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The ultimate guide to running a successful social media campaign


Creating a social media campaign is an intricate process that requires deeply understanding your audience, brand, products and competitors. From start to finish, it’s imperative to stay focused on your brand’s goals and your audience’s needs.

And the campaign doesn’t end when your team hits “publish.” Tracking, monitoring, listening and analyzing campaign results is crucial to refining your social media marketing strategy and proving the far-reaching impacts your team has on company goals.

In this guide, we’re sharing the essential steps to running a social media campaign, seven of our favorite recent campaigns and 25 tips for building your own unforgettable campaign.

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What is a social media campaign?

A social media campaign is a coordinated set of marketing actions across one or many social channels. The tactics share a common purpose and are designed to reach your company’s goals. Components of a social media campaign include:

  • Organic posts
  • Paid promotions
  • Contests and giveaways
  • Branded hashtags
  • User-generated content
  • Creator partnerships
An orange and purple text graphic that reads: What is a social media campaign? A coordinated set of marketing actions across one or many social channels. The tactics share a common purpose and are designed to reach your company's goals.

Social media campaigns are often part of an omnichannel strategy. For example, Sprout Social’s annual Year in Social campaign starts with the creation of a special end-of-year recap report in our platform. The report’s high impact data and sleek, on-trend design make it shareworthy, which prompts our customers to post it on their personal accounts. Then we repost this user-generated content on our brand’s page, which is how we source social content for the campaign.

A screenshot of a Sprout Social customer's post on LinkedIn about the impact the Year in Social report made on them.

How to run a successful social media campaign

To run your high impact social media campaign from start to finish, use this three-step process.

A purple and orange flowchart graphic that reads: How to run a successful social media campaign. Step one: Brainstorm social campaign themes. Step two: Build out your creative and content. Step three: Choose your metrics and measure success.

1. Brainstorm social campaign themes

Start with generating social media campaign ideas by asking your team (and teams outside of social) these questions:

  • What are your target audience’s challenges?
  • How does your brand help overcome them?

For instance, the inspiration for the Year in Social campaign mentioned above started with the customer marketing insight that social marketers often feel the pressure to do more—without acknowledging how far their brand has come.

According to Sprout’s Senior Customer Marketing Strategist, Justin Woods, “We wanted to surface all the good social media managers do in a year. They can get down on themselves, or feel like they’re never doing enough. Seeing all they accomplished allows them to zoom out and relish their accomplishments.” By helping our customers see the value they bring to their organizations, we reminded them how our partnership enables their best work.

During the ideation stage of your social media campaign, it’s imperative to consult with teams from other business functions to ensure you have a complete understanding of your customers, your products and your competitive landscape. The Sprout Social Index™ 2022 revealed that many organizations’ social strategies are already informed by teams outside of social—including customer service, corporate communications, product development, HR, R&D and sales.

A data chart that reads teams that contribute to their organization's social strategy. The top teams were customer service, corporate comms and product.

2. Build out your creative and content

Once you ground yourself in the “why” behind your campaign, it’s time to build out the content. Here are five sources of creative inspiration that will help make your next social campaign truly memorable.

1. Leverage influencers and creators

Social media stars increase your brand awareness, and their digital word-of-mouth tactics help build trust and increase sales.

Influencers and creators are already masters of creating content that resonates. They’ve built their followings based on the engaging content they share on social. With their expertise, they can produce unique content for your brand that strikes a cord with their community.

Influencer and creator-generated content infuses a fresh perspective into your social strategy—with relatively minimal effort required on your end. Just be sure to find creators who have real experience with your product and appear authentic, otherwise you risk your campaign falling flat.

Table ranking the most important qualifications of creators working with brands (ranked by consumers and marketers).

2. Align with the customer journey

Not every piece of content you produce should align with all members of your target audience across the sales funnel. Instead, shift your focus to create content specific to where your campaign audience is in their buying journey.

A graphic listing the stages of the marketing funnel with example goals.

