#LoveWins: 3 things brands can learn from the marriage equality campaign

Michael Crawford is the digital director at the non-profit activist group Freedom to Marry.

The biggest challenge for any campaign right now is to get noticed. We’re all competing for attention.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling legalizing the freedom to marry nationwide. The marriage equality movement has been activating passionate supporters for years, and the recent conversation-shaping successes around user-generated content provide a useful blueprint for brands.

In advance of Supreme Court oral arguments, Freedom to Marry launched #LoveMustWin, a social media campaign to amplify the message that America is ready for the freedom to marry. And it took off: Thousands participated in the campaign as well as brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Chobani, Broadway stars, and political leaders including Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage on June 26 sparking the global trending hashtag #LoveWins.

It didn’t happen overnight. The campaign’s success was the result of a focus on powerful storytelling, message research, and targeted communications that led to a huge cultural shift in favor of marriage equality. Six years ago, we partnered with Blue State Digital (the firm behind the Obama campaign’s digital operation) as we recognized that digital and social media could be a crucial tool in transforming the marriage movement.

The movement’s success in building marriage into a winning issue offers some clear lessons for other campaigns looking to build supporters and increase awareness. Here are three key lessons from #LoveMustWin:

Identify influencers.
To build #LoveMustWin into a trending topic across social platforms, we created a targeted list of aspirational influencers. We engaged each influencer with personally targeted messages using a variety of means. On the day of oral arguments, we monitored the activity of our identified influencers and seized opportunities to amplify their content.

We leveraged early support from influencers like Vine superstar Jeffrey Marsh and Broadway shows including “Kinky Boots” and “Fun Home” for earned media and continued outreach to other influencers.

What this means for you: Make friends. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of building awareness. Be smart about which influencers you’re engaging with. Consider the personality of each influencer, the channels on which they are most active, and the actions you believe will be most impactful.

Provide a framework and then let go.
We asked supporters to speak up on their social media platform using the hashtag #LoveMustWin. We wanted to create the opportunity for supporters to express themselves, which meant giving up some control of the message. This empowered our supporters to be more creative in the content they shared.

What this means for you: Let go. The most successful recent campaigns that inspire people to get involved are based around the content, not the brand. Being authentic on social is imperative, and creating a campaign that is a related, yet un-branded effort will help ensure that you’re providing a meaningful experience for your audience.

Create a feedback loop.
We created a dedicated page on our website that featured a selection of the best submitted content. We also shared on selected content across our social channels. This in turn generated more content as our supporters wanted to be featured on Freedom to Marry channels.

What this means for you: Listen, curate and celebrate. By touting your audience’s contributions and giving them some love in return, you’ll encourage further action. By using your platforms to encourage the perception that “everyone is doing this,” you’re guaranteed to see more success and engagement by your fans and their networks.

Success didn’t happen overnight. But by building a long-tail digital presence centered around genuine user engagement and storytelling, we built a strong case for marriage.

No matter your audience, think about how you can activate it in an authentic yet data-driven manner that’s focused on core message. For us, that message was that Love Must Win. And on June 26, 2015, it did.


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