There are countless examples of successful commercial and corporate social media campaigns to consider as best practices, but it’s the world-changing, citizen-led movements of our recent past (e.g. Occupy, Arab Spring)  that offer a critical yet simple lesson for any PR or communications professional engaged in the design and development of social media campaigns.

We are storytellers, and any effective campaign always starts with a good story. Take the case of the social media campaign to make notorious Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony famous. Not satisfied with allowing a war criminal to slip into the comforts of obscurity, a U.S. based charity called Invisible Children responded by launching a social media campaign that included an emotionally wrenching 30 minute YouTube video, heavy use of Twitter, and the sale of an advocacy kit all with the aim of raising Kony’s profile, and eliminating the corners and shadows in which he is hiding. The result – over 26 million (and counting) views of the video, a viral Twitter topic that has engaged celebrities, politicians and other cultural influencers, and a clear sense that his capture is not a possibility but rather a probability.

The campaign worked because its creators were able to clearly answer five critical questions before they selected the social media channel(s) with which to communicate their story:

  1. What is the narrative or story?
  2. Who is my audience?
  3. Who are the influencers that can help me reach my audience?
  4. Why should they care?
  5. What do I want my audience to do – what action do I want them to take?

AND THEN FINALLY:

  1. What is the most appropriate social media tool(s) for the job?

Marketers have quickly evolved to become savvy and prolific users of social media – harvesting and harnessing advanced customer demographic profiles, as well as data on buying preferences and online habits in an attempt to tailor social media campaigns to individual consumers. These tools are being used in incredibly creative ways. Too often, however, innovative applications of social media tools are being used to support the wrong narrative, a bankrupt narrative, or worse – no narrative at all. The result is invariably digital clutter – information bloat – and a disengaged and uninspired target audience.

However, the formula for social media success isn’t dissimilar to that of effective traditional communications and PR – the story still rules. The right narrative, backed by a clear understanding of who the audience is and what you want them to do with the information you’re providing remains the backbone of great PR.

Shaun Poole is an account director in Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ Vancouver office.