Welcome to the Social Spotlight, where we dive deep into what we love about a brand’s approach to a specific social campaign. From strategy through execution and results, we’ll examine what makes the best brands on social tick — and leave you with some key takeaways to consider for your own brand’s social strategy.


The competition for attention is fierce for brands on social. Take a moment to consider what happens every 60 seconds on that channel: Instagram users post 277,777 stories and 55,140 photos, YouTube users watch 4.5 million videos and Twitter users send 511, 200 tweets—per minute! And if divided attention wasn’t enough of a hurdle for brands, consumers are also more informed, more selective, less trusting and less patient than ever before. It’s no wonder 58% of social marketers say increasing brand awareness is still their number one goal for social. How does a brand looking to make a name for itself overcome these obstacles? To help us answer that question, let’s take a deep dive into a company with arguably the greatest brand recognition in history.

At the time of writing, Nike takes the gold for most followed brand on Instagram clocking in at 117 million followers. When asked their opinion during our survey for the Sprout Social Index™ Edition XVI: Above & Beyond, 9% of our consumer respondents wrote in Nike as the best brand to follow on social. Sure, it’s the largest and most profitable athletic footwear and apparel company in the world. But success in the market doesn’t always translate to success on social. So what’s their secret? Consumers and social marketers agree that a brand’s social media presence stands out from the competition when it’s creative, memorable and impactful.

Here’s how Nike does it, and how you can (just) do it too:


1. Utilize innovative technology and gamification.

Product innovation is a big part of Nike’s success, so it’s no surprise that the brand likes to think outside the box on social, too. In 2018, Nike teamed up with conversational AI platform, Snaps, to create a Facebook Messenger Bot for its Air Jordan brand. The bot delivered content from the Air Jordan blog and Jordan.com and enabled users to shop, read and engage in two-way conversations with the brand. Incredibly, the brand reported that the content was generating 87% open rates vs. the typical 15-20% from emails.

Gamification is another way Nike turns heads on social. With the Nike+ app, the brand motivates consumers to share their fitness-related accomplishments on their social channels. It turns users’ daily physical activity into a community builder by inspiring a little friendly competition among their social connections.

  • Getting started: Employing a creative use of technology is one sure-fire ways to pique customer interest and get people talking about your brand. Consider partnering with either an existing or emerging tech solution like Nike did with Snaps. Do some social listening to surface trends and interests relevant to your industry. And don’t be afraid to tap into your audience’s competitive spirit when you invite them to engage with your brand or product on social.

2. Explore new video content.

Nike commercials are infamous. The inspirational music, the motivational voiceover. They’ve pretty much nailed the formula at this point. But in order to keep that formula feeling fresh, the brand team makes regular use of the different video formats and functionalities available to them on social. Some videos like this one employ the familiar “voice-over-inspirational-footage” format. But they also mix it up by replacing the voiceover with simple, on-screen text, or the video footage with static images or unedited user-generated content. They also take advantage of platforms like YouTube and IGTV to feature more long-form content like their fictional mini-series, “Margot Vs. Lily,” and their documentary-style “Common Thread” series.

Getting started: Until recently, effective video content might not have been an option for some brands limited by small teams and budgets. But the global pandemic has leveled the playing field. Many brands (including ours) have been forced to quickly adapt video production in the absence of studios, equipment and IRL subjects. Luckily, limitations often lead to the most creative solutions. Take a page from Nike’s book and make use of UGC and on-screen text. Or breath new life into old footage with a little editing magic and a simple voice-over.


3. Embrace emotional storytelling.

Brands across every industry are pivoting away from product-focused marketing to more emotional storytelling in an effort to make deeper connections with their audience. And no one does it better than Nike. Most of their advertising doesn’t make specific mention of its products. Why? Because Nike doesn’t sell shoes—it sells a belief. It sells the belief that anyone who works hard and puts their mind to it can overcome any obstacle and emerge a victor. It’s a classic hero narrative and it’s the core story behind every piece of marketing they create. Even when the brand is showcasing one of their pro athlete partners (a pillar of its social strategy) it uses the athlete’s story to reinforce Nike’s message of possibility, and to inspire the next generation.