For example, in the awareness stage, your goal is to increase the number of people who know about your brand, services and offerings. The content you produce within this stage needs to be eye-catching, but doesn’t necessarily have to speak directly to what your brand has to offer. The focus here is to grab your audience’s attention. “Edutainment” content—social posts that entertain and educate—is perfect for this journey stage. Think infographics and how-to videos.

3. Share user-generated content (UGC)

About 39% of consumers want brands to post real customer demos or testimonials, according to 2022 Index data. By reposting UGC, you fulfill your audience’s expectations, while saving your own team time and creative resources. And your brand advocates would be delighted to be featured by your brand and have a chance to grow their own following. So, tapping into UGC is a win-win-win.

4. Post content formats your audience wants to engage with

Index data reveals that short-form video, images and live video are the top three most engaging types of in-feed social media content according to consumers. When dreaming up your campaign strategy and content, keep this in mind. Use popular formats and trends to shape your creative development.

A data chart that reads the most engaging types of in-feed social content. It demonstrates that short-form video, images and live video are the most popular.

But remember that your audience’s preferences might differ slightly from the general population, so it’s important to factor in your most successful content types and themes using your past data.

5. Size up the competition

If you’re running out of content ideas to fuel your social campaigns, turn to your competitors for inspiration. Your brand and your competitors may be targeting similar ideal customer personas, so zero-in on where their social efforts are winning share of voice. What are they doing that works? Where are they missing the mark?

Be careful not to mimic your competitors’ content, but instead use their social strategies as a catalyst for your creative ideas.

3. Choose your metrics and measure success

Choosing the appropriate metrics to track and analyze is vital to properly gauge the success of your social media campaigns, and how well your campaign translates to reaching business goals. With the tremendous amount of social data now available, be sure to choose metrics that align with your objectives. For a complete deep-dive, check out this video that walks you through the 17 most important metrics.

When it comes to tracking campaigns, engagement metrics—such as the number of unique people who have clicked, liked, commented on or shared your posts—typically provide the most compelling data to determine your campaign’s overall effectiveness.

There are three engagement metrics that are universal among the major social networks:

  • Clicks: Users are only going to click on content that interests them. If you experience high clickthrough rates, your content is intriguing enough for users to want to see more, meaning that your content is effective.
  • Likes: If your content resonates with an audience and is receiving a high number of likes, it will naturally gain popularity (and hopefully collect more clicks).
  • Shares: Clicks and likes are good indicators of audience interest. However, when users like your content enough to share it, you’ve achieved the holy grail of relevancy and will increase your visibility.

Once you determine the metrics that matter most to your campaign, start measuring your success and reporting on your social media analytics. Measuring your performance throughout your campaign enables you to make adjustments to your strategy and content as you gain real-time insights from your audience.

Build and manage your campaign from start to finish

To keep your campaign organized—from ideation to content creation to making sense of your metrics—use a social media management platform like Sprout. With Sprout’s Campaign Planner features, you can create everything you need to run a successful campaign in one place, including briefs, creative assets and analytics reports.

A screenshot of Sprout Social's create new campaign feature, where users input information about a campaign—from the name to the duration to the brief.

7 extraordinary social media campaign examples

One of the best ways to jumpstart your own campaign development is by looking at shining social media marketing examples. Here’s a roundup of seven of our favorite recent campaigns.

1. Lil Nas X named “president” of “League of Legends”

Ahead of the 2022 League World Championship, video game developer, Riot Games named Lil Nas X as the “president” of its “League of Legends”. The campaign included a hilarious, whimsical announcement video on YouTube and a realistic press release, both naming the two-time Grammy winner responsible for “explosive” musical moments, special League champion skins and a live Worlds performance. The video was also a teaser for Lil Nas X’s new song “STAR WALKIN’.”

The announcement video alone gained 3.1 million views and 156,000 likes, not to mention the 5.15 million people who viewed the World Championship live.

In the more than 5,000 comments on the initial video, fans expressed their surprise and delight in response to the seemingly odd partnership between the gaming company and the star. Hats off to Riot Games and “Lil Nas X-ecutive” for their ace awareness efforts, and knowing how to deliver just the right kind of weird.

