Case Study: The Four 2012—Social Media Campaign for Marriage Equality
The Four 2012 was a social media campaign to support marriage equality ballot initiatives in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. Launched on September 5, 2012, the online effort was a collaboration between leaders in social media and the LGBT movement. Its focus was to create and distribute cutting-edge and highly sharable social media content to excite pro-equality Americans in the 60 days leading up to the ballot initiatives.
The campaign produced or disseminated a single piece of exciting and original digital content each day—including original videos, graphics, photography and other artwork. Content was sourced from national and state coalition partners like Mainers United for Marriage, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, Minnesotans United for All Families, Washington United for Marriage, Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
“The concept was to allow easy sharing and to syndicate this material over popular social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Tumbler and Pinterest,” said Ryan Davis, a co-founder of The Four 2012 and executive director of social innovation at Blue State Digital.
The Four 2012 approached Blue State Digital, a leading digital strategy agency, to design and implement a platform that would most effectively facilitate this “easy sharing” and syndication.
The entire project—including agency, advertising, strategy, creative and content production fees—cost less than $200,000. Funding for The Four 2012 was made possible by the generous founding contribution of Jason Goldberg, founder of Fab—the marketplace for everyday design—and from contributions by other supporters.
The Four 2012 made use of market research and successful messaging developed during New York’s successful Marriage Equality Act campaign and used by each of the four state coalitions as well as national partners. During their branding and creative brief development, The Four 2012 team worked with Purpose Media to develop a logo and a creative feel and direction.
When BSD was approached by The Four 2012, we knew that we needed to create something special, flexible, and effective—and we needed to execute it quickly. The client provided us with a great creative brief and a prepared brand featuring a strong square with two crossed lines and bold typography (making good use of Futura, one of our favorites). Our first deliverable was a simple and strong splash page for their site that would let The Four 2012 start to get the word out and build a base of followers. As soon as that page was up, we turned our attention to the full site design.
The site needed to be dynamic and engaging—our subject matter would attract a younger, diverse and progressive audience. In the research phase, we spent time looking at everything from LGBT sites and progressive political campaigns to childhood games like tangrams.
The Four 2012 and Blue State Digital decided against developing a traditional website and against a traditional blog-based approach to content posting. Instead, our focus was a system that would push content outwards via social channels where it could be shared, instead of keeping it locked on a static website. The solution was a branded, built-out Tumblr microsite, which took advantage of the platform’s custom pages module and incorporated Blue State Digital’s proprietary customer relationship management software.
Ultimately, by using the basic elements of the The Four 2012 brand—a square and diagonal lines—we were able to build a system for the site using different dynamic shapes that all related back to the brand and the energy behind this incredible movement. Each element on the site—including the date marker next to each post, the counter and the Twitterfall—had a unique shape. But thanks to our system, the site retained a cohesive look. Using the state flags of Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington as the inspiration, we applied a color scheme to the site that allowed us to color-code each individual blog entry. This way the user could quickly scan the entries to find the ones that pertained to a particular state.
Building a site, particularly a Tumblr-based site, meant that we needed a system that would work with almost any piece of content. The consistent use of dynamic shapes and color meant that the site could be updated quickly and easily while still retaining a cohesive look.
There was a real challenge in creating a good piece of content each day. We learned that producing daily material wasn’t always doable—although some of our most popular content came directly from The Four 2012’s team—and so we learned to crowdsource more content. A daily publishing schedule meant we had to be very timely, so by 10 a.m. each day the creative team would usually agree upon the content for noon publication that same day.
On Election Day, The Four 2012’s “Get Out The Vote” content reached five million young people in key states. Some of our most popular content received tens of thousands of interactions, the kind of virality only seen by the largest brands on Facbeook. To The Four 2012's delight, their content was remixed, edited and used by activists around the country.
In the end, all four states voted on the side of marriage equality for the first time in history. The Four 2012 produced more than fifty pieces of original content, generating earned media in The New York Times and The Advocate and from major bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post. The Four 2012 also received content contributions from Lady Gaga, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Google and many more.
New Left Media’s four-part documentary series, Marriage for All Families, was produced in association with The Four 2012 and follows the lives of affected families in each of the states that had marriage equality votes.
This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.