Big Brands That Dominated Social Media in 2012

Use of social media in 2012 was at an all-time high. Not only were there more people engaging social media communities, but according to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report, they are spending a record amount of time on the Internet.

What did that mean for big brands? Well, for starters, since there were more people online, more brands were vying for their attention on social media channels. But here’s the rub: with more brands fighting for the valuable time of users, social networks were saturated with campaigns. Some of them were huge successes. Others, not so much.

Take McDonald’s for example. Its #mcdstories hashtag on Twitter invited users to share their favorite McDonald’s-related stories. Instead, users began sharing terrible experiences they had at the fast food restaurant. The campaign was shut down within two hours.

Then there was Celeb Boutique’s Twitter gaff, in which the e-commerce fashion shop mistook why its “Aurora” dress was trending online. Turns out it was because of the mass shooting that had taken place in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater only hours before. Whoops!

So, who is doing it right? Let’s take a closer look by analyzing the big brands that did it best in 2012.

Red Bull

On October 14th 2012, Red Bull sponsored their now famous “space jump” event. Calling it “Red Bull Stratos,” the energy drink company that “gives you wings” hired a man named Felix Baumgartner to free fell from 23 miles above the surface of the Earth. That’s from outer space, for those of you keeping score. The event, heavily hyped on social networks prior to kick-off, was streamed live from YouTube, attracted approximately 8 million views, and was mentioned 2.6 million combined times on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Redbull was able to gain extreme exposure during the event and reported that 1% of their online conversions centered around the jump. Powerful social marketing indeed!



According to an analysis performed by DigiCo, a marketing company, Starbucks garnered the most favor among 3,400 restaurants advertising on social networks in 2012. Starbuck’s attributes its “offline” success to personalizing each customer’s experience, but also placing an emphasis on style, a move that often attracts a relatively younger and highly influential customer base; Starbuck’s social marketing efforts have simply copied this strategy to this same hip, trendy, and efficacious online audience. In addition to their brand awareness raising activities, Starbucks engages with its customers via social outlets; customer feedback is collected from social sites and is used to implement changes in policy, service, and product in an effort to keep loyal customers happy.


Coca Cola

Coca Cola, boasting 32 million Facebook likes, over 300,000 twitter followers, and over 30,000 subscribers on YouTube as of June, 2012, has their own set of principles attributed to their success using social media in 2012.

For starters, Coca Cola tracks mentions of their brand across social platforms via analytic tools in an attempt to gather data about public perception of their product; this allows them to make changes deemed beneficial to sales and marketing efforts. In addition to tracking sentiment, Coca Cola engaged much more than ever before through social media in 2012 with entertaining images and video. What is the secret to their rise in popularity over the last few years? It helps that Coke has been a household name since the early 1900’s!



Disney, another brand that has been a household name for many decades, made their mark on American culture long ago with the emotional themes, timeless music, and relate-able characters of their animated classics. Disney, rather than hunting for the most “likes” possible on social media in 2012, rather lets the product speak for itself; since so many already have made emotional connections to Disney movies, their social marketing strategy has simply been to maintain these connections via relevant media.

As stated, while “like grabbing” has never been a necessity in their strategy, they certainly have quite the social audience; as of 2012, Disney’s Facebook account has approximately 300 million total page likes among their 267 managed pages, and also boasts of 3.5 million follower Twitter account.


Sony PlayStation

Sony PlayStation, the number one liked game console on Facebook, also happens to be Facebook’s 11th most successful brand. As of June, 2012, PlayStation’s Facebook page has 23 million likes, beating Xbox, which comes in at a close second with 17.5 million likes.

Sony keeps fun a top priority in PlayStation social marketing efforts by bringing like-minded fans together in hosted meet-ups that build camaraderie between gamers. To increase customer loyalty, fans periodically receive promotions like Amazon Gift cards and special online-only offers.

One really cool thing to notice about PlayStation’s Facebook page is its aesthetic allure, containing creative artwork depicting images from popular and upcoming games; this artwork makes the page itself “pop”, intrigues outsiders, and keeps savvy gamers wanting more.



In 2012, Samsung’s Facebook page took a huge spike with the releases of the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 10.01, providing a 14% percent increase in Facebook fans; due these new technologies, Samsung is now #41 in the top liked pages on Facebook.

As a result of their success, Samsung spends ever-increasing amounts of money each year on social advertising; yet, while they consider social sites to be a great sales-increasing resource, top reps at Samsung report that social media involvement is still used primarily as a listening tool. As Facebook improves their tracking and analytic services, Samsung reports that they will be able to more effectively apply social marketing funds.


American Express

American Express’s social media involvement began in 2009 on Twitter with their “@AskAmex” account, which focused primarily on addressing customer service issues; however, in recent months, Amex’s social marketing efforts have exploded with unique promotions and marketing methods.

One of these exciting marketing methods is service named “Sync”, which allows its customers to link their American Express credit cards with their Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare accounts to enjoy coupon-less discounts. What is interesting here is that these deals are offered to customers based on the unique interests found on users’ social profiles, setting another example of highly personalized social marketing.

American Express is present on nearly every social media platform, follows trends, and frequently updates their campaigns. Their ad campaigns on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter often feature well-known celebrities and can be very entertaining; this strategy, which seems to work well for many big brands, ignited American Express’s social media fan base in 2012.



Target, another fast growing social brand, is making their mark in the online world with their social marketing techniques geared toward boosting public perception of their brand.

Rather than simply “spamming” coupons, Target’s Twitter involvement keeps things light, fun, personal, and with the primary focus of making a positive impression on customers. In one example, when Target wanted to advertise the release of “Hunger Games” on DVD, they created a trivia contest via Twitter; random questions were asked to illicit responses and discussion, and then prizes were given out to selected winners.

In addition to engagement, Target increases their fan base with simple online promotions, community involvement campaigns, and entertaining media.



Verizon, along with other popular brands, makes use of a technique called “gamificiation” to increase customer interaction on social outlets. By sharing entertaining games with their social network, they are able to indirectly spread their brand and connect customers to non-gaming activities; this technique has led to increased visitors on Verizon’s social pages and a boost in online sales. Verizon proved to be a major player using social media in 2012.



Google’s biggest contribution to social media in 2012 would be their social network, Google+. Google+ has seen a gradual rise in their user-base for the last few years, and is slowly starting to become more well-known.

Being such a gigantic player in the game already, Google’s efforts to increase Google+’s user-base have been relatively simple; users who already use some of Google’s popular services like Gmail and Google Docs automatically have accounts. Regardless of the whether or not a Google account holder is currently using “plus”, they are periodically reminded of the service in a non-aggressive way.

Google has always taken a very non-aggressive approach to marketing, as, quite frankly, the quality of their products speak for themselves. Google+ is a great example of this, as it continues to attract thousands of new members daily simply by existing as yet another useful Google product.



As should be obvious to the reader, the big brands that used social media in 2012 the best focused heavily on entertainment, personality, customer engagement and delivering their brand promise in real-time.

As stated previously, social media marketing is a relatively new advertising entity; because of this, savvy marketers who can quickly adapt to the “social style” will find themselves in front of a gigantic new audience. Small time marketers will do well to learn the techniques of these big brands and apply them to their own social marketing efforts.

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Analytics & AdWords certified growth engineer with over a decade experience in making businesses successful. I own and operate AXZM and often speak at top national industry conferences on the topics of strategy, design and marketing technology. Work with me or learn more about me here. Follow me @nawlready

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You must be pretty smart because you're here. We like your style. You can have all of our latest tools, tactics and growth strategies FREE, in your inbox, every month or so. 

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