2. Flock Freight defines a f***load

Speaking of unexpected partnerships, Steve Burns—best known for his role of Steve in Blue’s Clues—teamed up with Flock Freight to quantify how much a f***load is. In their standout campaign, the former children’s television star interviews the team at Flock Freight to determine the size of f***loads, s***loads and other loads.

The shock value of this campaign made waves with audiences. What was especially remarkable was how Flock Freight, a freight shipping company, proved that even brands in unexpected industries can create innovative social media campaigns. The campaign received 57,000 views on YouTube and was recognized as one of the best campaigns of 2022 by AdWeek.

3. Heinz revived Tomato Blood ketchup for vegetarian vamps

Just when the vampire cultural explosion seemed to be over, Heinz rolled out their “Tomato Blood” campaign in 2021, and set the internet ablaze. The condiment connoisseurs revived the campaign in 2022 by teaming up with TikTok creator and comedian EJ Marcus to stake their claim on winning Halloween marketing.

In the campaign, Marcus stars as the main character, a 280 year-old vampire who decided to give up “draining humans of their life force” in favor of drinking Heinz’s new Tomato Blood. The primary campaign video is shot in a PSA-style, and aired during the new “Interview With a Vampire” series on AMC—dropping on social media at the same time.

During October, consumers could grab their own bottle of Tomato Blood at their local supermarket. Demand grew so high after the drop, many users commented on Heinz’s posts that the special edition bottles were already sold out.

Heinz parlayed the success of Tomato Blood into other Halloween-inspired content and omnichannel experiences, like these costume ideas and a pop-up Heinz Halloween store.

Heinz expertly demonstrated how to turn an unexpected use of your product (i.e. using ketchup as fake blood) into a fun, insights-driven campaign.

4. McDonald’s tuned into popular menu hacks

McDonald’s also used an audience insight to drive super sized success. On TikTok, creators were already sharing their favorite McDonald’s menu hacks with their followers, which prompted the brand to lean into the momentum.

The fast food icon started leveraging influencer marketing to generate awareness of their “National Menu Hacks” social media campaign—which included highlighting how to order some of the internet’s most popular hacks in stores and through their app.

They teamed up with creators who aligned with different segments of their audience, and used paid spend to ensure they targeted specific demographics with the right content.

#McDonaldsHacks has over 10 billion views to date, and delivered a cost per click ($0.03–$0.09) that far exceeded quick serve restaurant industry averages. McDonald’s use of educational, entertaining UGC is masterful, and a good reminder of why it’s so essential to track the conversations happening about your brand online.

5. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservations celebrated Gar Week

Sharks aren’t the only apex predators who deserve their own week. Thanks to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conversations, the internet’s new favorite fish are gars—the big toothy freshwater creatures once known only as “trash fish.” In their Gar Week campaign, the conservation agency shined the spotlight on this underappreciated fish, leading to a comeback millions of years in the making.

Gar Week engagement surged to levels of pandemonium that helped the OK Wildlife Department reach 100,000 followers. It also inspired fans to create their own Gar Week content—which ranged from memes to changing their twitter names to getting gar tattoos. Yes, really.

The Gar Week campaign illustrated what can happen when social media marketers know their audience and internet culture well enough to carve out their own cultural moment.

6. Adidas asserted “Support Is Everything”

You probably remember where you were the moment Adidas’ “Support Is Everything” campaign dropped on social media. Its stunning imagery led to almost instantaneous viral success.

In the campaign visuals, the sports retailer featured 25 sets of bare breasts of all shapes and sizes to promote their new line of sports bras.

The idea behind the campaign is simple: Different bodies require unique support. But the response on social media was much more nuanced. While some applauded the campaign for sparking a greater conversation about body positivity, others found it distasteful and worthy of censorship.

