You don’t have to travel very far back in marketing history to a time when brands joining social networks was a scary new notion. But social media marketing is no longer the untested territory it once was, and a quick search online can give you best practices, guides, and case studies for almost any mainstream social site. Even the Fortune 500 have (slowly) climbed on board – a recent University of Massachesetts study found that the number of Fortune 500 companies active on social media has grown this year across every platform. And while there’s still a lot of learning to be done, SMM isn’t so far outside many marketers’ comfort zones anymore.

Just don’t get too comfortable! Social media marketing demands innovation and the ability to react quickly to changes both in the popularity and capabilities of social sites. Get your own creativity flowing by checking out these boundary-pushing brands that are finding new ways to get the most out of social media.

1. Nordstrom Brings Pinterest into the Real World

The Idea

Nordstrom Pinterest DisplayFashion retailer Nordstrom is testing out the power of Pinterest by setting up displays of “Top Pinned Items” in 13 of their locations across the US. Tagged with a Pinterest logo, the clothing and accessories in these displays are chosen from among Nordstrom’s most pinned items, and will vary slightly from store to store depending on available inventory. They’re also testing the effects of showcasing popular Pinterest items in-store using iPad displays.

Nordstrom already has an active presence on Pinterest, with just over 4.5 million followers, and has incorporated Pinterest share buttons on their website. The retailer plans to wait until early August before they assess the impact of the in-store displays. Speaking to Business Insider, Nordstrom social media manager Bryan Galipeau said: “Our intuition is that this test might translate digital insight into a real experience. It’s compelling to consider how an online community could affect merchandising decisions in a physical store.”

The idea for this innovative campaign is deeply rooted in customer insights. Nordstrom spokesperson Colin Johnson explains that “Pinterest continues to be a key part of what we do because our customers love it and want us to be there. We’ll continue to evolve anything we do on social based on our customers and what our different communities are looking for.”

The Takeaways

Social proof has been long been praised as a highly effective marketing tactic to aid consumer decision making. In fact, 90% of consumers in a Dimensional Research survey said that online reviews influence their purchasing decisions! When you’re shopping online, positive social proof (such as ratings, reviews, and social share counts) can reduce feelings of unease. Nordstrom’s “top pinned” displays bring this reassurance into the real world. The notion of buying a socially endorsed or coveted item can be powerful motivator for shoppers who value approval and reassurance from others.

But leveraging social media in this way definitely won’t work for every retailer. Nordstrom aligned themselves with a site that their consumers are already familiar with, and care about. They would have also carefully considered the attitudes of their target market – if you’re trying to attract fashionistas who value unique finds or exclusivity, showcasing your most popular products could backfire big time.

2. Chipotle’s Twitter Gets “Hacked”

The Idea

Followers of @ChipotleTweets, the official Twitter account of the restaurant chain, were confused recently by this stream of strange tweets:

Chipotle Twitter HackAbout an hour after the first tweet went out, Chipotle apologized for the unusual account activity.

Chipotle TweetCompared to the Burger King and Jeep Twitter hacks earlier this year, this one was pretty tame, leading some to speculate whether the account was truly “hacked.” Brandon Hassler notes how Chipotle’s slow response time and decision not to take down the tweets, only adds to this speculation. Not to mention the fact that the “hack” came right in the middle of the brand’s 20th anniversary Adventurrito campaign.

Initially, Chipotle sidestepped confirming the legitimacy of the hack. But as of Wednesday, the company has officially admitted that it was all an intentional marketing ploy to cut through the clutter and grab consumers attention.

The Takeaways

The “hacked” tweets earned far more social engagement than the average @ChipotleTweets update. As of approximately 24 hours later, these 12 tweets had a combined total of 11,193 retweets and 4,714 favorites. Not the mention the media buzz. The story was picked up on ultra popular sites like BuzzFeed, Mashable, and the Huffington Post, as well as newspapers like the Toronto Star. Encouraged by these results, will other brands start using social media stunts to gain wider exposure?

Just remember that consumers don’t take kindly to being lied to – even if it’s all in good fun. Trying to capitalize on the attention Burger King and Jeep had received, MTV decided to prank their followers by staging a fake Twitter hack. But many were left unimpressed when they realized it was only a hoax, and openly criticized the brand.

3. Pepsi Trades Free Samples for Facebook Likes

The Idea

Pepsi has created a unique vending machine that gives out free sample-sized cans of Pepsi and Pepsi Max in exchange for consumers’ Facebook Likes. This vending machine (dubbed “The Like Machine“) requires consumers with smart phones to download an app to interact with it. After Liking the brand, you’re given the option to choose between 2 different Pepsi flavours. If you don’t have a smartphone you’re not out of luck – the machine has a touch screen, allowing you to login to Facebook and Like Pepsi so you can get your free sample too. The machine was introduced earlier this year at a Beyoncé concert in Antwerp, Belgium. Think you’ll be seeing more Like Machines around in the future?

The Takeaways

Pepsi isn’t hiding the fact that their new vending machine is here to ‘shake up’ the traditional approach to product sampling. Beyond simply distributing samples, the Like Machine allows Pepsi to track who these samples were given to. It’s ultimately the data that offers more exciting marketing possibilities than the boost to the company’s social media profile. While you could argue that these consumers are ‘Liking’ Pepsi for all the wrong reasons, Pepsi has the opportunity to build relationships with these consumers over time through the content and offers they share on Facebook. The main message here is that the conversation between a consumer and a brand doesn’t have to end as soon as they walk away with their free sample.

Social media and sampling could be a marketing match made in heaven. But since it naturally excludes the non-social-savvy crowd, your target audience must be both willing and able to trade their data for freebies. It’s also worth considering whether the extra step of requiring social interaction takes away from the original objective of sampling campaigns, which is to encourage trial, leading some consumers to ultimately make a purchase. But based on Pepsi’s video, it doesn’t look like the Like Machine is scaring anyone away.

What do you think about these attention-grabbing social media ideas? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tagged with: Chipotle, Engagement, Facebook, Innovation, Nordstrom, Pepsi, Pinterest, Sampling, Social Media Marketing, social proof, Twitter

About Brittney Stephenson

Marketing Assistant at Powered by Search with a special interest in social media, marketing strategy, and market research. Read more posts by Brittney on her personal site