Advanced social media marketing skills are wasted without a great social strategy behind them. In this article, we’ll be trying to gain a better understanding of the thinking behind the best social campaigns, by discussing how three leading brands have put an exceptional strategy into practice on social.

Virgin Holidays & Attn

Running a social campaign in partnership with another company is a great tactic for changing how your own brand is perceived. Both in terms of identity and audience, a bit of each brand rubs off on the other.

We saw this effect in action last year when Airbnb collaborated with the Art Institute of Chicago to turn Van Gogh’s “yellow room” painting into an actual Airbnb property. The collaboration trended on Facebook and yielded a 250% increase in ticket sales for the Art Institute of Chicago.

This year we’ve been similarly impressed by a collaboration between Virgin Holidays and a cause-focused, mobile-first media company called Attn.

In September this year, the two brands jointly released a video – created by an ad agency called One Green Bean – that depicts a series of scenarios where a straight couple are met with the types of prejudice which LGBT couples often experience on holiday.


If you don’t have time to watch the video, suffice to say it’s funny, eye-opening and probably one of the best pieces of content out there that deals with its particular subject.

How this collaboration supports each partner’s social strategy

2017 has been a tumultuous year in the travel industry, with vast numbers of flights cancelled, controversies galore and one major airline going out of business.

Against this backdrop, Virgin Holidays have used their marketing strategy to paint themselves in a drastically more positive light, as champions of an unreported social justice cause. It’s worth noting that this video is just one part of the brand’s wider support of LGBT causes in recent months – for instance, they also sponsored this year’s Attitude Awards.

A common problem with blue-chips like Virgin putting out cause-related content is that under some circumstances viewers may regard the content as hollow, insincere or misrepresentative. Have you seen this example from Pepsi?

Virgin Holidays avoid falling into the same trap.

First and foremost, their pointedly humorous approach works to really push the message of their film home, unlike Pepsi’s more heavily brand placement and lifestyle bandwagon approach. Secondly – and also crucially – they have worked with Attn, a relevant organisation on the video.

We think this is the ethically correct way for brands to produce cause-related marketing content. You’re getting a specialist organisation’s seal of approval – which means the project must stand up to their scrutiny.

Partnering with Virgin Holidays will have helped Attn’s credentials too. Being associated with such a big name helps their brand identity to shift slightly away from “plucky startup”, and towards “the establishment”. Plus, they have gained exposure to Virgin Holidays’ significant social audiences.

This isn’t the first time Attn have teamed up with a household name to produce social content. Earlier this year they announced a new partnership with ABC News which will see the two brands collaborating on videos for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

What this tells us is that collaborating with more established brands is an ongoing fixture of Attn’s growth strategy. It’s a great way for them to gain exposure to exactly the right audience: people who engage with video content on social.

NASCAR – #Hashtag500

Social media competitions are getting a little tiresome by this point. How many times have people been asked to share some content in return for entry into a prize draw?

This tactic is so overused that many of us now only participate in social competitions when the prize is of very high value. Nowadays, if you’re looking to put together a social competition, you must bear in mind that you have other brands giving away things like SUVs to compete with.

Last year, however, NASCAR went one better than that, by offering an exciting competition as well as high-value prizes.

NASCAR’s challenge was to increase social engagement around the Daytona 500, a high-profile, 500-mile race, usually lasting a little over three hours. Public interest in the race had been dwindling over a number of years, and sparking renewed interest on social was a key part of its revival plan.

Their ingenious solution was the #Hashtag500, a series of ten hashtag “races” in which fans could compete to be the 500th person to tweet a certain hashtag related to the event. The winner of each race won a piece of memorabilia from the Daytona 500 – drivers’ gloves, a steering wheel, etc.


The campaign was a phenomenal success for NASCAR, generating over 100,000 tweets and securing a threefold year-on-year improvement of the Daytona 500’s social conversion rate.

Jill Gregory, NASCAR’s Senior VP of Marketing and Industry Services told reporters: “Ready. Set. Race was built around the simple human truth that all people love to race in some form—in the backyard, on their bikes, or on the racetrack.

“This campaign is unlike anything we’ve ever done, inspiring fans who love to race and creating experiences for them to race other fans on social media.”

We’ve seen a few different approaches to making social competitions more entertaining – for instance when Dove gave away the chance to be the face of their new commercials, rather than a material prize.

However, we’d have to say the #Hashtag500 is one of the most interesting we’ve encountered. NASCAR’s campaign used social in a creative and dynamic way that wouldn’t be possible on any other platform and thereby created a positive experience even for those who didn’t win a prize.

It’s one thing to create a social competition that gets people to share your content – but it’s quite another to give them a thrill while they’re at it.

AirBnb – National Park Backyards

Airbnb put together a truly exceptional Facebook Livestream campaign to mark the 100th anniversary of America’s national parks.

The idea was simple: to set up a series of Facebook Live streams from the backyards of Airbnb properties situated on national parkland. The live streams were simple, beautiful and calming, with footage including a sunrise is Yellowstone and an afternoon in Joshua Tree.

The campaign won praise from customers and marketing commentators alike for providing a refreshing moment of calm, in contrast with the information overload found elsewhere on the web and social.

Airbnb has publicly shared their targeting strategy for the campaign, which included people categorised as:

  • New parents (targeted by activity, e.g. baby food, baby care)
  • Sleep deprived (targeted by activity, e.g. insomnia awareness, stress management)
  • Media (targeted by job title, e.g. journalist)
  • Tech and start-up workers (targeted by the company they work for, e.g. Google, Facebook)
  • Entrepreneurs (targeted by job title, e.g. founder, CEO)

All these groups were considered as falling under the broader umbrella of “people who need a break”.

This is a perfect example of content, commercial and targeting strategies in harmony. We’re targeting people who need a break; we’re providing content that gives them exactly that, and we can go further by selling them the experience shown.

It’s no accident that the groups Airbnb have targeted are young and tech-savvy. Here’s an insight lifted from Airbnb’s article, “2016 Highlights and 2017 Trends We’re Watching”:

“Millennials already account for roughly 60 percent of all guests who have ever booked on Airbnb, and the number of Millennials who have booked on Airbnb has grown more than 120 percent in the past year.”

It’s also worth noting that this wasn’t just a campaign built to delight social media geeks – it must’ve gone down well in the boardroom too. Within 12 hours the live streams had notched up 2.5 million impressions. Ultimately, they generated over 260,000 leads, specifically for Airbnb’s national park properties.

Whilst the cameras and film crew used on this campaign were clearly top quality, it’s important to note that no actors or post-production processes were used. A good execution was necessary – but this truly was a triumph of social strategy.

What these examples teach us

These three campaigns differ greatly in tone and topic – but they all share one crucial attribute.

In some way, they all go beyond what people expect to encounter on social.

The Virgin Holidays video provides insight into a pressing social issue; NASCAR’s campaign takes a tired old strategy and makes it exciting, and Airbnb’s live streams gave us an undiluted glimpse of peace and beauty.

That’s not what social is supposed to be like – and that’s why these campaigns have been standout successes. We think this is definitely something to aim for if you want to achieve great success in a content crowded social landscape like today’s. So how will you adopt this tactic and achieve standout with your next big push on social?