While creating provocative campaigns isn’t worth the risk for every brand, it did pay off for Adidas. The launch on Twitter alone gained over 34,000 likes, 10,000 Quote Tweets and 5,000 Retweets, according to Sprout Social Listening data.

7. Levi’s weaved together “The Greatest Stories Ever Worn”

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of their 501® jeans, Levi’s created a three-part film series to tell the true tales of how their jeans played a pivotal role in people’s lives around the globe—from a Georgian man who traded his family cow for a pair of Levi’s to the man who requested all of his funeral attendees don a pair of 501s to the story of how Jamaica’s embrace of Levi jeans changed denim culture worldwide.

The cinematic brilliance of these short films paired with the on-brand storytelling capture the mood that Levi’s embodies, and reminds audiences of the power these classic pants hold. With over 8 million combined views on YouTube, the campaign seems to have resonated.

More social media campaigns by network

Like these examples, many of the most successful social media campaigns span multiple networks simultaneously—with most translating to channels outside of social. But if you’re looking to create a network-specific campaign or tailor your campaign to different network specifications, consult these resources.

25 tips for building unforgettable social media campaigns

As you prepare to run your own campaign, keep our top 25 rapid fire takeaways in mind.

1. Make social listening a priority

When you don’t begin by listening to our audiences and build campaigns around what they actually care about, you might end up pushing out content that just isn’t quite right.

To design the strongest campaigns possible, start by listening to what your audience is saying on social, like the example from McDonald’s demonstrates.

How to do this: Use an AI-powered tool like Sprout to analyze conversations across all social networks and extract the topics that matter to your target audience.

A screenshot of Sprout's Listening Conversation Overview which demonstrates trending keywords and hashtags popular on social.

2. Talk to customers

In addition to employing social listening tactics, jump on a customer call or run a survey as you ideate on campaign ideas. Gather insights to learn what customers think about your products and your industry at large.

If you’re not in a position where you can talk to your customers directly, try and schedule some time with your customer success team. These are the folks who have consistent conversations with your audience and can tell you exactly what pain points they need help solving. Then you can create tailored social media campaign strategies that address specific challenges.

How to do this: Partner with your sales and success teams for help learning about your customers. Whether you join a call, send out a survey or consult with your internal team, stress how customer intel will help you create better campaigns (and more sales).

3. Learn from people outside your business segment

Some of the best creative ideas you’ll find for social media campaigns come from outside the marketing department. Remember to consult internal teams like sales, R&D, product development and HR when crafting your campaigns.

How to do this: Regularly convene with teams outside of social media to boost your strategy and further your impact. Consider hosting a “social media council” for key stakeholders to bring ideas to the table.

4. Give it a sustained effort

Being able to pivot quickly according to data findings is important. But abandoning a campaign messaging angle or visual approach within the first week or month doesn’t give your content enough time to saturate the market.

By pivoting too quickly, you risk diluting your brand story and recognition with too many different messages. This confuses your audience and ultimately gives your competitors an advantage.

We recommend making campaigns at least three months long, and breaking your campaign plan into multiple phases. At the end of each, formally evaluate the data and come up with actionable steps to modify your plan if needed.

How to do this: By using Sprout’s analytics tools, you can efficiently provide regular reporting updates to your team.

A screenshot of the Sprout Social Profile Performance Report, which displays impressions, engagements, post link clicks and changes in audience growth.

5. Lean into cultural issues that align with your brand’s values

According to 2022 Index data, most consumers (71%) think it’s important for brands to raise awareness and take a stand on social issues. While addressing sensitive events can be a tough balance to strike, almost half of marketers agree that brands need to speak on social issues to stay relevant on social media.

A data visualization that reads: Marketers' POV: What does it mean for brands to be culturally relevant on social media? The topic response is

If you’re debating whether or not a cultural moment is right for your brand to act on, rely on social data as your north star. Is this issue in line with your audience’s values? Will your contribution to this issue make a meaningful difference? Social will help you answer these questions.

How to do this: Sprout’s listening tools enable you to track sentiment, so you always have a clear read on where your audience stands on a cultural topic.

