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2011: Looking Back and Learning

The Year That Was

As we bid adieu to 2011 and look forward to the year ahead, we know that this is a crucial time of the year when marketing budgets are planned, strategies are rolled-out and frameworks for future campaigns are created. While this may be one of the busiest times for marketers, it is also a time when brands look back at the year that was and wonder what they can do to make the coming year less stressful and more productive. From highly creative viral campaigns to complete social media gaffes, 2011 had more than its fair share of memorable moments that can teach brands a thing or two about marketing online. And it was not just online campaigns and events that stood-out; the social media marketing world itself underwent massive changes. Let us look at some of the highlights:


  • The launch of Google+ in late June was one of the most talked about topics during the year.
  • No sooner had Google announced the launch of its social network, Facebook revealed plans to introduce their video calling option, in partnership with Skype.
  • In September, the networking giant announced a major overhaul, including the introduction of its new Timeline and Open Graph features, which did not go down well with users.
  • October saw Google+ Brand pages open to marketers.
  • During the same month, LinkedIn launched 'Company Status Updates' enabling companies to broadcast messages to their followers.
  • Just before the end of 2011, YouTube underwent a major redesign which focused on channels, video discovery and social sharing. This was YouTube's biggest renovation since it was bought by Google five years ago for $1.76 billion.
  • Not to be left behind, Twitter introduced a whole new look for and TweetDeck, as well as its mobile apps towards the tail-end of the year. The changes were made with the aim of simplifying user-experience.
  • December sure appeared to be busy month for the social media world, with Facebook buying location-based service Gowalla to improve their Timeline feature.

US Social Network Ad RevenuesWith 88% U.S. companies expected to use various social media channels for marketing purposes in 2012, and overall US social network ad revenues projected to continually increase through 2012 (eMarketer), the future is full of opportunity for social media marketers. Considering the dynamic nature of online marketing, especially social media, it is difficult to predict how the months ahead will span out. However, one way of keeping crisis at bay and ensuring there are fewer 'oops' moments involves learning by example.

  • Twitter Tales

Be it celebrities, political figures, or brands, almost everyone today is using Twitter to share information, sell products and keep their followers updated in general. Twitter, when judiciously used, can be a powerful and persuasive microblogging tool that can do wonders to a brand's image online. However, as famous saying goes, 'with great power comes great responsibility'. This couldn't be more apt in the case of Twitter. Here are some interesting examples from 2011 that social media marketers can learn from:

      • How One Tweet Can Affect Brand Image: The Anthony Weiner controversy in mid-2011, over that one tweet that obviously wasn't meant to be shared, saw the New York Congressman eventually resign from the House of Representatives after 12 years in office. Besides sending the networking community into a tizzy, the embarrassing tweet adversely affected the political figure's image among his followers and political circles. The Weiner episode highlights two important things that brands need to keep in mind before taking to Twitter: a) Tweet responsibly: this can either propel your brand into the limelight or it can have a negative impact on the image and reputation built over the years b) Own up: Fans and followers understand that a brand's social media expert responsible for the tweet is only human and is bound to slip-up occasionally. Instead of going into denial mode, owning up and claiming responsibility can be seen as a sign of maturity and prevents the issue from snow-balling further.


      • #QantasLuxury Twitter SearchTiming it Right: The Qantas contest launched in November 2011 couldn't have been more inappropriately-timed. The Airline aimed to increase visibility and grow their fan-base by asking followers to describe their "dream luxury in-flight experience". However, with customers still recovering from the grounding of the entire fleet in October (Qantas and its unions had stopped contract talks the day before), the general sentiment toward the company was hardly positive. No sooner had Qantas announced the promotion, audiences and followers used the #QantasLuxury originally meant for the contest to vent their ire. The message for marketers? Time your promotions right. A smart marketer always does his homework by testing the waters and determines the customer's mood before launching a contest or a product. If it's not the right time, then it would be wiser to wait it out.


      • The Power of Promoted Tweets: McDonalds Canada, in April, launched a geo-targeted Promoted Account to increase the @McD_Canada's followers count. The fast-food chain did this by using a 'suggested follow' that targeted users through specified keywords and hashtags. The outcome? McDonalds Canada, with a total budget of $15,000 (USD), not only gained 9,503 new followers, but also drew in 14,200 profile views and resulted in a 4% overall engagement rate. This included retweets, replies, favorites and clicks. Keeping in mind the fact that advertising click-through rates are usually sub-zero percentages, this is quite an achievement. For brands looking to increase their followers, engagement and visibility via Twitter, using paid advertising including Promoted Tweets, Trends and Accounts is a good idea.
  • Famous (and Some Not Quite...) Facebook Campaigns

Top Social Channels Dominate InvestmentsAccording to the Rise of Social Advertiser, a 2011 report by The Pivot Conference and Brain Solis, 93% of social advertisers have already deployed campaigns on Facebook, while 5% of the respondents said that they planned to do so in the next 12 months. Statics like these indicate that Facebook continues to remain one of the most favored platforms among online marketers to launch their campaigns and promote products and services. However, before planning your marketing strategies for the year ahead, let us look back at some case studies from 2011 which could provide valuable lessons in Facebook marketing:

      • Promoting a New Launch? Why Facebook Marketing is a Good Idea: Prior to the release of their Muppets movie in November 2011, Disney jumped onto the social media bandwagon with great enthusiasm to generate enough pre-launch buzz. The company's promotional efforts on Facebook, however, deserve special mention. Besides boasting +217,000 'likes', the visually appealing 'Kermit-the-Frog' page featured the 'Fan-a-Thon' contest aimed at young audiences. The campaign was not only hugely successful, but generated considerable online buzz prior to its release. Facebook, with +800 million users, is the preferred choice for most marketers looking to 'spread-the-word' about that 'soon-to-be-launched' product. With Disney showing how it's done, need we say more?


