Boil away all the extraneous (but still very important) steps to launching a business, and you’re left with a two-step process. After the legal rights have been established, the employee handbook written, the contracts signed, the balance sheet created, you’ve got a business model that applies to every organization in the world:
1. Create a product or service.
2. Market it.
I firmly believe you can accomplish step two entirely through the use of social media. This is the one type of marketing in which the opportunity cost is not financial but temporal. However, given that you won’t be spending time designing fliers or setting up ridiculous banner ads, even that will be minimal.
Again, the boil-down-to-two-step process will benefit us here. Marketing is essentially:
1. Find people who want your product.
2. Generate enough interest in that group for your product that people pay for it.
I’ll admit it’s slightly more complicated than that, but not by much. With social media you can form unstructured focus groups to find an audience interested in your product, increase your name-recognition, strengthen or define your brand, and then have your customers generate positive publicity for you. Here’s how:
Focus Groups/Target Audience:
People love social media for the giant online conversation it provides. They rave about their day, rage against their boss, or rave about last night’s rager. Positive comments abound, but they don’t out-shadow the amount of times people take to their Twitter feeds to complain about something. Instead of lamenting the individualistic state of society, why not look at this as a business opportunity?
Can you clearly define a trend of complaints from people in your target audience? Perhaps you have a fix for a certain malady but can’t find the group that needs it. If you search through Facebook and the like, are there similar people lodging complaints? Oh look, there’s your target audience.
Similarly, you could host a Twitter chat or start a LinkedIn conversation asking people for ideas. Google Plus Hangouts also work (as President Obama pointed out last year). Realize that 98 percent or so of the ideas are going to be silly or impossible, but there’s still that 2 percent. All you need is one great idea, right?
Increasing Name Recognition:
Quick case study. When an Alabama-based Community Supported Agriculture organization appeared on the Pinterest scene, not many people paid attention. After all, what did farming have to do with pins about wedding shoes? Not much, until the marketing department of Freshfully decided to post kale recipes. Indeed, the company’s Pinterest account is full of information about local produce and local farmers—all with the intent to provide culinary-based value to customers. A year and a half later, the CSA has ballooned into a half-million dollar per-year business, and kale is now one of the CSA’s top sought-after products. Kale chips to celebrate?
There’s no better way to get your brand name out there than to join the conversation. Isn’t it seven times that people have to see your message before they pay attention? Though this used to mean driving by the same billboard seven different times on a morning commute, it now just means seeing seven different comments in social media. Better yet, you can express your thought leadership seven different ways! By the time people start paying attention, you’ll have shown you’re practically an expert.
Make sure to hop into those discussions. The most popular platforms are, of course, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus. However, for the bold (or just ambitious) at heart there are also blogs and forums.
Strengthening a Brand Name:
After getting your name out into the e-public, don’t make the mistake of not attaching yourself and expertise to your business. Comments on blogs and forums should link back to your website. There should be links to your social media outlets on your website, and vise-versa. Make sure people know you’re not just some smart guy or girl with lots of opinions, but that you can offer a great product or service as well.
Social media is one of the best ways to establish your brand, largely because almost anything is accepted. You can be funny, interesting or very serious. Better yet, you have tons of examples at which to look for advice—just put together a social media audit of all your competitors and you’ll know exactly what’s expected of you. Your job is then, of course, to exceed those expectations.
Customer Reviews and Feedback for Promotion:
Finally, after you’ve sold a few things, ask for customers to send you some great feedback. You can start a social media competition (10 free items of my product! Free eBook!) to the best video of your product in use. Tell people you’ll pick a weekly shout-out and reward that person with something great.
You could even imitate Doritos (if you have a serious fan base) and ask your customer to create a YouTube ad for you. Not only do you have third party approval, but you also have a bunch of ads. You saved both time and money, all while increasing customer engagement.
The company I work advises clients on how to market exclusively via social media. I’ve seen the success rates, and it’s sometimes alarming. Bottom line dollars can indeed be raised, without spending any money. It will take time and a little know-how, but soon you can have your entire marketing department work only on social networks. See you on Instagram!
Are you looking for more information on how to maximize your business and sales potential through social media? Check out our 3-day Social Media Boot Camp or click here to receive more information on all of our marketing training and services.
About the author: Joseph Havey is the Director of Social Media for the Triangle-based Shelten Media, LLC, a start-up company specializing in social media marketing. He is a member of N.C. State’s PRSSA chapter, and writes for the school newspaper, Technician. In his free time, he trains for triathlons.