What's the Holiday Cause Marketing Chatter on Social? Which Campaigns Broke Through and Why

Our 2012 Cone Communications Holiday Trend Tracker reveals that one out of every three Americans turns to social media to learn about holiday cause programs. Which campaigns are making a splash on social? We took a quick pulse* of the online chatter through tweets that were related to three of this year’s most well-known holiday cause efforts to find out which campaigns are "naughty" and which are "nice."

American Express "Small Business Saturday": Created in 2010 by American Express, Small Business Saturday aims to encourage support of local businesses on the heels of big-box Black Friday. American Express cardholders who spend $25 at a registered small business receive a $25 credit on their next statement – a win for the consumer, the small business and American Express.

Based on our quick Twitter search, nearly 12,000 tweets reaching more than 16 million users were found related to this topic. Looking at the conversation, major themes involved supporting small businesses, registering to receive a $25 credit and spreading thanks for participation, with words like "thanks," "shopping," and "join" cropping up in the discussion.

Macy’s "Believe": Now in its fifth year, Macy’s "Believe" gives children of all ages an opportunity to write a letter to Santa Claus. For each letter dropped off at the store’s Santa Mail letter box or submitted online, Macy’s will donate $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The Macy’s "Believe" conversation on Twitter amounted to around 2,500 tweets reaching more than 5 million users. Here, participants tweeted about Make-A-Wish Foundation and writing letters to Santa, but also mentioned specific individuals or families who would benefit from the campaign, using hashtags #Christmas, #Macys, #Believe to spread the message.

Toys "R" Us "Give Back with Shaq": Shaquille O’Neal has partnered with Toys "R" Us for the ninth annual holiday fundraising campaign, "Give Back with Shaq." The campaign encourages shoppers to make cash donations in stores nationwide and online to support the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. New this year, online shoppers can also purchase a toy for donation through "Shaq’s Santa Sack’s Christmas Wish List," which will go directly to a child in need in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

While this program only received around 900 tweets, it reached more than 20 million users, thanks to tweets from highly influential individuals like Ann Curry, Vince Wilfork, Ellen DeGeneres and of course Shaq. The conversation focused on giving locations, mentions of communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy and words like "collecting," "drop," and "unwrapped."

Based on this analysis, American Express came through as the most grassroots effort by breaking through the clutter on social media, but why?

Dedicated social media channels: American Express used social as a major vehicle to get the word out about the Small Business Saturday program, andit went above and beyond by creating dedicated social sites for the campaign. Through its@shopsmall Twitter handle and Small Business Saturday Facebook page, the company engrained the program into social channels. Although other campaigns had/have social media presence, there were no dedicated outlets for the conversation.

Clear social call to action: Through its dedicated Facebook page, American Express gave consumers a simple call to action through its "Small Business Saturday Checklist." Consumers were encouraged to 1) shop at registered small business; 2) tweet with #SmallBizSat; 3) rally friends via email and social posts; and 4) post photos of favorite small businesses using #SmallBizSat on Instagram. Whereas American Express supplied the tools to talk about the program online, the other campaigns fell short, effectively forcing consumer to make up their own hashtags about the programs and diluting the powerful campaign messages.

Rallied partners to spread message: American Express directly asked participating small businesses to spread the word about Small Business Saturday via social media -- and they answered the call with force, acting as an army of program and brand proponents. By engaging partners and tapping into their spheres of influence, American Express was able to reach exponentially more people than it ever could have alone.

Dedicated social media channels, special Twitter and Instagram hashtags and shareable photos and videos with a specific call to action are just some of the powerful tools to break through the clutter and spread the word about important causes. "Don’t leave consumers to their own devices when it comes to spreading your message on social media. Provide them with the tools to talk and they will amplify your message," explains Alex Nicholson, Vice President of New and Social Media at Cone Communications.

We encourage your thoughts and comments. Continue the conversation on Twitter by using #ConeCSR.

Prove Your Purpose will be taking a week off to ramp up for the new year. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season and a prosperous new year!

*Based on a Radian6 search from 11/15/12 - 12/11/12 using a range of keywords which included "Amex," "American Express," "#smallbizsat," "shop local," "small business Saturday," "November 24," "Shop local," "Toy R Us," "ToysRUs," "ToysForTots," "Toys For Tots," "Shaq," "Marine," "Sandy," "Macy’s," "Believe," "Believe Day," "Dear Santa," "Make A Wish," "MakeAWish," "Yes Virginia."

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