Natalie Johnson

“Dear Coke, we couldn’t buy Surge, so we bought this billboard instead.”

That was the message on a billboard half a mile away from The Coca-Cola Company’s headquarters. It pointed to “Surge Movement,” a Facebook page created by three guys that turned into a group of over 155,000 people.

Their mission: To bring back the discontinued soft drink from the 1990’s, Coca-Cola’s Surge. And with the recent burst of 90’s nostalgia among millennials, Coke decided to go with it.

“We didn’t know if this was going to work, but we had a hunch that it would,” says Natalie Johnson, The Coca-Cola Company’s Senior Manager of Digital Communications and Social Media, in her presentation at our Brands-Only Summit.

“We heard what the community was saying, and we listened to them,” Natalie says.

Brands have to plan to find a common thread with what matters to their audience and what fits the company’s goals.

She calls this Coke’s “Pull” strategy, an effort to take what they’re hearing from social listening and build off of the existing momentum. From there, Surge became their first eCommerce product sold exclusively on Amazon.

Coke did it all without any traditional marketing or PR — instead, they focused solely on digital and social media marketing.

Natalie says it’s all about meeting your audience where they’re talking to you.

The Surge Movement started in social media, so they brought the conversation to social media with their award-winning corporate digital magazine and content hub, The Coca-Cola Journey.

“Sharing it on The Coca-Cola Journey allowed us to tell that story. If you’re trying to do an organic push, make sure you have a hub or place to bring people back to so you can continue to develop the relationship with your audience,” Natalie explains.

They kept the conversation going by featuring the three guys behind the Surge Movement.

“It wasn’t about the product. It wasn’t about us. It was about Sean, Evan, and Matt and why they wanted to bring Surge back. And that received excellent engagement scores.”

So they took it a step further. To build on that momentum, Coke simply asked fans to share their Surge photos. The result: “This particular post and user-generated content has received the greatest amount of submissions of anything we’ve asked for so far,” says Natalie.

Pulling it off took what Natalie calls the “Three P’s:” Plan, Process, and Publish.

We had to know our audience, what was going to resonate well, and how to build off of that momentum.

Brands have to plan to find a common thread with what matters to their audience and what fits the company’s goals. The Surge Movement on Facebook fit well with Coca-Cola’s need to reach 90s-loving millennials.

As for the process, Natalie says your team’s decisions-makers need to be there the whole way — the execution can’t just be handed off to an intern.

“You don’t just want the lowest person on the totem pole hitting a publish button. You may need to make a last-minute change on the way your plan is structured, or you may have to iterate a bit. Those two or three people working on this process need to be closely aligned, and they all need to be a part of the equation from beginning to end.”

And of course, she says, when you publish, it has to be flawless. For example, that means keeping a close eye on the news so you know when it’s appropriate to publish.

But their success wasn’t just about engagement in social, it’s about ROI too.

Within 24 hours of bringing Surge back, it sold out. In fact, it continued to sell out each week the supply was replenished.

We heard what the community was saying, and we listened to them. But we had to know our audience, what was going to resonate well, and how to build off of that momentum.”

Watch Natalie’s full presentation at SocialMedia.org’s Brands-Only Summit to learn more, including how they shared their sustainability initiative in social. Natalie’s been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2009. Follow her on Twitter here.


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