2018 was a wild year on social. Who emerged as the best brands on social?
This year, we saw brands become even more indistinguishable from publishers and even other social users, in the roles that they play in social media audiences’ lives.
There’s a saying that brands want to be people and people want to be brands.
This could be a summary of brands on social in 2018. Along with brands acting more human, consumers expected the brands they associated with to be a reflection of themselves and their beliefs.
We saw this exemplified by Gen Z, who have always been digital consumers, and expect to have a 1-to-1 relationship with everyone in their lives, be it a peer or a brand. This was seen fully in the wake of the Parkland shooting, which went from a moment to a movement on social.
Beyond corporate responsibility, content and social media marketing continue to pay off. Indeed, content marketing revenue is expected to exceed $300 billion by 2019.
Lines are blurring further this year, from platform-to-platform, from open channels like Twitter to walled gardens like WhatsApp, and hopping over into real life, as we saw with Reese’s candy robot.
We expect these trends to continue next year.
Last year, we broke down our Whippies into several categories. There were countless contenders again for this year, but we decided to hone in on just a few you can’t have missed, and a few to know for 2019.
Here are our choices for the top brands on social in 2018:
Let’s dive into what each of those brands has accomplished this year.
1. Nike for social responsibility
In terms of social media buzz, Nike is the undisputed winner of 2018. No other major brand saw nearly the amount of virality this year as Nike did for its campaign with Colin Kaepernick.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 5, 2018
Nike made a bold move featuring Colin Kaepernick after the national controversy with the NFL. The controversy centered around Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem as a way to raise awareness on race and social issues.
The campaign sparked international press coverage on major and niche outlets. Users across social channels responded with responses that ranged from support to boycotts.
Taking a stance isn’t anything new for Nike. In 2016 and 2017, the brand’s biggest moments were also linked to social responsibility.
In 2017, Nike had its biggest moment on social media come from its launch of a hijab sportswear product. And in 2016, the most viral moment came from the brand dropping Manny Pacquaio after his anti-LGBT comments.
It’s worth pointing out that while 2016 and 2017’s moments generated a few million engagements on social, the Kaepernick campaign was exponentially higher. Vox reported just weeks after the campaign launched that Nike saw a $6 billion increase in overall value.
When it came to corporate citizenship, there were many brands to consider for this category.
Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods were notable in their reaction to the Parkland shooting. B2B brands were among those that pledged to March For Our Lives.
Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s continued to be at the forefront of social responsibility, with Starbucks’ racial bias training, and its ban on plastic straws, and Ben & Jerry’s “Pecan Resist” flavor. While not all brands take part in politically-linked movements, these do tend to drive the most attention on social.
2. iHop for creating a viral moment
When it comes to making a splash on social, plenty of brands drive buzz by being reactive to what’s currently big in pop culture.
iHop changed things up by creating its own viral moment. The pancakes-focused restaurant announced that it would be changing its name to “iHob” in June. There was considerable buzz as social users tried to figure out what the ‘b’ could possibly stand for.
— IHOP (@IHOP) June 4, 2018
It was revealed that the ‘b’ stood for burgers, as iHop temporarily rebranded its channels. The restaurant wanted the stunt to make create awareness around its new burger and lunch offerings.
BURGER KING CHANGED THEIR TWITTER NAME TO PANCAKE KING LMAO THE SHADE pic.twitter.com/jdgq6svIDe
— tigsssssssss (@_tiger_s_) June 11, 2018
While at the end of the day, it was only a publicity stunt, it comes in at #2 on our list for creating a viral moment that made the social stratosphere pay close attention.
3. Merriam-Webster for newsjacking
As we mentioned, newsjacking continues to be a prevalent theme of today’s social media age. While not as colossal as the infamous “Dunk in the Dark” moment, Merriam Webster has quietly driven attention for its quippy and timely tweets.
'pore over' 🔍"to read or study very carefully"
'pour over' ☕️"to make expensive coffee"
'comb over' 💇♂️"to comb hair from the side of the head to cover the bald spot"https://t.co/br20fgpmAb
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) July 3, 2018
The tweets are often a commentary on specific words used by politicians or in pop culture, and what their actual meaning is.
Last year, BuzzFeed called Merriam-Webster the sassiest dictionary on Twitter, and this has only continued in 2018. The dictionary brand is quick to jump on misspellings by prominent figures, as evidenced in the example above.
Beyond this, Merriam-Webster has reinvented itself into a cultural commentary of sorts, whether it’s
remarking on the words that spike after news stories, or adding new terms to the dictionary.
