How this New York startup’s idea caught on with Microsoft, Under Armour, and other major corporations

A couple years ago, an idea popped into Michael Wieder’s head. The Head of Brand Marketing at WayUp, a startup that connects students and recent graduates with internships and entry-level job opportunities, wanted to create awareness and recognize one of the most taken-for-granted populations in the workforce: interns.

Two years later, New York-based WayUp launched National Intern Day, a new National Holiday dedicated to celebrating the country’s hard-working interns.

National Intern Day scored participation from major American corporations and organizations, from Under Armor to Microsoft, the ACLU to the Chicago Cubs, and thousands more. National Intern Day generated over 200 million social media impressions, while paying tribute to hard-working interns everywhere.

#NationalInternDay by WayUp

The campaign was so successful that almost every morning show, including The Today Show, celebrated their interns on camera, 400 companies signed up, and #NationalInternday became the number one trending topic in the world on Twitter. So how did Michael and his team take this idea from concept to #viral? Here are his lessons on how to bring a bright idea to center stage.

WayUp’s CEO Liz Wessel on The Today Show

Rainy day is OK: If you can’t implement a good idea, right away, save it

WayUp’s #NationalInternDay was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. Michael first began to think about the idea two years before launch, which is eons in startup time. He bought the domain name in 2015, knowing that he would follow up when the timing was right. With such a good idea, the maximum impact wouldn’t be achieved without resources, time to develop the content properly, and a fantastic project manager.

In fact, Michael thinks that had they just run with the idea, the nature would have been entirely different. “If we would have done it then, it would have been a much clearer acquisition play. As a smaller company with only 100,000 users at the time and only 7 employees, it was just where we were at the phase of our business.”

By not just focusing on customer acquisition, #NationalInternDay became about the users, and not about direct WayUp promotion. They were able to subtly tie their strong message back to their core mission, which is a great indicator of a successful brand marketing campaign. “We became the number one trend on Twitter worldwide” says Michael, “not because every tweet had WayUp in it, but because people latched on to the National Intern Day concept.”

‘Moving fast and breaking things’ is not always the answer

Startup culture tends to foster creativity and self leadership. However, running with every bright idea without carefully considering whether the implementation will serve the company is less than ideal.

When Michael first explored the idea, he realized it would have to be in August because it was already late July, and summer internships were coming to an end, and companies were looking for a boost during the summer sag. Despite their passion for the idea, mid-July was far too late to put it together properly. “Move fast, get it done. We had to throw that out the window. We were like, ‘This is just not right.’ ”

Two years and 30X user growth later, it was time. Michael gathered a dream team for an epic brainstorm. “The fact that we were able to wait to a time where we did have resources in terms of people and in terms of brain power and ideas was really, really important.“ Despite the manpower on hand, Michael kept the project dynamic with a go at it together attitude, “we still kind of kept the scrappiness to it as if we did it two years ago with the same amount of budget we probably would have done it with two years ago.“

Beyond analytics: Consider why your project supports your end goals

So you want to go viral, but the question every company needs to ask themselves is what is the end goal beyond vanity metrics of impressions and Twitter buzz. How will it move the needle for your business?

For WayUp, the campaign was perfectly tied into their overall goals, because they wanted to increase brand awareness. They wanted to be exposed to more job seekers, standing out by demonstrating interest in individual people and their career path, rather than being a staid job site.

Brilliantly, the campaign was also littered with B2B elements, attracting big employers towards brand awareness. From running awards where companies had to enter and nominate their interns, over 70% of which became new leads, to sending branded boxes with a banner, pens, and the basics for a celebration getting the WayUp name and logo into major office buildings, #NationalInternDay also created exposure amongst major potential clients.

As Michael says, “It’s amazing to have a cold call turn into a warm call the second the sales team says hello, but it would be foolish if we didn’t look at the other side of it as a market play.” They focused hard on how to weave both B2B and B2C elements of the same campaign together, and they hit the mark.

Going viral: The secret is planning -and doing the heavy lifting

With the idea and momentum going for #NationalInternDay, WayUp had some major planning to do. Rather than blast it out, WayUp took a controlled approach, deciding not to launch publicly until 50 large corporations had signed on offline. They achieved this in a matter of days, by offering the complete package from day one to participating companies, no heavy lifting necessary. It was all there: in terms of making their pledge, how to participate, what it meant to pledge to participate, even custom post-it notes saying, “I love my interns cuz…” There was no contract to sign, there was no buy-in. Just a feel-good idea, with everything done to prompt participation.

In addition, the team made sure to spend the time building a complete microsite that housed all information tied to the campaign, to ensure they would have a centralized place for all communication moving forward.

Sometimes, it does come down to luck

When the campaign launched, WayUp saw incredible response, with CEOs like John Legere of T-Mobile and Satya Nadella of Microsoft posting about #NationalInternDay. Despite all the planning, Michael still lays some things down to timing. “The timing for this feel-good idea actually filled a void for a positive spotlight because of the negative climate of the world. The day of launch was a difficult day in world politics, and #NationalInternDay came about just in time to create that bright spot people were craving, which allowed people to latch onto it.”

Make sure you have more than one point of contact with the concept

Michael and his team built multiple points of contact with the concept. Companies could participate in a number of ways; for example, The Intern Awards.

Not only could a program be nominated as the best program in America, best program manager, or that interns could be nominated as the best intern in one of six categories, companies also could take a general pledge to participate.

All 4 nomination/pledge forms tied into one another. In addition, here was also a lot of sharing capability built in, from sharing with coworkers to social, and constant prompts to join from multiple directions. The circular integration was carefully designed for maximum onboarding.

Start big then scale down

Michael Weider

Michael’s best advice for brand campaigns is that when you go into a brainstorm, go into it as if you have all the money in the world. Start mapping it out from there. Then you can bring yourself back down to earth as a startup and say, “Now understanding our means, let me find the things in this map of what I want to do that I can actually pull off for no or little money.” Or find ways to hack it in a way.

New companies can make themselves seem bigger, because to the outside world it’s all about perception. “I think brands should not be afraid to test things, try things. There’s always opportunities to do something better, to correct a mistake, and it’s important to always shoot for the stars on these campaigns.”

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