2014: a banner year for social media campaigns

2014 was a great year for philanthropic, community service and activist campaigns in social media.

Stalwart nonprofit foundations and large corporations found ways to harness the connective power of social media to raise awareness and, in some cases, millions of dollars for research and treatment.

Other campaigns sprouted at the grass-roots level on social media bringing people together to address community issues and common causes.

Here is a brief look at some of the more successful campaigns of 2014.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The biggest, positive social media campaign of 2014 took place last summer. People were very creative in staging their bucket dumps for the camera, almost as if to challenge others to not only raise money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research, but to create more entertaining videos.

Some videos were painful to watch, and some were downright hilarious, but in the end the ALS Foundation was the real winner, raising more than $114 million.

What made the fundraiser so successful was the use of video, social media networks and a desire among many to do something positive. People shared their experiences with friends on Facebook and other platforms, challenged others to do their own bucket dumps or donate money (apparently many did both), and, more importantly, showed the power of social media to rally people around a common cause.

Chevy and the American Cancer Society ‘Purple Your Profile’

People watch the Super Bowl, in part, for the commercials.

If your business is going to spend millions for both producing the commercial and acquiring airtime (it costs about $4.1 million per 30-second spot), tying in some free social media options is a good idea.

One of the best ads during the 2014 Super Bowl was Chevy’s “Life” commercial. It was a beautiful, 60-second launch to their “Purple Your Profile” campaign. People “purpled” their Facebook profiles and, in turn, Chevy donated $1 to the American Cancer Society for every profile change.

The campaign was a positive social media success, raising more than $1 million for cancer research. More importantly for some, the campaign encouraged others on social media to share cancer battle stories and messages of hope.

NBA Cares Program Social Media Growth

As sports fans, we go to social media to find stats on favorite teams and athletes, watch highlights and interact with like-minded fans. But when it comes to community service endeavors, most fans only hear about the good deeds of athletes and teams during commercials, advertisements and an occasional press release.

NBA Cares, the National Basketball Association’s community service program, went a step further in 2014. Thanks to well-orchestrated social and traditional media campaigns, NBA Cares reached millions of people around the world, encouraging fans to get involved in their local communities.

In turn, the NBA Cares social media platforms experienced incredible growth. For example, their YouTube channel views doubled (check out their “My Brothers Keeper” video), and they added more than 12,000 Twitter and 7,000 Instagram followers.

Thanks to social media, the NBA is now positioned to inspire even more fans to get involved with local hands-on service projects and other philanthropic activities.

Obamacare and the #GetCovered Campaign

Whether or not you’re a fan of Obamacare, the initial rollout was a resounding failure. If people were able to get on the healthcare.gov website (it was plagued with access problems), it was difficult to navigate and many claimed the coverage options were unattractive.

The site was fixed and Obama’s social media team refocused the #GetCovered campaign by primarily targeting younger Americans. Most efforts concentrated on getting the word out via social media using the #GetCovered hashtag.

Using the #GetCovered hashtag, the team communicated coverage options and deadlines in ways that were both educational and entertaining for the target group. One amusing, unconventional step was Obama’s faux-interview with Zach Galifianakis on “Between Two Ferns.” To watch it, do a quick YouTube search of “Obama Between Two Ferns.”

McDonald’s and #CheersToSochi

The Winter Olympics were in Sochi last year, and like many large corporations, McDonald’s — a longtime Olympic sponsor — was looking for a cool way to engage their customers. McDonald’s opted for a path to connect fans with favorite athletes via social media while promoting its brand.

Using the hashtag #Cheers-ToSochi, fans sent messages to Olympic athletes. These messages were displayed on the McDonald’s kiosk in the Olympic Village, the temporary home for athletes in Sochi.

According to McDonald’s, more than 5,500 “cheers” were sent via Twitter and athletes printed more than 2,800 message ribbons to display during the events. Many athletes connected directly with the fans by sending their own appreciation messages, shares and retweets, and images throughout the Olympics.

HASHTAG Social Media Activism

Citizen activists launched some of the most recognizable social media campaigns on global and local stages. These campaigns raised awareness and rallied support of concerned citizens all over the world.

Whether or not you agree with the message, there’s no denying the power of social media to advance these movements. For example, #BlackLivesMatter provided grass-roots social media campaigns for generating conversations, both on- and offline, about strained relationships in the wake of the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. In early December, the #ICantBreathe hashtag appeared on more than 300,000 Twitter and Instagram posts.

The hashtag #OccupyCentral was a form of social media activism set on ensuring electoral reforms in Hong Kong. The hashtag was used to provide information and organize protests (note: the movement is actually called “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” to emphasize the use of peaceful demonstrations).

#BringBackOurGirls focused attention on freeing 273 schoolgirls kidnapped from the Chibok secondary school in Nigeria by Boko Haram terrorists. The hashtag generated worldwide attention, and millions of tweets and Facebook posts, to get other countries and governments involved in the rescue effort (note: more than 220 girls are still missing).

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chairman of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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