Social media has become a tool used by big and small business alike. In the case of small business, social media is a marketing method that can offer tremendous value for a low cost – when utilized in the right way.
In 2017, the owner of a now thriving chain of Turkish steakhouses, Chef Nusret Gökçe, went viral with his 'Salt Bae' social campaign, through which he used Instagram to propel brand awareness, and ultimately, boost bottom line performance.
The campaign demonstrates how creativity can propel both virality, social capital and brand innovation, with little to no budget - the success of the campaign has made it possible for Nusret to open multiple restaurants, including the successful launch of a new restaurant in the heart of London.
At the same time, the Salt Bae campaign also highlights our changing cultural landscape, and how the strategic use of social media can help businesses thrust themselves into the modern cultural convergence and stay ahead of the shift of the changing patterns in the way narrative, informational, and visual content circulates. This creates an interactive and participative environment, which is an entirely new way of seeing the audience as not only consumers, but as creators and distribution channels as well, broadening the reach of your messaging.
As consumer trust lies closer to the fellow consumers, rather than the brands themselves, the holy grail lies in empowering your audience to be part of the brand voice, and exponentially accelerate word of mouth.
The Salt Bae campaign accelerated the reach, engagement and amplification on Chef Nusret’s previously mundane Instagram account.
The early success of the original 'salt bae' post (above) prompted him to share the video more broadly, using the accompanying #saltbae hashtag, which was coined by Twitter user @lolalissaa.
By choosing Instagram, an inherently visual social media platform to first launch his campaign, Nusret was able to gain traction quickly, propelling the viral success of the post. Online virality is a more powerful version of word-of-mouth marketing - sometimes even referred to as 'e-word-of-mouth' (or eWOM). Based on studies conducted into marketer-generated eWOM, persuasion capacity has been acknowledged as a "potential contributor to consumer attitudes and behaviors".
Companies like Starbucks and Red Bull have mastered the approach of actively engaging their audiences to produce content, and to encourage the reach, engagement, and amplification of such material. Persuasion knowledge, developed via interactions in a virtual consumer community with messages from marketers and consumers, clearly impacts ways consumers share information.
The key obviously lies in creating something highly shareable to begin with, which is the more difficult element to plan, but the approach diverts from common marketing norms, utilizing the 'social' elements of the medium to best effect.
The Key Elements of Social Success
The strategic use of social media for business can be broken into three categories: paid, owned and earned.
- Paid social media, as it sounds, requires the use social media advertising to reach a wider audience
- Owned social involves the dissemination of the message through a brand’s social channels (or associated influencer channels)
- Earned social requires an engaged audience who will share and amplify the brand’s message without direct compensation
Earned is the most valuable of the three, and is the key requirement for vast reach, or "virality" of a given social post.
Each of these elements is key to strategic brand use of social media. Social media business objectives include stimulating sales, increasing brand awareness, improving brand image, generating traffic to online platforms, reducing marketing costs and creating user interactivity on platforms by stimulating users to post or share content.
In the case of Chef Nusret’s Salt Bae campaign, he achieved several of the aforementioned goals with negligible costs or ad spend. The chef’s innovative use of the medium also provided his business with a competitive advantage over much larger brands, with significantly higher social media and marketing budgets.
Innovative brands adapt and utilize the notion of radical innovation as the definitive outcome of any branding strategy, which aims to transform markets and gain a superior competitive advantage. Failing to be an early adopter on the diffusion of innovation curve will provide far less success, coupled with an increased budget that won’t provide the success of the early adopters.
For example, by using social media branding, firms need to continuously innovate to overcome competition and survive in a fast-changing environment. For the firm that's able to wipe away the old while creating new opportunities, a source of sustainable competitive advantage may be achieved.
A branding strategy on social media that transforms existing markets, creates new practices, and shifts or introduces entirely new technological and performance trajectories is thus what we refer to as 'social media brand innovation'.
Additionally, drawing from social capital theory, an organization's social media’s strategic capabilities can be enhanced, and brand innovation can be achieved, as a consequence of the value generated from social media networks.
Unlike traditional forms of marketing, social media has provided businesses like chef Nusrat, the ability to demonstrate honesty, transparency and humor on a daily basis to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of customers and prospective customers.
Tapping into Social's Strengths
Chef Nusret’s campaign demonstrates how social media can be used to foster brand innovation and mass social media success by focusing on the creative process, rather than on the traditional approach of ad spend.
Reaching millions of consumers will often cost a brand millions of dollars, whereas strategic and creative use of owned media can spur organic growth in earned media, leading to a more cost-effective eWom campaign.
Such creativity can give brands a strategic and competitive advantage over much larger firms, as demonstrated by Nusret’s Salt Bae campaign. Again, the key lies in creating engaging, shareable content, and that's not always easily replicated. But as this campaign shows, it can be worth thinking outside the traditional marketing box, and tapping into the key strengths of the medium to fuel greater success.