend ways to surprise your followers—what, and ruin the surprise?—we can show the strategies that worked for other brands on social media. Read and learn.

5 surprising social media strategies that worked

Being nice (to your competitors)

We recently discussed the pleasures of watching a good social media roast between brands. While some companies may reap big rewards when they inject a bit of sass into their online conversations, not every business can pull off a good burn without some serious consequences. It seems that many brands are actually going the opposite way, by being extra-nice to their competition. Take this Tweet from Xbox, sent on launch day for PlayStation 4:

It’s difficult to control the conversation when the competition’s product is trending on several social networks; Xbox joined the discussion and did it in a very classy way, which earned them extra points from their online audience

It’s often difficult to pull off a witty burn without offending someone, but being nice is a different story. Engaging other brands in a friendly way doesn’t take risks on your PR side, and doesn’t go against any brand voice rules you may have. Plus, it can be as simple as appropriately timed congratulations.

Then again, there are different ways for businesses to direct another brand’s buzz your way—better yet, when you don’t even have to compete! Like this Tweet from Denny’s on big iPhone 6 reveal day.

Then there are also occasions where brands join forces to celebrate the same thing. Sometimes, things can get relatively weird:

Playing along

Now, making a sex joke is not a social media strategy I’d ever recommend as a business practice. However, it’s this strategy that earned Groupon over 12,000 comments, 21,000 likes and 45,000 shares in March, when the brand cast their modesty away to announce something called the Banana Bunker on their Facebook Page. Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 2.51.08 PM.png In an interview with Adweek, Groupon explained that their inspiration stemmed from customer replies every time the Banana Bunker deal was promoted through the company’s social media channels. They decided to take matters into their own hands and start off with their own joke, dedicating three team members to monitor and respond to any customer comment made in response to the post. The result of this dedication was the most popular and positive post in Groupon’s social media history—and hundreds of hilarious banana-related jokes. Other brands make a habit out of the comedic opportunities associated with their business.

Charmin’s Twitter presence is not your usual kind of “toilet humour”—they also keep it cheeky in conversations with fans and followers.

…in short, sometimes you just have to roll with it.

Speaking the language

By now, brands throwing around teen-speak like “bae” and “on fleek” can hardly be called surprising; but what’s curious is how effective this strategy has been in increasing engagement and positive sentiment around brands who made slang a part of their social strategy.

Even if you’re in the ‘hater’ camp when it comes to brands saying “bae,” numbers from Brandwatch show that using Millennial vernacular earned some brands up to 4800 mentions for messaging that contained either “bae” or “fleek.” The trick to the teen engagement game seems to be in moderation: test a few different versions of messaging, judge the overall reaction, and decide whether it’s worth sticking with “bae,” or moving on to a different strategy.

Going dark

In late October 2014, Taco Bell has implemented what is perhaps the most drastic of all social media strategies: total wipeout of all branded social media accounts.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 10.39.17 AM

 Image via Mashable

Taco Bell cleared its Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr accounts in anticipation of a new app release, leaving behind messages promoting #onlyintheapp content. Besides causing a minor panic among Dorito-shell lovers, this blackout earned Taco Bell the number-one app spot in the food and beverage section of the App Store, and 75 percent of the chain’s 6000 stores processed at least one mobile order on launch day. While Taco Bell’s social media silence may have been a success, it’s not an easy feat to orchestrate: it was a risk the company took to show off “the new way” of ordering fast food. And while it may have been a good fit for what Taco Bell was aiming to achieve, the strategy is not for everyone. Six months later, Taco Bell has fully restored its social presence and even surpassed the pre-blackout follower numbers—and thankfully, they had all hands on deck for the announcement of a taco emoji.

  Attention: Unicode approved the #TacoEmoji. Final step: iOS and Android adding it to our keyboards.   A photo posted by Taco Bell (@tacobell) on

Drunk-tweeting… or not really

Finally, who can forget the epic JCPenney Tweets during last year’s Superbowl?

The best thing about the brand’s #tweetingwithmittens campaign was that it surprised everyone, including the team who planned the campaign. The initial plan was to intrigue their online audience with the jumbled Tweets, and later reveal the fact that the messages have been typed while wearing mittens. The last thing JCPenney’s social team expected was the suspicion that they were drunk-tweeting. However, it’s exactly this assumption, along with the brand’s expert handling of the situation, that helped JCPenney be the second most talked-about brand during the 48th Superbowl—without shelling out several million for an ad spot.

The clothing brand’s example provides the best way to summarize our learnings from surprising social media strategies: if you want to go off the beaten path, commit fully. But also, be prepared to rein in the situation if the reception is not what you’ve desired. Remember, there are always ways to come back from a social media fail, but the best way to handle it is by avoiding a sticky situation altogether.

Can you think of any other surprising social media strategies that worked well for brands? Share your examples in the comments below!