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Let’s imagine an alternate world, a world where families would gather around the television at 6pm to watch the evening news; a world where your Sunday afternoon activities included reviewing the Sunday newspaper to clip out the weekly deals; a world where one would wait weeks or months to hear from their loved one separated by distance. Can you imagine it? Of course you can. It wasn’t too long ago these simple daily activities were limited by location, time, and access. Now, by logging into an app or visiting a website, we have the ability to connect with someone across the globe, be notified of breaking news when it happens, or aggregate every possible idea for a Gatsby-themed party—in a matter of seconds.

A Brave New World

What does this new world of social media mean for businesses? Who is doing it best? What are the takeaways for understanding how to implement these practices within your organization?

Following are a number of mini-case studies of businesses leveraging social media for competitive advantage. While there are innumerable examples available, we have chosen to highlight a sampling from both small and large business as well as from different industry segments.

We hope these examples will help you gain insight into the value of the Big Seven social channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, and LinkedIn) for your organization.

Pioneering the Wild West of Social Media

Social media is the gold rush of the 21st century, creating a widespread social fever that has left many brands clambering to get in at the ground level for fear of missing out on something “big.”

Even a handful of years ago, little thought was put into social campaigns. Indeed most companies assigned social media management as an adjunct task to existing business positions. Now, there are dedicated jobs to strategizing, creating, and monitoring social campaigns. Businesses have collectively taken a step back to assess how the various social media platforms align with their goals and ascertain the best way to approach engagement with customers where they are.

However not all platforms are created equal. Some specialize in graphics; some are fast-paced, while others are more professionally grounded. Each has their own unique personality and specific benefits for businesses.


For Farmgirl Flowers, growing its business online was a must – it was a small startup with no storefront property. With little marketing budget, the company turned to Facebook ads and created targeted customer profiles that were similar to its existing clients. Narrowing its reach to location, gender, and age, the company grew its fan base by 18-fold in 15 months with a 25% increase in online sales from ad campaigns alone.

As effective as they can be, Facebook ads are not the holy grail of social media marketing. Businesses engaged on this social media also need to be actively engage with their network following. However, with 73% of social users “unliking” brands on Facebook due to too much activity, the key lies in taking a balanced approach to customer engagement and targeted ad placement.

Farmgirl Flowers not only designed a successful ad campaign but excelled at becoming the go-to solution for its customers’ flower needs, developing organic relationships with members of its fan base in the process.


With its fast-paced, newsroom-like feed, Twitter is ideal platform for sharing information updates about your brand.

Buzzstream, a marketing software that helps brands manage their social media relationships and link building, set out to create awareness and drive traffic to download its new marketing guide, “Linking Outside the Box.” Identifying nine leading digital marketing influencers, Buzzstream used Promoted Tweets with @username targeting to reach people similar to the followers of the nine digital influencers. Given that the nine selected individuals had either contributed to the guide or were experts on topics discussed, Buzzstream calculated that its Promoted Tweets would be of interest to their audiences.

With 24.6% of downloads originating from the social channel, Twitter became the #1 source of downloads and social shares for the marketing guidebook.

Buzzstreams use of Promoted Tweets encourages other brands to keep the promotions relevant to your targeted audience by offering valuable content for download and utilizing visual content to engage users.


Marketers often underestimate the ability to promote one’s brand through Instagram. Being a visual platform, people assume that you have to sell beautiful products in order for the content to be relevant to other users. While many organizations are overlooking this opportunity, some are leveraging Instagram to showcase their company culture, goodwill, celebrations, or mission.

Charity: water uses the platform to display how donation money is being used across the world.

By having an accessible and highly visual channel for contributors to follow their financial support, people are more likely to give money to the cause.

As Instagram is a visual platform, it would be remiss to not mention how the social media channel impacts artists of all media. For Ashley Barlow, Instagram was not a marketing tool but rather a channel to share everything from daily inspirations to upcoming exhibits and works-in-progress. To challenge her creativity, she set out to produce 365 photos of every day of the year through the hashtag #letteringthedays. With the growing popularity of the hashtag, she was soon noticed by Instagram and featured on its Suggested Users’ list, resulting in a growing fan base of over 25k followers (50 times the number of followers before her daily calendar project).


Looking for a DIY project? Pinterest. Healthy and delicious pumpkin spice protein shake? Pinterest. How to pack for three months out of a backpack? Pinterest. For countless millions, Pinterest has become the go-to channel for collecting random solutions and inspiration. For Buzzfeed, Pinterest presented an opportunity to reach a record number of people by optimizing its articles on the social channel.