A screenshot of a Listening Performance Sentiment Summary in Sprout. It depicts percentage of positive sentiment and changes in sentiment trends over time.

6. Bring in the music (and trending sounds)

Music (and trending sounds) can be a source of inspiration for your social media campaign. In some cases, you can even build campaigns around the perfect song (like in the Levi’s campaign). For others, content made with trending sounds makes the perfect timely complement to an ongoing campaign.

How to do this: Use resources like the TikTok Creative Center to stay in the know and browse sounds currently trending in your country.

7. Collaborate closely with internal content creators  

Turn to internal content creators—like your content and email teams—for help bolstering the impact of your social campaigns. For example, when your content team is regularly informed about what’s performing well on social, they can write better content for your brand’s blog.

And vice versa. When your social team is regularly updated about which content should be promoted to support larger marketing initiatives, they will be more strategic about how they post.

How to do this: Bake collaboration into your content development strategy by scheduling recurring brainstorming sessions with representatives from your content and email marketing teams.

8. Think beyond social

Like many of our favorite social media campaigns demonstrated, the most effective campaigns have an omnichannel component. Where else would your audience want to interact with your content or your product?

How to do this: Consult with teams in charge of event planning, advertising and product design during your campaign brainstorm to make a business-wide impact.

9. Inspire on social, close in store

Even if your audience is made up of digital natives, there are no replacements for the in-person experience.

How to do this: Whether you have a brick-and-mortar location, pop-up shop or you’re sponsoring a booth at a conference, make an aspect of your campaign face-to-face wherever possible.

10. Maximize opportunities to create content

Use real-life experiences as a chance to fuel your campaign content pipeline.

How to do this: Capture content of people interacting with your products, team members and spaces. You could even create a meet the team series, if it fits the goals of your campaign. 

11. Make conversions a focus

Stay zeroed-in on your conversion strategy to fill the gaps between building brand awareness and driving purchasing decisions. Design campaigns built to have a tangible impact on your bottom line by optimizing your content and distribution strategy for conversion.

How to do this: Fortify your campaign content with strong call to action phrases.

12. Run a competitive analysis

Regular competitive analysis helps you create benchmarks for your campaign performances. Remember the brands you benchmark against don’t necessarily have to be direct competitors, or even within your industry. They can be competitors for a certain brand voice or visual association you are trying to foster with your target audience. Look to their performance benchmarks to contextualize in your reporting.

How to do this: With Sprout’s suite of competitor reports and listening tools, you’re enabled to compare your performance side-by-side with your competitors.

A screenshot of Sprout Social's Competitive Analysis dashboard that demonstrates how three competitors compare in share of voice, impressions, engagements and sentiment.

13. Experiment with ephemeral content

Think beyond your primary feed when designing your campaigns. Today, almost every platform has their own version of ephemeral content. Use these capabilities to infuse your campaign with personality and less-polished, more personalized content.

How to do this: For inspiration, check out our complete guide to Instagram Stories.

14. Identify your influencers

When looking for influencers and creators to star in your campaigns, keep three things in mind: reach, resonance and relevance. The people you feature should understand each one.

How to do this: Read more about how you can find and vet creators for your next campaign. And remember, influencers and creators aren’t always external. Internal influencers and employee brand advocacy efforts can supercharge your campaign.

15. Put UGC at the heart of your creative

Like the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservations’ Gar Week campaign demonstrates, UGC has the power to put your campaign on the map. Find creative ways to invite your audience to engage with your campaign to fuel brand evangelism and support your content strategy.

How to do this: Brush up on how you can turn customers into brand advocates and source UGC.

16. Consult a marketing expert

If you’re struggling to design high-impact campaigns, take a marketer you know and admire out to lunch, or approach them on social and ask for a quick chat. Come prepared with a set of questions and be as specific as possible. We recommend choosing the marketer(s) behind a particular campaign you were floored by, and digging deep to find out what you can learn for your brand.