📈Searches for 'synergy' have been up over 4500% since Friday's filing by the Special Counsel. https://t.co/lWfWpm3R4j
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) December 10, 2018
The buzziest story about Merriam-Webster this year was about the term ‘dumpster fire‘ being added to the dictionary. The brand holds no punches when it comes to content.
4. Fashion Nova for influencer marketing
Social and search can go hand-in-hand, and that’s part of the reason why Fashion Nova has landed on our Whippies list this year.
Google’s 2018 Year in Search report landed Fashion Nova at the top of its fashion category. The brand surpassed the likes of Louis Vuitton, Versace, and Givenchy.
How? Fashion Nova understood the power of the influencer early on. According to Quartz, Fashion Nova worked with 12.4k influencers in 2017, “catering to women many other brands still fail to design thoughtfully for—those with full hips and butts and busts.”
Partnering with both macro and micro influencers expanded the Fashion Nova brand on both an accessible and a “coolness” level.
The most famous influencers include Kylie Jenner, Amber Rose, and Cardi B. Cardi B has partnered with the brand since before she became a signed artist, and this year, her first collaboration with the brand sold out in hours.
5. Steak-umm for personality
There are many brands that try to adopt a snarky tone on their social channels, to varying degrees of success. Last year’s stand-outs, Wendy’s and Moon Pie are still notable, but we wanted to present a new contender for 2018.
Steak-umm has the sass of other brands, but it takes it to an entirely different plane of existence.
the holidays are here so you know what that means!
everyone is trying to purchase happiness from a massive consumer-driven machine to temporarily bandage gaping wounds of existential angst, emotional turmoil, or economic despair
— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) December 6, 2018
The tweets read less like a brand and much more like a Millennial or Gen Zer’s Tumblr account. With only a year of being active on Twitter, Steak-umm has already amassed 43,000 followers and challenged Wendys for the Twitter crown.
The philosophical yet beef-riddled tweets certainly stand out, and drive attention for the brand.
An honorable mention in this category goes to Gritty, the mascot of the NHL Flyers. From responding with self-made gifs and creating inexplicable videos, Gritty’s able to create delightfully fun and whimsical moments for its followers.
6. Budweiser for real-time disaster relief
The past years have been hard, with hurricanes, wildfires, and mass shootings plaguing North America. To that end, we’ve seen more brands step in quickly to provide relief and aid.
While some brands donate portions of their sales (or 100 percent for certain products), other brands have mobilized their resources.
CAN DO SPIRIT: After Hurricane Michael ravaged entire communities, @DavidMuir reports on safe drinking water canned by Anheuser-Busch on the line in Fort Collins, Colorado, and delivered to Americans in need. #MadeInAmerica https://t.co/Io6HoUPajU pic.twitter.com/trZX8SRMZC
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) October 17, 2018
After autumn’s hurricanes, Anheuser-Busch sent more than 300,000 cans of drinking water to the affected areas. Two of the company’s breweries paused beer production to can emergency water.
This isn’t just opportunistic aid, either. Since 1906, Anheuser-Busch has worked with the American Red Cross to provide disaster relief.
— Budweiser (@budweiserusa) January 26, 2018
On social, the brand’s efforts elevate it beyond being only a beer brand. The initiatives go beyond earth-bound philanthropy as well — Budweiser just recently worked with NASA to send barley seeds into space to improve agriculture.
7. IBM for making their content accessible
For B2B brands, it can be difficult to create content that’s relevant to more than a niche audience. IBM stands out here, for its content that’s approachable to a multitude of audiences.
🔊 Calling all #AI developers, data scientists, researchers and enthusiasts. We invite you to explore our new AI Experiments hub. Curious? Learn more: https://t.co/e1fLb9RpXE pic.twitter.com/UAAjFJ80vO
— IBM (@IBM) December 11, 2018
This includes nuanced tech news, which appeals to the B2B and enthusiast audience. IBM has a robust blog, focusing on a variety of topics, from cloud computing to AI to blockchain.
The brand’s strategy also includes content that focuses on some content best practices, like sharing human interest stories, looks at futuristic tech, and eye-opening throwbacks. All of these can make IBM stand out and drive interest with a broader audience on social.
What’s ahead for brands in 2019? We asked experts in our 2019 predictions report, but there’s really one thing to keep in mind.
Content is king, but beyond that, is understanding your audience. Understand your customers, especially if they’re underserved, and make sure you’re reaching them in a way that’s delivering value, in the places where they spend the most time.