Getting started: At the heart of every great emotional story is a simple, yet profound insight. Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign was a response to the widely-held belief among their target audience that “greatness” was only reserved for prodigies and superstars. What about your audience? What are their challenges and pain points? What beliefs do they hold that could be holding them back? As brands, we win when we help people see possibilities. Position your brand as the key to unlocking their potential.

4. Keep it simple.

Notice how simple “Find your greatness” is. Or “Just do it.” To be memorable, your message needs to be, you know, easy to remember. There’s a familiarity and simplicity about Nike’s brand creative, especially on social. Take this tweet, for example. The tweet reads, “It’s only crazy until you do it.” Seven small words sure to plant a seed in your head, and hopefully, your heart.

Getting started: “Omit needless words” is one of my favorite writing principles originating from the infamous style guide, The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. And it’s a great reminder for marketers who typically default to over-explaining and drowning their audience in details. The beauty of distilling your message down to just a few words is that you force yourself to get to the core of your idea, and pack all your passion into a simple phrase, image or idea.


5. Champion causes you believe in.

As part of a long-term plan to show young athletes that the brand was committed to social justice, Nike partnered with NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick for a cause-related campaign in 2018. And just like Kaepernick’s decision to kneel in protest during the national anthem, the move was met with both high praise and serious criticism. Undeterred by the backlash, Nike remains committed to cause-related marketing on their social channels. In support of the growing racial justice movement, the brand has made it clear where it stands in back-to-back posts. But the brand isn’t just offering words of support for the issues they care about—they’ve also shared plans for action. Take this tweet for instance, pledging products to help frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic.

Getting started: Gone are the days of staying neutral and “staying out of it.” Consumers today want brands to take a stand, and we’ve got the data to prove it. According to our recent Brands Get Real report, 70% of consumers say it’s important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues, up from 66% in 2017. And nearly half of consumers (47%) want brands to take a stand on social. In our Ben & Jerry’s Social Spotlight, we mention the importance of establishing the causes most important to your brand. I also recommend a good social listening tool to find out which issues your audience cares about to ensure your values are aligned. A great place to start after that is to find an organization or movement leader doing meaningful work for the cause you’re looking to champion, and propose a partnership.

6. Partner with influencers.

No brand understands the power of influencers like Nike. Sure, more eyes on your product means more potential purchases—but it’s also a connection play. What better way to engage with your audience than to create content with the athletes and artists they love most? Scroll through Nike’s Instagram and Twitter feeds and you’ll see a lot of famous faces: Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, just to name a few. But then there’s Nike’s more unexpected influencer partnerships, like father and son co-hosts Dan and Lincoln Markham of the popular YouTube channel, “What’s Inside?” In collaboration with Nike, the two created seven sponsored videos documenting a trip to Nike’s headquarters, including one in which they cut Nike’s latest shoe, the Air Vapormax, in half. The series was a huge hit and expanded Nike’s reach beyond their typical audience.

Getting started: Instead of wondering if your brand content will resonate, use the voices you know your audience already listens to. Now, Nike-sponsored athletes are some of the most well-known artists and athletes in the world. But you don’t need A-list celebrities to create content your audience will love. You just might need to think a little outside the box, like Nike did with “What’s Inside?” I know I’m a broken record by now, but social listening is the number one way to surface these nano and micro-influencers straight from your audience’s conversations on social. A sophisticated tool will show you an influencer’s follower count and potential reach of your message.

BONUS TIP: Find your greatness.

I realize that Nike is one of the biggest brands in the world. You might read this and think, “but we’re not Nike.” But that’s the beauty of their brand’s core message: Anyone can be great. With the right tools and the right strategy, your brand can overcome any obstacle—whether it’s a limited budget, tough competition or you’re just starting out. Nike had to start somewhere, and today, you can too. Just do it.