      • Ron Paul - Facebook CampaignKeeping it Simple: For the politicians gearing up for the 2012 Presidential Elections, the campaign strategy during 2011 featured a liberal dose of social media. Barak Obama, on one hand, used the 'Are You In' Facebook Page tab app to drive awareness and invite support for his campaign. The app is easy-to-use and the Facebook page neatly designed. The campaign has been a success from the word 'go', with 23.7 million fans so far. However, Republican presidential primary candidate Ron Paul's Facebook page looks like it needs a little more thought and planning. With only +563,000 'likes', his page a) features a fake 'like' button image in the banner, right next to the real 'like' button; definitely increasing confusion for potential supporters and b) features a "Support Ron Paul" landing tab app, though it has not actually been set as the Page's default landing tab. The message for brands and marketers from this is clear: Keep your Facebook page easy-to-navigate and simple to use, else you could increase the possibility of frustrating and keeping off potential customers.
  • Winning it on YouTube

When it comes to online marketing, it is no secret that videos, especially those uploaded YouTube, can have more impact than other channels. Audiences, when asked to choose between reading marketing messages and watching creative promotional videos, usually go for the latter. However, simply uploading a video on this channel and expecting to see results immediately may often lead to frustration, followed by abandoning of efforts. This is why we have listed some of the most viral YouTube campaigns of 2011. These, in our opinion, highlight some of the do's and don'ts of YouTube marketing for brands:

      • Overstepping the Line: Although some of the most memorable ads are the ones that are funny, brands first need to understand that humor is highly subjective. The cheeky Groupon Super Bowl 'Save the Money-Tibet' ad on YouTube rubbed off people in the wrong way. The ad started off with the narrative about the plight of Tibet, suddenly shifting to actor Timothy Hutton pitching a Groupon for a Tibetan restaurant. Although Groupon eventually apologized for being insensitive to the suffering of Tibetans, it was clear that audiences were not amused. Our advice? When it comes to creating a humorous ad, brands need to draw the fine line that separates funny from insensitive.


      • Buzz Equals Sales? Hoping for a successful repeat performance in 2011, Old Spice decided to launch another installment of their Isaiah Mustafa campaign, albeit with some changes. The 2011 Old Spice 'Mano a Mano' advert on YouTube certainly garnered the expected attention and occupied the #1 position on Visible Measures' viral video chart. However, there was one not-so-small problem...sales did not lift as had in 2010. According to SymphonyIRI data, sales of Old Spice body wash declined to a 24% in the four weeks ended July 10 and witnessed a 9% decline for the 12-weeks period vs. the same period in 2010. The message for brands from this? Increase in buzz does not always mean soaring sales. Sometimes a tried-tested-and-previously successful formula is not enough to send fans reaching for their wallets. Considering the ever-changing tastes of the social consumer, trying something new is always good.


      • The Power of Storytelling: Everybody loves a good story...and consumers love brands that can market their product(s) by narrating a good one. This is exactly what the Dirt Devil Brand did in a highly creative YouTube campaign. The 'You Know When It's the Devil' ad not only recorded +26 million views, but was also shortlisted at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in 2011. Now that's some story! For marketers looking to promote their company or product on YouTube, this ad can teach a thing or two about how to sell a product without going overboard with the sales talk. We say this is definitely a good tip.

  • LinkedIn Lessons

Think 'online campaigns' and LinkedIn is not one of the platforms that come to mind, at least, not immediately. While not the first choice for many marketers, LinkedIn can be a valuable online marketing channel when used smartly. Although the professional networking site made its API available to developers in late 2009, only a few brands have used it to create successful campaigns. Our search for one such campaign in 2011 ended when we came across the Volkswagen brand name.

    • LinkedIn Campaigns Don't Have to Be Boring: One of the reasons why marketers shy away from LinkedIn as a platform for social media campaigns is because of the incorrect perception the site is 'boring'. Volkswagen didn't seem to think so. The company's "LinkedUit" (LinkedOut) campaign for the Netherlands not only pushed 'boring' out of the window, but was also one of the most talked about LinkedIn campaigns of the year. Little surprise that industry gurus used terms like 'smart' and 'brilliant' to describe the promotion for VW's new Passat model. For marketers who have put LinkedIn on the back-burner, this case study should be inspiration enough.


Unlike before, when brands approached social media with skepticism, today's marketers are much more enthusiastic about using social media for marketing. Going back a few years, marketers believed social media was a mere fad and is something that was best suited for a young crowd. Considering the fact that some of these brands (who were marketing mavens otherwise), had nowhere to look for inspiration, we wouldn't say they were entirely wrong in their hesitancy to jump onto to the social media bandwagon. A lot has changed since then. The last two years in particular are rich with social media marketing case studies and events made the world stand up and take notice (Remember the Women2Drive campaign and Occupy Wall Street?). While some stories are inspirational and can be added to a marketer's of 'tips for online marketing' list, there were others that were lessons in everything a brand should not do.

As the years go by, social media marketers have more examples to learn from. Just as brands in 2010 looked back at campaigns from the previous year for ideas, marketers welcoming the New Year are taking time off to learn from previous examples. Today's social media marketers are no longer green-behind-the-ears; they are smart, willing to learn and careful about not making the same mistakes as the others did. While these are certainly good signs, we are eager to see if 2012 has its healthy share of motivational case studies that can serve as learning examples for marketers in the years to come.

December 29, 2011
By Team Position²