Branding through social media – What makes a social media campaign successful?

Written by: Antonia Reinauer




Use social media #likeagirl! 


Social media has drastically changed the way companies promote and communicate their brands and products. Using social media within the marketing-mix is no longer new to marketers and brand managers. Nevertheless, this does not mean that every social media campaign turns out to be a great success. In fact there is a fine line between the message you as a marketer intend to send and how the customers perceive or interpret it in reality. The power to influence the brand image and its reach remains no longer with the brand managers themselves, but has shifted onto the customers that are now able to alter the brand’s image through social media (Fournier & Avery 2011). Social media has directed brand communication activities from a previously unilateral monologue towards a lively bilateral dialogue (Kietzmann, Hermkens & McCarthy, 2011) that now takes place between the organizations and their increasingly networked consumers (Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013). These newly empowered customers actively engage in sharing, interpreting and communicating a brand’s message by liking, sharing or reviewing products online (Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013), turning them into a co-producer of the brand’s image. 

In reality, the message that customers pass on their social media platforms does not necessarily correlate with the intended message of the company. Throughout this process, the brand message is often altered and can in extreme cases convey the complete opposite to its original intention (Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013). Through the connectivism of the social media users, the newly created brand message spreads immediately among the entire web community (Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013), hence has a permanent effect on its customers. Therefore, once the web community has misunderstood a brand message, the company itself will have long-lasting negative effects on its image. Thereby, the value creation process of a brand is no longer in the hands of the companies, but now more than ever heavily dependent on their social media followers (Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013). Consequently, building a long-lasting and trustworthy relationship with your customers becomes essential when seeking to build a successful brand image online. 

So why should you use social media campaigns when they can go so horribly wrong? Although once the message is out there and you cannot control its path in any way, social media campaigns can be incredibly successful in raising brand awareness and enhancing the brand image through the online community. 

Let us have a look at the social media campaign of the Procter & Gamble brand Always and the story of ‘Like a girl’. With more than 90 million views, 177.000 tweets of #likeagirl within the first three month, a threefold increase of twitter followers and an increase of YouTube channel subscribers by 4339% (Marketing Magazin, 2015) one can truly talk about a highly successful and influential social media campaign. This campaign even led to a double-digit percentage growth rate of the company’s brand equity within the communication phase (Dandad, 2010).

Source: (Always, 2015)

How on earth was this able to happen?

In 2013 Always has noticed that they not only faced severe competition but also that their competitors managed to create and engage with an increasing online community of young girls between age of 16 to 24 through social media (Dandad, 2012).Their approach of communicating with the girls was heavily focused on emotions, whereas Always was mainly emphasising the functionality of their products (Marketing Magazin, 2015). This caused Always to loose relevance within their target group and the brand was faced with the challenge to come up with a communication strategy that entailed more than just the product (Marketing Magazin, 2015). In order to get back in touch with the young customers, Always had to establish a new meaning of its brand image, based on emotions and personal connections that would regenerate the relationship with its customers (Dandad, 2010). Always decided to brief the agencies to come up with a campaign that would address girls in the turbulent transition phase from puberty to young adulthood and to capture social concerns that occupy every young girl’s mind during this difficult time. (Dandad, 2010). 

What advertising agency Leo Burnett managed to create based on this briefing is simply brilliant! Click here to see the full movie

Source: (Always, 2014)

The creative video shows a set-up casting where young women, men, boys and prepubescent girls are asked to run, throw or fight ‘like a girl’. Firstly, the video reveals the stereotype and biased way of doing things like a girl, which include the mouthed and uncontrolled use of arms and silly uncoordinated movements. Interestingly, only the boy, the men and women show these ridiculous expressions. However, when asking young prepubescent girls to act ‘like a girl’, they display a completely different behaviour. It becomes clear that for them it means to do everything in their best possible way! To do something ‘like a girl’ is not perceived as an insult at all and they express themselves as self-confident, strong and powerful. The video leads to the turning point where it states: “When did doing something “Like a girl” become an insult?” and ends with the emotional appeal: “Let’s make #likeagirl mean amazing things!” The campaign started on YouTube, along with Facebook and Twitter posts. Soon, the hashtag #likeagirl was established to let everyone actively participate and spread the word. A separate webpage was hosted on, functioning as the core centre for the campaign. Eventually, a short extract of the video was shown during the Superbowl in 2015(Marketing Magazin, 2015)  

Source: (Always, 2014)

Why was this campaign so powerful and how did #likeagirl reach so many people

There are two different forms of interactivity on social media platforms. Interaction takes place either through consulting or conversational interactions (Vernuccio, 2014). In this case, the initial video and the resulting Facebook and Twitter posts primarily displayed conversational interactions as dynamic discussions and supportive feedback were evoked regarding the topic of a young girls’ confidence, also related to the empowerment of women in general. Communicating corporate social responsibility via social media is on the one hand a successful way of raising the external awareness for the brand’s values and ethics (DeMers, 2015) and on the other hand, it increases the connection between the brand and the consumers through a mutual mind-set of values and beliefs (Rosendale, 2015).

The emotional and creative video not only reveals a sensitive social issue but also avoids putting the product itself into focus. The Always logo is visible to everyone, but the key message goes far beyond the product. The spotlight remains on the audience, and on the message and the potential cultural change Always as a brand seeks to communicate and to engage people in. 

The less people have the impression to be confronted with another direct advertising that solely focuses on the product, the more trust people develop towards the brand (DeMers, 2015). This occurs since customers have the impression to understand the brand’s personality, which helps them to identify and empathize with the brand itself (Rosendale, 2015).

