What These Amazing Social Media Success Stories Can Teach Us

Success Social Media Engagement Likes Ladder ReachImage credit: Max Pixe


Social media takes traditional networking and ramps it up by several orders of magnitude. It isn’t technically necessary to build up contacts or locate events these days— say the right thing at the right time with the right people paying attention and your message can resound like an explosion across the online world (something unbelievably valuable for ecommerce).

It sounds far easier than it actually is, of course. There’s nothing straightforward about it, and while you’ll see some overnight successes in the social media world, they generally fizzle out quickly. It takes a lot of careful research, planning, and preparation to create a formula that truly makes social media deliver the kind of ROI it’s capable of.

We’re going to look at some of the most remarkable social media success stories yet, and see what we can glean from them. By learning from the best, we can apply incremental improvements to our own social media efforts. Let’s get started.

Deadpool Breaks R-Rated Records

2016’s Deadpool didn’t really seem as though it would be a huge hit. It didn’t share any established actors from the profitable X-Men film franchise, and despite featuring Marvel characters, had no overlap with the box-office behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What’s more, star and chief advocate Ryan Reynolds had already been a superhero flop in the disappointing Green Lantern, and had even depicted a widely-mocked version of the Deadpool character in a previous X-Men movie. Plus the film was R-rated (not generally a strong area for a superhero movie) without a massive marketing budget to get exposure. It wasn’t promising.

Yet courtesy of an astonishing all-guns-blazing social media marketing campaign, it broke numerous box office records, raked in $783m on a budget of just $58m, and make the character a cultural icon of sorts. How did that happen?

Well, you can trace it to Reynolds’s passion for the comics and determination to do it justice without compromising on what he loved about the character. Owing to the nature of the production and the relatively-low expectations, he evidently got the freedom to try an experimental approach to the promotion, and he really ran with it.

Deadpool social media activity was rife with risqué humor, meta-references, and unexpected collaborations. Part of the fun of following it all was seeing what would happen next. Deadpool is a wacky character, and the team behind the movie had the conviction to go beyond the safe marketing pattern and throw a lot of elements out in the hope that some of them would stick.

As it happens, pretty much all of them did. There may be an alternative universe in which Deadpool completely sank without a trace and the campaign ended up written off as a tone-deaf attempt at shock humor, but thankfully we live in this universe, where its authentic tone and faithful representation of the spirit of the character paid off in a big way.


The Lesson: Put In Maximum Effort to Be Authentic

Social media, like any kind of marketing, can be really safe, especially since a lot of people want to use it effectively but don’t really know what they should be doing. But playing it safe won’t bring about huge success. It’s better to take some calculated risks in how you approach social media— try something different, and put the effort in to make it amazing.

To do this, go beyond what your competitors are doing. Think about new platforms you can try, and new creative approaches you can pursue. Sometimes the scattergun approach is worth trying so you can figure out what might work.

The Ice Bucket Challenge Raises Over $115m

For a time in 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge ruled the internet with an iron fist. It was absolutely everywhere, and its influence extended into every part of digital society.

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Donation drives weren’t new, and there wasn’t anything revolutionary about social media challenges, even then—Twitter had been around for 8 years by that point—but there were some aspects of the Ice Bucket Challenge that made it different, including:


  • The low barrier to entry


      • It just needed a camera, a bucket of ice, and a minute or so.


  • The entertainment


      • Videos were both fun to watch and fun to make.


  • The reward


      • Each participant earned a prize of sorts in getting to challenge others.


  • The scope


      • Since it spread through challenges, it could ultimately reach almost anyone.


  • The virality


      • People like to support good causes, especially with the internet watching them.


  • The central bind


    • The challenge was to take part or donate as a forfeit, but those taking part would invariably donate anyway, even if only because it would look bad to do otherwise.

In a short time, it brought together the lowest and highest rungs of society in a joint effort. Celebrities would challenge each other, politicians would take part, and media platforms would happy get involved to provide further exposure.

There are so many points of failure in this sort of semi-controlled campaign that it’s hard to know when something will approach the level of success that the Ice Bucket Challenge reached. Even so, there’s a big lesson we can take from it:

The Lesson: Gamification Plus Virality Is A Winning Formula


Gamification is huge in the world of user experience (UX) design, and for good reason. People love having options to participate in things, be they challenges, polls, quizzes, conversations or contests. If you can create something on social media that is both enjoyably interactive and something that people will want to share, you can achieve incredible results.

If you want to learn more about gamification, you can read about how gamification helps to increase engagements, or take a look at some of the best recent social media gamification courtesy of the Shorty Awards.

Wendy’s Dominates Twitter

If you had to rank brand perception for fast-food chains, Wendy’s would probably be top these days, and most of the credit for that has to go to the team behind the Wendy’s Twitter account. They’ve mastered the art of being likeably promotional, deploying pop-culture references with a dry, ironic, modern sense of humor that has made them exceptionally popular online.


Outside the bubble of a needlessly-cautious upper management, Wendy’s social media approach is perfectly innocuous. They don’t touch upon hot-button topics or weigh in on grand controversies. Instead, they post silly but clever comments, talk to customers, and generally have fun with it. They promote burgers— what about that calls for resolute professionalism?


You may recall the #nuggsforcarter campaign that stemmed from their declaration that Carter Wilkerson, a man looking for a year’s supply of chicken nuggets, would need 18 million retweets to get it. He isn’t there yet, but he’s up to 3.6 million, making his tweet the most retweeted ever.


While it’s difficult to tell exactly how this has affected Wendy’s bottom line, it’s reasonable to assume that the company is happy with the social media strategy. Not only has the Twitter team continued to be granted an often-surprising degree of creative freedom, but they’ve also had a major influence on the marketing efforts of other brands.


The Lesson: People Like Brands to Be Relaxed and Conversational


Social media users don’t mind being marketed to as long as they’re entertained in the process, and having brand representatives come across as very human and informal makes it a lot easier to see them as friends to be supported instead of drones from a cold, sterile corporate entity. If your barriers are up on social media, take them down— relax a little and don’t worry so much.

In the e-commerce world, this fits perfectly with live chat systems and facilities allowing you to sell products directly through social media channels. Most store builders offer a variety of online sales channels including Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, so a social media team can make someone laugh in one message and then sell to them in the next.

After all, we’re very skeptical about recommendations from sales staff, but if we’re friendly with someone, we’ll be far more inclined to trust that they have our best interests at heart. By coming across as less sales-obsessed, you’ll prove significantly more effective at driving conversions.

Social media has a ton of potential, but it’s incredibly difficult to get it right. If you can take some risks, provide interactive and shareable content, and really connect with potential customers or clients, you can stand out from the pack and see real results.


Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to spreading the word about startups and small businesses of all shapes and sizes. Visit the blog for the latest marketing insights from top experts and inspiring entrepreneurial stories. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.