We've all heard the adage that brands are supposed to behave like people on social media. You know your friends who are always first to tell you about some new social platform, who had already made a dozen Vine videos when you decided to give it a try? There are marketers like that too.
1. General Electric
You wouldn't necessarily expect GE to invest in content for a platform as over-populated by LOLCats (not to mention porn) as Tumblr is, but it has. The marketer is typically always among the first to start publishing content to social platforms with explosive user growth, from Pinterest to Instagram.
GE puts a heavy emphasis on inspirational content -- like artfully photographed turbines and engines -- for a science-minded set. But it can also be playful. Take a promoted tweet this week of a Vine that shows a snippet of a short film dubbed "Datalandia" the marketer produced.
Under the leadership of PepsiCo Beverages' global head of digital Shiv Singh -- who's now departing for Visa -- Pepsi became an ardent content creator and startup supporter. It also developed the social-TV platforms Pepsi Sound Off and Pepsi Pulse. Pulse was a digital visualization of online conversations about "X Factor" that turned into a reboot of Pepsi.com, which now serves up stories trending in pop culture in a Pinterest-like layout. Sound Off was modeled after Twitter and gave people another place to talk about "X Factor" and the Super Bowl.
During Mr. Singh's tenure, Pepsi warmly embraced startups and became an early partner of companies like Foursquare, Kiip, Pongr and NewsCred. As of last fall, an average of 10% of the digital-media budget across PepsiCo's beverage brands in the U.S. was invested with startups.
Burberry has assiduously cultivated an audience with gorgeously-lit, aspirational images on visual platforms like Tumblr and Instagram. It's a standout on the latter, where it has 890,000 followers, and was among the brands that worked with Facebook to have an Instagram video ready to go when the social network lifted the veil on the product at a splashy launch event last month.
4. USA Network
USA showed an experimental streak when it used an integration with Birchbox to help publicize the return of the series "Suits" in June. Branded boxes for Birchbox subscribers contained products picked to promote the show.
The network followed that up earlier this month with a more adventurous partnership, also to promote "Suits": a campaign on Tinder, the dating and hook-up app du jour that shows users the photos, first names and ages of available people in their area. Users usually either "like" a profile to send someone a message or nix it to keep looking. In the USA promotion, fake profiles for a male or female "Suits" character appeared, and a "like" gave Tinder users access to exclusive "Suits" content.
USA has also long been particularly active in social TV, building a "Character Chatter" platform, among other things, to encourage viewers to talk about the network's shows while they watch.
Oreo showed itself to be well ahead of the curve in real-time marketing with its masterful Super Bowl tweet that responded to the mid-game blackout. ("You can still dunk in the dark" was the message within the graphic it tweeted out that night.)
It's distinguished itself on social with whimsical campaigns, like last year when it celebrated its 100th birthday by posting a different cookie image every day for 100 days. Editions like the Shark Week Oreo and Mars Rover Oreo played off current events.
Oreo is currently in the midst of a "snack hacks" campaign, which includes a Vine showing how to make Oreo freeze pops.
AmEx is doing interesting experiments with social payments. This February, it started letting cardholders who had synced their account information with Twitter pay for certain items simply by typing a hashtag. (Available products included the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Xbox 360 4GB.) It was the next step of a "Sync" program the brand had touted a year earlier at the South by Southwest festival, through which cardholders could obtain statement credits for certain purchases when they synced their cards to Foursquare, Facebook or Twitter and posted about the store or product.
Purina is blessed with rich material for digital content creation in the guise of photogenic cats and dogs. It's sought to maximize the viral potential of Facebook content through a digital "newsroom" model with its agency Deep Focus, where a production team develops posts based on what's trending in the news that day.
Audi was a pioneer of a practice that two years ago seemed bold and experimental but now seems mundane: putting hashtags into TV commercials. In 2011 it was the first Super Bowl advertiser to include a hashtag (#ProgressIs) at the end of its 60-second spot.
Starbucks made a big bet on new tech when it announced last summer that it would invest $25 million in Square and accept its mobile payments app at 7,000 of its stores. It was also an early adopter of Foursquare, offering discounts to avid customers as early as 2010.
10. Taco Bell
Taco Bell gets props for being the first big brand to conduct a meaningful experiment on Snapchat, a hotbed of millennial action. It tweeted on April 30 that fans should follow it on Snapchat -- home of pictures that self-destruct after 10 seconds -- and sent those who did a message the following day announcing that it was bringing back the Beefy Crunch Burrito.
Taco Bell was first but doesn't have Snapchat to itself. Acura recently started a campaign where users who add it on Snapchat will be sent a fleeting video of a new "supercar" prototype.