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Four of the Best Digital PR Campaigns

So let’s talk about digital PR. What do Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie, the Weetabix + Beanz tweet, and ‘the dress’ meme have in common? They all ‘broke the internet’, and proved that, in the digital age, it’s possible to earn top-tier coverage, hundreds of backlinks, and thousands of social shares from a single Instagram post, video or tweet.

This is the power of digital PR. The intersection of traditional public relations, content marketing, SEO, and social media, and it’s one of the most effective ways to build and promote your brand online.

Let’s look at four of the best digital PR campaigns to find out how.

Digital PR campaign 1: Ellen’s Oscar selfie

One of the most successful digital PR campaigns of all time happened by chance for electronics brand Samsung, thanks to American chat show host Ellen DeGeneres.

In 2014, the then host of the Oscars stopped mid-ceremony to take a selfie on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, with a bunch of her celebrity friends, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey.

By the time the ceremony was over, the picture had been retweeted more than 2m times, causing the social media site to collapse for 20 minutes.

However, this wasn’t bad news for Twitter as it brought the microblogging site tons of publicity. The tweet went on to break the record for most retweets, with 3 million and counting, and garnered worldwide media coverage.

The picture, which was taken on a Samsung mobile delighted the electronics brand, who got way more publicity from this stunt than the $20 million they paid for TV ads to run during the award show. Granted, very few brands would be able to replicate this iconic moment, but there’s nothing quite like celebrity endorsement to get your brand attention.

Digital PR campaign 2: Weetabix and beans for breakfast

In early 2021, Weetabix, the popular breakfast cereal, teamed up with Heinz beans and created a tweet that divided the nation. The brand tweeted an image of the breakfast cereal covered in Heinz Baked Beans, with the caption: ‘why should bread have all the fun, when there’s Weetabix?’

The tweet sent Twitter into meltdown, racking up over a billion views and a barrage of hilarious responses from brands and organisations around the world.

Breakfast brand Kellogg’s said, ‘we’ve heard of putting the milk in first, but this takes the biscuit.’

Innocent Drinks, known for their quirky social media posts commented, ‘even we wouldn’t do this, we’re not monsters.’

The State of Israel even waded in on the debate with ‘finally something that all Middle Eastern countries can agree on. Just no. Also, want to know how you can upgrade your Weetabix? Hummus.’

Other brands to join the fun included National Rail, Lidl, Krispy Kreme and Specsavers.

The unprecedented response to the tweet attracted the attention of the media. As well as making headlines in the Daily Mail, Sky News and the Express, it was discussed on BBC News, Good Morning Britain and This Morning. The wacky flavour combination was also referenced in the House of Commons.

As a direct result of the campaign, Weetabix’s brand awareness increased by 40%. It also snagged the brand a Marketing Week Masters award for Best Use of a Small Budget.

We’d call that a tasty PR triumph.

Digital PR campaign 3:  ‘The Blue/Black or White/Gold dress’

In 2015, a Scottish singer/songwriter posted a photo of a dress on her Tumblr account with the caption, ‘guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree, and we are freaking the f–k out.’

Little did she know that her innocent post would go viral, causing an international debate.

The post was picked up by BuzzFeed, and, in a matter of days, the Internet lost its mind. People took to Twitter to join team #blueandblack or #teamwhiteandgold, and brands joined team #realtimemarketing, generating over 10 million tweets in a week.

The meme sparked fierce debate among experts as to why people saw different colours. It became the subject of scientific investigation, and a number of papers have since been published about it in peer-reviewed science journals.

The original post didn’t mention Roman Originals, the brand behind the dress, but it didn’t matter. The British clothing brand was quick to jump in on the conversation with a tweet saying, ‘we can confirm #theDress is blue and black. We should know!’

The meme received 73 million views and Roman Originals saw a 560% increase in sales, all without the brand spending a penny.

This is the stuff of PR dreams.

Digital PR campaign 4:  The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

We can’t talk about awesome digital PR campaigns without a nod to the phenomenon that was the Ice Bucket Challenge. Let’s look at why it worked in detail.

Back in July 2014, keen golfer Charles Kennedy was nominated by a good friend to do the ‘ice bucket challenge.’

The challenge involved filming yourself being doused with a freezing cold bucket of water, uploading the video to social media, and nominating three friends to do the same, all while raising money for ALS.

Once Charles got the ball rolling, word about the challenge spread quickly online, resulting in $220 million being raised for ALS research.

The Essential Elements

The success of the Ice Bucket Challenge was largely down to the ‘challenge and nominate’ strategy that formed the foundation of the campaign. But there were other key elements that helped it become an enormous viral success:

1) Humour

Humour can be risky as it’s so subjective. But, by injecting a light-hearted, humorous element into your marketing campaign, you stand a good chance of boosting it into viral realms.

