How Ben and Jerry’s Celebrates Community and Creates Loyal Fans

Any of my coworkers will tell you how much I love Ben and Jerry’s. Their ice cream is delicious and they are constantly doing cool, socially responsible things. To me, what really makes Ben and Jerry’s stand out is how ahead of the curve they are with their fan interaction and community engagement.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Jay Curley, Ben and Jerry’s Global Marketing Manager, discuss the company’s recent #CaptureEuphoria Instagram campaign at the NYC Social Media Strategies Summit. Ben and Jerry’s asked Instagram fans to post a photo using the hashtag #CaptureEuphoria. There didn’t need to be ice cream in the photo – the only requirement was a moment of fan euphoria. Ben and Jerry’s took their favorite photos from around the world and published them in the winners’ local communities. And we’re not just talking an ad in the local paper… There was a full page ad in Rolling Stone Magazine for a winner from NYC, taxi ads for a DJ in Ft. Lauderdale, billboards, bus stop signs and even drink coasters. The goal wasn’t to sell ice cream. It was to celebrate their community.

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How does Ben and Jerry’s create fans like me? They take best practices for fan loyalty and engagement one step further. Here are a few key points Jay discussed for how Ben and Jerry’s engages and builds relationships with fans:

1. Celebrating Community

Ben and Jerry’s does more than listen to fans and participate in the conversation – they celebrate their community, in ways that don’t necessarily translate directly to ROI. Almost none of the Instagram photos Ben and Jerry’s published during their #CaptureEuphoria campaign included ice cream. The main title of the ads was the Instagram winner’s username, not the Ben and Jerry’s name. They cared more about celebrating their amazing Instagram community than selling ice cream and it shows.

2. Staying True to Their Values

On social media, Ben and Jerry’s shares photos of the employees at Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, where all of the brownies are made for flavors like New York Super Fudge Chunk. Greyston provides employment opportunities to people with major barriers who might not otherwise find employment. These photos won’t get the kind of engagement ice cream food-porn will, but are essential to Ben and Jerry’s social mission. Ben and Jerry’s makes a conscious decision to care more about the content they are posting and the community they represent than the number of engagements any one photo receives on Instagram.

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3. Loving Their Fans. . . A Lot. 

Ben and Jerry’s genuinely cares about their fans. Something as simple as liking a fan’s Instagram photo and as complex as sending trucks up and down the coasts to give out free ice cream can create instant love in the mind of a fan who just wants to be recognized by their favorite brand. I once suggested via Twitter that they donate ice cream to AHRC Nassau, an organization that teaches, supports and advocates for people with disabilities, and they actually did!

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4. Being Real, Dynamic and Multi-layered

In order to effectively engage with your social communities, you have to be human and you have to be real. Ben and Jerry’s proves they are real, dynamic and multi-layered by engaging their audiences on topics other than ice cream – issues they believe in. When Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage, Ben and Jerry’s wasn’t afraid to celebrate on their social channels. Ben and Jerry’s uses their social mission to guide interactions that go beyond talking about their product.

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All of this boils down to a very simple concept: loyalty. Ben and Jerry’s has loyal fans because Ben and Jerry’s has been loyal to their fans. They have celebrated their community, been open about their values, stayed true to who they are and engaged with their fans on multiple levels. Their bottom line is about more than ice cream; it’s about social good and community engagement.

When I spoke with Jay after the conference, he mentioned that the social mission grew out of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield’s desire to run a company that they were proud of. When they started feeling like they were losing touch with their core values, Ben and Jerry took a step back and revised their model to reflect a way of business they supported. This is at the core of why Ben and Jerry’s has been so successful – they are committed to running a company they can be proud of.* That’s one of the many reasons I love Ben and Jerry’s so much . . . A pint of Chubby Hubby or any of my favorite flavors doesn’t hurt either!

Ben and Jerry’s is a company that uses social media exceptionally well. As a communicator, it’s important to remember how to take “normal” or “expected” interactions one step further to foster an engaged and loyal community of supporters.

Me and Ben Cohen

Me and Ben Cohen

*Ben and Jerry aren’t involved in day-to-day operations of B&J anymore, but they are still involved in the social mission.

Photo Credits: Ft. Lauderdale Taxi (credit: Jay Curley); Rolling Stone Magazine (credit: Jay Curley); Coasters (credit: Jay Curley); Billboard (credit: Jay Curley); Greyston Bakery Employee (credit: Jay Curley);

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