Since 2012, Buzzfeed has garnered 2.3M views of its original DIY post from Pinterest alone. Being a news channel, it is remarkable that the articles visited and pinned are, on average, two months old – most features would not enjoy such longevity if they only lived on the original news site. While Pinterest was created to be a way to aggregate beautiful or useful information, “beautiful” articles are not always the most visited or shared ones for BuzzFeed.

Inspiring images may be most often pinned but humor is one of the most common genres for clickthrough results. BuzzFeed has also found that the descriptions of its articles on Pinterest are of vital importance to users when deciding whether a story will be pinned or read.


One hundred hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then videos could be considered the richest type of content offered, which is probably why 93% of marketers used video for their online marketing efforts in 2013.

When creating video content, online marketing agency Distilled draws the distinction between “home” and “hero” content. Home content is produced on a regular basis with a limited marketing budget, and typically offers some type of educational benefit, whereas hero content would be a strategic campaign that requires an investment in production and resonates with the audience through an emotional reaction (awe, amusement, empathy, etc.).

In 2013, Dove produced a video for the brand’s “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign that went viral. With over 64 million views, this hero campaign secured Dove as a spokes-brand for redefining beauty. Shared through other social channels, the resources Dove spent on this campaign were worth it in solidifying Dove’s brand personality. Continuing to ply its user base with emotional video content, Dove has developed numerous follow-up campaigns that echo the theme of the “Real Beauty Sketches.”

In comparison, outdoor outfitter REI has created an ongoing “expert advice” YouTube video series for all types of outdoor activities from camping to climbing. While these videos offer great content, they are not meant to produce the same type of emotional reaction with the audience as a hero campaign.

Targeted to answer questions and educate their intended audience, home campaigns will generally have a more narrow focus. For this type of content, consistency is important. For instance, if REI claimed to be a go-to resource for expert advice but only produced a smattering of videos, it might reflect poorly on the brand. Although hero and home content can demand a lot of behind-the-scenes effort, their proven ability to engage audiences on an ongoing basis makes them both effective marketing methods.

YouTube is not the only video streaming platform in social media. Vimeo is a lesser-recognized social video platform that is known for never allowing advertising to interfere with videos on its site. With different capabilities and personalities, there neither platform is better than the other; it is up to you to decide which is better for your brand!


Google is a mammoth in everything it does. When Google entered the social media world with Google Plus (G+), there were supporters and there were skeptics. Largely through its ownership of YouTube, participants that engage with Google’s different “layers” represent a vast online community of 540 million active monthly users.

However, the capabilities of G+ go beyond its connection with the second largest social network on the planet. Features like Hangouts allow users to engage in private conversations with others in their “circles” via text or video or host private video Hangouts with up to 10 members. Users can use the Hangouts on Air feature to create live streaming broadcasts to an unlimited number of viewers. With G+’s connection to YouTube, all of this video content can be recorded and uploaded to the video platform to share.

Moreover, given Google’s role as the world’s top search engine, many businesses have set up profiles on Google Plus and actively post content on the social channel in an attempt to optimize its position in Google search results.

Over the years, MTV has become the resource for celebrity gossip. Leveraging a distinctive brand personality, and consumer demand for up-to-date information on the latest scandals, MTV has gained a 4-million-strong following on G+, on which it can link YouTube content, share articles from its website, and engage with supporters.


Often regarded as the social media channel for professionals, few individuals and businesses are using LinkedIn to its fullest capacity. American Airlines is one business that has begun to do so.

Aside from posting company openings, LinkedIn may not seem like the natural avenue for American Airlines (AAL) to tell its story; but, with well over 100K followers, AAL is doing just that. American began growing its LinkedIn fan base after hosting a contest for LinkedIn users to guess the locations of various aerial views for a chance to win service. In order to continue creating engaging content, AAL highlights stories about its employees, programs, and causes to show customers the personality behind the brand. With a new generation of (Millennial) consumers who value social initiatives when evaluating brands to support, AAL has set itself apart.

A Myriad of Possibilities

If we have learned anything from social media over the past few years, it is how dynamic the social ecosystem has become – whether it’s a platform change with a simple app-update or the introduction of a new channel that makes others feel obsolete.

In the face of constant change, it’s important to stay positive and note the myriad of possibilities with social media. Brands strive to be relevant and meet their customers where they are, which is what makes social media so unique. By implementing relevant campaigns and participating in the conversation as an equal partner, your brand can leverage the Big Seven social channels for competitive advantage.



  1. Which of the Big Seven social media channels are better suited for business-to-business (B2B) communication? Which are better for B2C communication?
  2. Is it important for the C-suite to maintain an authentic and active social media presence? If so, why?
  3. How can brands leverage social video platforms like YouTube to increase customer engagement, especially on mobile devices?