How to do this: We have some social media experts on our staff who are always happy to talk about how Sprout’s full suite of social media tools can help you leverage data to come up with new campaign ideas.

17. Look to innovators

Research how top brands and marketing executives (including yours) operate. Stay alert to top campaigns (like the ones shared earlier in this article) and read interviews with CMO’s from best-in-class brands.

How to do this: Subscribe to blogs and newsletters that feature interviews and advice from leading execs.

18. Partner up

Can you think of any brands that would make good partners during your next social media campaign? These should be brands that:

  • Overlap with your brand’s target audience
  • Don’t overlap with your product offerings

How to do this: Build out a co-marketing strategy to expand your awareness with your target audience.

19. Plan for retention and acquisition

Retention and acquisition should be two different tracks in your social media marketing campaigns.

On the one hand, you’re trying to keep and engage with the customers you already have. On the other hand, you want to acquire more customers.

Some content might appeal to both customers and prospective customers, but you should also be creating unique content to target each of these segments.

How to do this: In your content calendar, make sure you have posts and mini-campaigns devoted to each of these categories. Use a tool like Sprout’s internal tagging feature to group and categorize your posts based on retention and acquisition objectives. That way you can strike the right balance, while keeping an eye on performance.

A screenshot of Sprout's Cross Channel Tag Report that demonstrate content performance based on specific tags. The report demonstrates a comparison in the number of posts using each tag and changes over time. 

20. Understand the digital customer journey

As a social media marketer, you need to understand the unique digital customer journey your followers are taking through the marketing funnel. Make sure you know how your content is being interacted with at every stage in the journey and across all your social channels.

 How to do this: Create a customer journey map to guide your campaign’s content creation.

21. Think big, zoom in

For awareness-generating campaigns, your social strategy doesn’t have to be as micro-focused on your value prop and brand as you think. Once you know who your audience is on social, you can build campaigns that appeal to other aspects of their lives and perspectives.

For instance, you might be a hotel chain hyper-focused on medium-budget travelers between the ages of 21–30. If you’re trying to grow awareness of your brand, you could create an entire campaign based around budgeting for travel.

The most important thing to remember is that with this kind of engagement-generating campaign,  you must provide value unrelated to closing a deal.

If people feel they are being blatantly sold to, they will likely distrust the content you’re surfacing.

How to do this: Treat your customer journey map from tip #20 as a single source of truth when you create content for different audiences and journey stages.

22. Better understand social cultural norms

Take time to learn about the unique culture of social media. By being immersed in the culture, you will create campaigns that are better attuned to audience expectations and norms.

How to do this: Subscribe to industry newsletters and blogs, spend time on the platforms and learn to speak the language fluently.

23. Use SEO to inform content themes

 The words and terms you want your brand to rank for on Google are the same you want to be associated with on social. Connect with your SEO team to find out which search terms your brand is focused on and weave them into your social media campaign strategies.

How to do this: Read our guide to YouTube SEO strategy to learn how to use SEO best practices in your content development.

24. Stay on-brand

Maintain a consistent brand voice across channels, and stay true to who you are. Even if the internet is talking about the Oscars or the latest TikTok challenge, you should only jump on those trending conversations if they make sense for your brand and are relevant to your campaign.

How to do this: Define your brand’s core values, and keep them in mind whenever you create social content.

25. Take care of yourself

Social media burnout is real. It can be easy to get caught up in campaign prep, but working yourself too hard will lead to creative blocks. Instead, take a break.

How to do this: Move around your space. Take a walk around the block. Try a yoga class. Do whatever it takes to reinvigorate your brain so you can create your most successful campaign yet.

Design an industry-leading social media campaign

Running outstanding social media campaigns requires incorporating insights from across your organization. Then, applying those learnings to build compelling, attention-grabbing creative.

With this guide, you will be prepared to conduct meaningful research, design creative content and report on metrics that demonstrate impact—the essential steps for building a successful campaign.

For an extra leg up, we designed a social media campaign brief template to help you stay organized, launch on time, keep your brand on budget and align with stakeholders.

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