In addition, the personal and direct appeal to participate in provoking a cultural change within the mind-set of a population almost makes it impossible to not like, share or talk about the advertisement. The video addresses all genders, no matter if you are a girl, woman or man and also reaches out to all ethnicities. 

The established hashtag #likeagirl facilitates the process of participating in the campaign and creates a feeling of togetherness which strengthens the online community of the brand. Not only does the hashtag connect the community members with each other, but it also increases the feeling of connectedness with the brand itself (Rosendale, 2015). By providing ‘like a girl’ customer content, through for examples YouTube videos, story posts or tweets, the customers add value to the brand story and automatically cooperate and co-create the brand image with the brand (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). 

Source: (Always, 2016a)

Through this process, customers become part of the brand, which will result in a long-term brand loyalty (DeMers, 2015).

Furthermore, the use of various channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter creates numerous touch points for the brand to get in contact with their online audience and to motivate them to tweet about their personal stories or to upload videos on YouTube (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). Due to the variety of channels, people that have not at all been engaged or connected with the brand before are now reached and able to positively associate the brand with this important campaign. 

Always started a dialogue within a different context, for women all over the world to express their feelings and made them talk about sanitary products in a subtle and indirect way. 

Source: (Always, 2014)

So, let us summarise what we can learn from the ‘like a girl campaign and which conclusions we can draw for successfully using social media for brand management!

Top 5 Social media success factors:

Do not sell your products: 

In order to successfully interact and bond with your online community it is essential to create a “purpose-driven brand” (DeMers, 2015) and communicate beliefs, values and opinions rather than the functionality of your products. This reveals the personality behind the brand and lets customers connect and identify with the brand. Contrary to this, solely advertising the products over social media creates mistrust and simultaneously evokes the feeling of exploitation (DeMers, 2015).

Content is king: 

One of the key elements of social media campaigns is the content you are offering to your online community. The Always ‘like a girl’ campaign has shown that highly emotional and socially critical topics has an immense effect on the customers’ engagement. This does not mean that the content always has to be ethical, but it should add value for the customer and should also be authentic. Another type of content can for example be entertainment or humour as used by the brand Old Spice (Click here to see the funny movie). According to Fournier and Avery: “The success formula is simple: you need engaging content (…)” (2011). The way in which the content is communicated depends on the strategies, but using videos can be very helpful to charge the message with emotions that the audience can sympathise with.

Context is queen:

The success of the campaign definitely depends on how relevant the meaning of the campaign is to the brand’s context. In the Always’ ‘like a girl’ campaign, the topic concerning girls’ confidence reflects the core values of Always andhelps the customer to identify with the brand in an indirect way (Always, 2016b). This increases the whole ‘like a girl campaign’ in terms of trustworthiness and credibility. On the contrary, a bad example can be seen in the “bucket list’ campaign from Malaysia Airlines, where the company asks their customers to name activities that they want to do before they die, after being in trouble for two heavy airplane tragedies (Plautz, 2014).

Social media is diverse and dynamic:

In the example of Always we have seen that several “touch-points”, in this case YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, are being used to communicate and spread the message. This not only helps to increase the reach of the audience, but also connect the online audience from different platforms with each other. However, it is extremely important as a brand manager to keep track of the developments of social media platforms. Instagram for instance is a social medium that is nowadays highly used by the millennia’s generation and should be included in Always’ social media mix.

Keep in mind: Consumers have the power!

Social media has let customers become very sceptical towards brands (Fournier & Avery, 2011) and the simplicity of sharing their criticism with the entire network makes them extremely powerful. Always keep that in mind before starting your next social media campaign!











Academic journals:

Fournier, S., Avery, J. (2011). The uninvited brand. Business Horizons, [e-journal] vol. 54, Available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 17 February 2016]

Kietzmann, J.H., Hermkens, K, McCarthy, I.P., Silvestre, B.S. (2011),“Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks ofsocial media. Business Horizons, [e-journal] vol. 54, Available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 17 February 2016]

Singh, S. & S. Sonnenburg (2012). Brand Performances in Social Media. Journal of Interactive Marketing, [e-journal] vol. 26, Available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 16 February 2016]

Thurau, T.H., Hofacker, C.F., Bloching, B. (2013). Marketing the Pinball Way: Understanding How Social Media Change the Generation of Value for Consumers and Companies. Journal of interactive marketing, [e-journal] vol. 27, Available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 17 February 2016]

Rosendale,J.A. (2015). New Communication Technologies in Organization Communications and Branding: The Integral Role Social Media Now Play. The Florida communication journal, [e-journal] vol. 43, no. 2, Available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 19 February 2016]

Vernuccio, M. (2014). Communicating Corporate Brands Through Social Media: An Explorative Study. International Journal of Business Communication, [e-journal] vol. 51, no. 3, Available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 18 February 2016]


Web sources:

Always (2016b). What we promise. Available Online:[Accessed 20 February 2016]

Always (2016a). Always [Twitter]. Available Online: [Accessed 18 February 2016]

Always (2015). Always [Facebook]. Available from [Accessed 16 February 2016]

Always (2014). Always #LikeAGirl, Available Online:[Accessed 16 February 2016]

Dandad (2010). Case study alwas like a girl. Available Online: [Accessed 18 February 2016]

DeMers, J. (2015). 8 Ways to Build Trust on Social Media, Available Online: [Accessed 19 February 2016]

Marketing Magazin (2015). Always #LikeAGirl, Available Online: [Accessed 17 February 2016]

Old Spice (2010), Questions, Available Online: [Accessed 20 February 2016]

Plautz, J. (2014). Malaysia Airlines Apologizes for 'Bucket List' Promotional Campaign, Available Online: [Accessed 20 February 2016]