In the case of the ALS ice bucket challenge, the humour was organic. It was created from the act of people throwing ice on their heads and watching them react, as well as the amusing interchanges between challengers and nominees on social media.

2) Emotion

ALS is a devastating, progressive illness that can’t be cured. By nature, it’s an emotive cause. As a result, the challenge gained traction in a matter of weeks: three, to be precise.

While the product, service, or concept you’re promoting might not be as emotive as a cause like ALS, by taking an emotional approach to your campaign, you’ll inspire people to engage in – and encourage others to engage in – your content, and your core message.

3) Accessibility

If a marketing campaign excludes a great number of people, its potential to build buzz and go viral will be slim to none.

So, for a PR campaign to morph into a viral sensation, your content, tone or message should be as inclusive as possible.

In the case of the ALS ice bucket challenge, the ‘challenge’ was accessible to most. Not only was it possible to partake in the challenge with just a bucket of ice water and a smartphone, but the time and effort it took to complete the challenge was minimal.

Importantly, while there was a challenge element to the ice bucket challenge. It was fun, simple and far from time-consuming: a powerful combination that allowed it to travel rapidly, making waves in a total of 153 countries worldwide.

4) Endorsement

Due to its visual, social media-based campaign model, the ice bucket challenge expanded its reach exponentially, reaching the feeds of people from all walks of life, including celebrities, politicians and influencers.

The likes of Madonna, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga took part, and nominated other high-profile personalities via their public social media feeds, which generated more traction and digital PR for the campaign.

If you make efforts early on to target your campaign at online influencers, you’ll be able to create a bona fide buzz quickly, which is essential if you want your campaign to go viral.

5) Hashtag

Hashtags are synonymous with popular culture. A memorable one is essential to the success of any viral digital marketing campaign.

As #icebucketchallenge was leveraged throughout the campaign, its global reach expanded in a matter of weeks, with 2.2 million Twitter mentions between July 29 and August 17, 2014, alone.

So those are the key elements that made the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge go viral.

But what are the benefits of virality?

The rewards in terms of brand awareness, brand authority and audience growth are great. When a viral campaign gains real traction, it seems as if there’s magic at play, which is what makes viral marketing such a sensational aspect of the digital marketing world.

Digital PR Strategy Deep Dive

We’ve given you food for thought in terms of creative inspiration, now let’s look at the bigger picture. What do you need to do to ensure your brilliant digital PR campaign is a resounding success from a strategic point of view?

1) Define your goals

This may seem to be glaringly obvious, but a lot of marketers are so eager to get into the nuts and bolts of their campaign, they don’t consider what they want to achieve or how they’ll measure its success.

One of the primary differences between digital PR and traditional PR is that digital is much easier to measure.

You can monitor effectiveness through:

  • Links: Particularly if your campaign is born out of an SEO need, you’ll want to measure the number and quality of new backlinks coming to your website
  • Link Positioning: In addition to the above, you’ll also want to state more specific requirements, such as links to certain pages or sections of your website
  • Traffic: One of your goals might be to get people to visit your website and interact with your brand. Site traffic is a tangible measure of this goal.

2) Consider the relevance

The relevance of your campaign should be closely connected with what you do as a brand and the keywords you’re trying to influence. This will enable you to target and build links in publications that focus on your core offerings. This is an important signal that search engines take into account when ranking websites.

For example, let’s say you sell tennis rackets online. Search engines will expect the vast majority of your links to come from tennis enthusiast and sport websites. Therefore, your campaign should reflect the interests of tennis enthusiasts and readers of well-known sports publications.

In other words, make your campaign relevant.

3) Do your research

Successful content can be a hugely useful source of inspiration, especially content that’s worked in your marketplace.

There are two useful tools to help you to do this.

Buzzsumo: This platform enables you to search and find topics which are generating a ‘buzz’ on the web. It’s a handy place to go if you’re looking for a sense of direction with your digital content marketing strategy.

Ahrefs: Ahrefs is one of the most popular link and rank tracking tools on the market. It’s a great way to find content that’s performed well in terms of social shares and/or links on a given topic. However, their Content Explorer tool is also hugely valuable for diving into topics and reviewing the pieces that have gained the most links.

4) Sense check your idea

How many times have you seen an ad and thought ‘how the heck did that get approved?’ Chances are, not many people were involved in the approval process.

Before jumping into the public relations campaign execution and launch, it’s a good idea to present the idea to people not directly involved in the project.  If you have friends in the media world, find out what they think. This can prevent you from launching a digital PR campaign that’s tone deaf, offensive or nonsensical.

5) Throw ideas around with the digital PR community

If you’re stuck for inspiration, you can always ask the digital PR community. A hotbed of creative people sharing content and ideas, it can be a great place to test out ideas and get feedback.

Here are some sources to check out:

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