Coke's social media strategy follows its traditional marketing initatives, which focus on awareness.
Marketing Social Media

How Top Brands Achieve Social Media ROI

Once ubiquitous in signage across America, Coke has applied its winning strategy to the social media landscape—and other brands are eager to replicate that success, hopefully while bolstering social media ROI.

According to a study by the IAB, Coke is ranked as the top social media brand, with 20 percent of agencies and brands surveyed citing the company as “doing social media particularly well.” Coke has a significant lead over Nike, which comes in second with 15 percent of the total endorsements.

Only one other company—Virgin at 12 percent—has more than eight percent of the vote. The closest food and beverage brand to Coke was Starbucks, which ranks seventh overall at 5 percent.

Coke’s dominance of a marketing channel is nothing new. The company has poured money into advertising content for the better part of a century, turning its brand into one of the world’s most recognized. That might suggest the company has less of a need to double-down on its social presence, but the company hasn’t taken its foot off the gas pedal. Instead, it offers a social branding example most other companies would be wise to follow.

NikeThe Hard Work of Building a Social Presence

The paths to social success are many and winding, but IAB identified four common qualities of the most successful brands on social media. At the top of the list is relevancy: Coke, like Nike and many other brands, created social content that was highly relevant to its audience’s interests, and to the brand’s role in consumers’ lives.

For Coke, this relevancy came in the form of its “Share a Coke” social campaign, which printed common names and other nicknames on its bottles while encouraging consumers to share their drinks on social media. While simple in its design, Millward Brown notes that the results were a slam dunk for the company: In Australia, where the campaign originated, Coca-Cola increased its sales volume by 4 percent in a down market, and consumption among young adults increased by 7 percent.

The campaign worked in part because Coke’s brand is already so well-known and ingrained in pop culture. Nonetheless, the company used its traditional advertising presence to rapidly grow its social presence through increased brand awareness, and young consumers in particular responded to the strategy.

IAB also credits Coke and other leading brands with setting clear social objectives early, emphasizing authenticity and credibility, and striving to be adaptable in a changing social landscape.

Crushed Coke CanLingering ROI Measurement Headache

Coke’s social campaigns are wildly successful, and yet the ROI may be tougher to nail down. Excusing the Australia example, which offers a pretty clear return on the company’s social investment, ROI measurement remains a headache even for some of the top brands.

IAB notes that half of brands don’t currently measure social media ROI, and a quarter of them only measure these gains some of the time. It’s natural for companies to want to know they’re getting something out of their spending, and marketers often need cold, hard statistics to sell management on emerging strategies.

But that doesn’t make ROI measurement any easier, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that measurement efforts are providing any real value. Coke is a strong example here: Because its social strategy is so awareness-minded, it can be hard to track how that increased awareness manifests itself as increased sales or consumer loyalty. Coke has a better shot than most because its brand maintains such a pervasive presence in culture, but other companies won’t have the ability to track macro trends based on individual social campaigns.

Sometimes the goals are more tangible in nature. When brands want to use social media for lead generation or driving conversions, the desired consumer outcomes are much easier to track. That could make both marketers and management happy, but only when those goals meet the company’s vision. However, brands shouldn’t get caught up in chasing the goals with the best ROI measurement potential, or else their ultimate earnings from social media will fall short.

Social media goals should be set according to larger brand objectives—not to satisfy an internal need for measurement. When goals run counter to tangible results, as can the case for awareness-focused companies like Coke, the goal should be making the best social content possible—and trusting in a process already proven to work.

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