5 social media engagement lessons from Verizon

A recent campaign from the phone-service provider flopped because it didn’t engage its fans. Here’s how to avoid making the same mistake.

As a creative marketing guy, I love a good idea.

I’ve spent many hours sitting in conference rooms brainstorming with teammates to come up with them. So, when I first saw Verizon Wireless’ big, new campaign called Share America, I was instantly engaged.

It is a great concept that involved an up-and-coming band (Hot Chelle Rae), a tour bus, multiple cities, and a concept to unite people across America by inviting them all to sing one of the most iconic holiday songs, “Jingle Bell Rock.”

The video was posted on Facebook, and it has already racked up more than 25,000 likes and nearly 7,000 shares. The YouTube version has more than 8,000 views.

The problem with the campaign is that it makes the same mistake many brands make with social media: They forget about the power of the people involved to create engagement and help the campaign succeed.

Verizon isn’t the only brand to miss this opportunity. It happens all the time. In an effort to use Verizon’s campaign as a learning moment, here are five suggestions that could have used social media far more effectively to involve the people behind the video, and make their shared passion for the project a much bigger word-of-mouth driver for others to engage in it.

1. Take advantage of a partner’s fan base.

The problem: As part of this campaign, Verizon partnered with the band Hot Chelle Rae, who performed the song in the video. The band has a growing fan base of passionate and engaged people, yet this audience was mostly untouched by the song and campaign.

Hot Chelle Rae only mentioned it in passing on its Facebook page, and there are no links between the two Facebook pages despite the cumulative opportunity to engage nearly 5 million fans.

In contrast, the same band’s collaboration with another brand (Nikon) is featured prominently on Nikon’s site, and allows a more intimate look at the band through photos fans are likely to love and share.

The solution: When negotiating the partnership with the band, specify a minimum number of Facebook shares and a featured role for the video and campaign on the band’s website. If they have an email mailing list, pay for the opportunity to send a branded email sharing the video (not just promoting products) to show Verizon believes in a band the fans love and is partnering with it.

2. Create a branded landing page.

The problem: At the end of the video’s description on Facebook, Verizon uses this call to action: “Watch this video to “Jingle Bell Rock” with Hot Chelle Rae. Then rock a deal here: http://social.vzw.com/koR.”

Despite creating great engagement through a fun video, the first thought at the end of a few sentences is to take someone straight to a conversion page to buy something. The link takes you to a sales page with no mention of the campaign or opportunity for further engagement.

The solution: Have a branded landing page that anyone who watches the video can visit to learn more about the campaign. They can see the people in the video, or interact with a map that shows the route the tour bus took.

Another idea could be to share information about the phones each of the singers used in their shots, and show how those phones—and Verizon service—helped them share their experiences in real time.

3. Make the campaign more than a blip.

The problem: Despite the considerable work and time that likely went into producing the video and funding the road trip, Verizon only dedicated a single Facebook post to the campaign. It then moved on to putting up photos of a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 with the prompt, “If you like it you should put a bow on it.” It followed this with another link to the store to sell the phone.

When you have great content and potential for engagement, why lapse so quickly back into a desperate attempt to sell whatever new product just came in?

The solution: Create a content calendar that allows you to build a longer lasting campaign instead of a single produced video. You could add a component so that people who were not in one of the target cities could record versions of the song and share them. Or at the very least, share the unedited footage of the people in the video actually singing the song instead of lip syncing to Hot Chelle Rae’s version.

4. Invite participants to share.

The problem: When you travel the country and ask people to participate in a fun idea, you can be sure they would love to share their experiences. Chances are everyone who participated in this effort told at least five friends about it. Yet there is no way to connect all of them with each other and let their stories become a deeper part of how people can go behind the scenes.

The solution: Go beyond a simple hashtag to create a visual way to aggregate people’s experiences of the campaign. This could be through something as simple as a Tumblr blog for the campaign, or a Storify-curated recap of the campaign.

I wrote about the “best marketing campaign ever” a few years ago, and a major reason I did was because of how the organization managed to engage all participants in sharing and telling stories to each other.

5. Answer “So what?”

The problem: To introduce the campaign, the brand asks an interesting question: What would happen if it traveled 3,000 miles to unite Americans by asking them to sing the same song for the holidays?

The cultural context behind this campaign was perfect. It came off a hotly contested election, and some media polls cited that America has never been more divided on a partisan basis than we are today. Uniting America sounds like a great idea, but the result of this campaign seems to be a nicely edited video. What was the real impact of getting all these people together to sing?

The solution: What if you could share the positive feelings people likely felt after participating through interviews or quotes? Politics probably never came up in the project, which is proof that despite our disagreements, we can all agree to get along if we just have the right motivation and situation to do it.

I’ve worked on dozens of social media focused marketing campaigns over the past eight years, and not effectively engaging the people involved in content creation or those who attended an experience is one of the mistakes I see most often that can keep a good idea from becoming great (and winning awards). This could have been one of those ideas.

In a divided country, something as simple as a 3,000 mile journey asking people to lip sync a holiday song might be just the medicine we need to reunite with one another. And not telling that story is perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of this entire campaign.

Rohit Bhargava is the award-winning author of “Personality Not Included” and “Likeonomics,” and adjunct professor of Global Marketing at Georgetown University. He also blogs at Influential Marketing Blog, where a version of this article first appeared.

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