Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, a non-profit organization that promotes youth entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment. The YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs grow businesses.
Every day, social media plays a bigger (and more expensive) role in the way brands find and court new customers. From ever-evolving social advertising opportunities, like video ads on LinkedIn, to the rise of social advertising by politicians in a contentious election year, one thing is clear: Businesses have more paid ways to crack the social code than ever before. The question is, who’s paying for what — and is it really working?
Small businesses are on board already, to varying degrees. I asked a panel of successful young entrepreneurs to share one paid aspect of their social media strategy that has actually worked. Here’s the advice they’d offer other entrepreneurs who want to succeed doing the same.
1. Look Into LinkedIn Pro Accounts
Access to LinkedIn Pro has made a huge difference in my business, especially with attracting corporate partners. It’s easy to find the right person to talk to at non-profits and universities, but corporate information is hidden very well. LinkedIn provides a more direct route to reach high-level corporate executives within my niche, through their InMail feature. This allows me to create up to 25 new connections per month, without having that individual in my network to begin with.
It is not good enough to just reach out to senior people with nothing of value to offer. Since my company works a lot with media, I offer to interview their senior executives to give them more personal brand exposure. My success rate with LinkedIn Pro is three times higher, compared to the direct route.
2. Promoted Tweets and Bitly Links
For the launch of our newest game, we used Promoted Tweets on Twitter to help raise awareness for our game and to direct people to download it from Google Play. We used a variety of informative, funny and call-to-action tweets, and let users decide which ones they thought were the most interesting.
We also added Bitly links to our tweets, so we could measure how many people were going to Google Play. We could then analyze how many clicks we received and which countries were clicking our links to the most. Definitely worth the investment.
3. Giveaways Pay for Themselves
Promotional contests with a prize, such as “Like us to win a t-shirt,” work great. I have found that contests allow social media to work in two waves — the contest part and the receiving of the prize. If your giveaway is clever and fun, the winner will take pictures and let others know what they got and from whom. Having this as part of a rolling contest will encourage more social media interaction and a lot of traction.
Make sure you integrate the contest into a Facebook tab or other format that will allow you to capture user data, so you can turn them from a prize winner to a customer.
4. Recruit Social Media Brand Ambassadors
College students are perfect for paid posting, paid blogging or anything else that you need. Rather than paying for an online service — one where you may never meet the people doing your paid social media work — you’d be better off to spend the time with a group of college students at your local university, whom you can sit down with over coffee and get to know.
Once you’ve found your new social media brand ambassadors, personalize their approach to your campaign. This is a more entrepreneurial form of paid social media and a more personalized approach that will yield big-time results.
5. Pay Influencers With Products
We’ve had a lot of influential Instagram users with huge followings (up to 500,000) reach out to us to endorse our product. Our relationships with them have enabled us to quickly grow our following with an engaged audience that has already proven they take action on promotion. We’re seeing impressive engagement rates, even compared with our Facebook audience, which had previously set a very high bar. The same post across both platforms will consistently see four times the rate of engagement on Instagram, based on audience size.
We are careful with paid promotions, using them only to expand beyond our existing network. For example, when we launched our new summer colors, we ran a “share” campaign where we selected a winner to receive the set, based on sharing a very compelling photo.
6. Buy Your Facebook Fans
One of the great things about Facebook ads is the amount of targeting it allows you to use with its demographic capabilities. Buying your fans or buying Likes on Facebook can be a great marketing strategy for your business — if you know how to use the social network well to turn those Likes into leads. As we are social creatures by nature, friends and family are interested to see what companies you like, follow, etc.
Facebook ads allow you to target those friends and family of those who already Like your company. This builds a nice following, if you have the budget, as well. Buying Likes and fans allows you to grow your brand, but also, with the right Facebook post strategy, allows you to get consumer engagement.
7. Pay for Pitch Press Releases
We love socially powered press releases and articles. Being able to share creative assets that can tell your story without a word are a great way to draw attention to reading an announcement or article. We use Pitch Engine social releases for ourselves and our clients.
8. Sponsored Stories Pay Off
Sponsored stories are one of Facebook’s most exciting paid media products — so much so, that we built an entire platform around it.
Before, Facebook users were able to connect with businesses as fans, through Likes. However, with their new open graph technology, users can now connect with a brand’s product through actions; for example, it no longer simply shows that Abby Ross “Likes” Lululemon, but also that Abby Ross “wants to buy” the new racerback Lululemon tank top. In Facebook’s ecosystem, these are considered “stories” that users can create and push out to their friends. These stories can become even more powerful when you pay through Facebook media. Lululemon can pay for my 800 Facebook friends to see that story, and even re-target me when that racerback tank top goes on sale.