How the Girl Scouts Do Real-Time Social Marketing

Pop culture events widen social graph

Long gone are the days when the Girl Scouts relied on word of mouth and door-to-door cookie selling to build brand buzz. Now, the organization enlists Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram for everything from long-term recruitment efforts to timely contests and promotions.

Indeed, the organization uses a team of three employees to capitalize on pop culture moments—like when Luis Suarez’s bit an opponent during this year’s World Cup—that will broaden the brand’s appeal beyond moms and volunteers to the general public, according to Kayla Santalla, senior social media specialist at Girl Scouts of the USA. And in some cases, this real-time mentality helps the Girl Scouts blur the line between marketing and public relations.

For instance, the Girl Scouts posted a 13-second video riffing on Suarez bite in June. The video, which has been viewed more than 9,100 times on YouTube, shows a Samoa cookie biting a Thin Mint.

The clip was produced in a day and posted to social media. The video garnered one million media impressions during one night and was featured on ESPN and ABC. "It’s a way of leveraging digital assets that we create for social, creating a buzz around it and then pitching it to get essentially placement without paying for an ad in a prime time like the World Cup," Santalla said.

In another real-time marketing example, the Girl Scouts re-created Neil Armstrong’s famous moon landing to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July. Staffers also employ social listening tools to find and respond to online conversations about the brand.

Tech-savvy selling

Beyond real-time content, the Girl Scouts uses mobile payments and an app that locates nearby places where consumers can buy cookies. During "cookie season" the organization runs app install ads on Facebook and Twitter targeted at markets where cookie sales are going on.

The Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. has more than 267,000 followers on Facebook and another 43,000 on Twitter. Instagram and Pinterest collectively represent another 21,000 followers.

Since the bulk of Girl Scouts are under 13 years old—Facebook’s minimum age for opening an account—the organization’s social efforts target parents but play up the perspectives of scouts. "We usually lead with the girls’ stories and what they’re accomplishing," Santalla said.

While cookie season generates the most social outreach (the brand even has a stand-alone cookie Facebook page), the Girl Scouts also runs year-round contests and posts content regularly to keep the social engagement going.

Through Sept. 8, the brand is running a contest on Facebook called GirlSports Photo Challenge. The Offerpop-powered promo asks consumers to send in pictures showing how they stay active during the summer for a chance to win gift cards and merchandise.

"It has been going on a few weeks and engagement’s been crazy—I think we have over 40,000 votes, over 1,000 entrants so far," Santalla said. "It was a fun, low-lift way of keeping our fans engaged and keeping [Facebook’s] algorithm in our favor to balance out when we message out about other things that we want to resonate with our base."

Facebook ads have also been used to drive traffic to the contest, and the initiative fits into a bigger marketing push that will be employed this fall to boost the organization’s recruitment efforts.

Other planned media include geo-targeted Facebook ads and influencer efforts with Michelle Obama and Robin McGraw to recruit new volunteers.

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