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It’s a familiar song-and-dance, especially among small businesses. Everyone’s constantly offering advice on how you can make your brand more mobile; advice which often involves “get yourself established on Facebook/Twitter/Google +/Instagram.” There’s only one problem – you’ve genuinely got neither the time nor the budget necessary to succeed in doing so.

Your business is a bootstrapped start-up, and most of the money’s going towards getting the organization on its feet. And as for you, you’re likely working upwards of 100 hours a week. Adding social media management into the mix makes for a dangerous cocktail, one likely to result in either burnout or a busted budget.

What if I told you that wasn’t necessarily the case? What if I said that it’s within your power to give your business and brand a great presence on social media, regardless of budgetary constraints or time limitations? What if I were to inform you that social success wasn’t a matter of how much you spend, but how you spend it?

You might call me crazy – save for the fact that these statements are all entirely true. Believe it or not, you can actually ace social marketing without even having to drop a dime. I should probably explain, no?

Consider a recent McKinsey study that found influencers generate twice the sales of paid advertising. In other words, if you’ve the right personality or professional on your side, it doesn’t much matter how much you spend. They’ll naturally attract leads.

Not only that, Deloitte found back in 2009 that customers brought in through word-of-mouth actually have a 37% higher retention rate than those brought in through paid ads.

So, first thing’s first, figure out what type of influencer you want to attract to your brand – which one best suits your purposes, your brand image, your genre, and your demographic? Once you’ve nailed that down, ask yourself who you’re trying to reach, where you’re trying to reach them, and what you want them to do for you. Finally, with all the details sorted, it’s time to approach your chosen influencer.

In order to do that, however, you first need to find them.

“Brand advocates are the loudest influencers your brand will have,” writes Kristen Matthews of Kiss Metrics. “Not only does their audience follow them because what they write aligns with your brand but they also talk loudly and actively about how much they like your company. By tuning in to your social media mentions and blog posts about your brand, you will find influencers and advocates you didn’t realize you had.”

Matthews encourages businesses and marketers to reach out to bloggers, monitor social feeds and hashtags, set up Google alerts, and utilize tools like Social Mention to find influencers that might be worth working with. See, ideally, you’re going to want to approach someone who’s already shown an independent interest in your brand. They’ll be far likelier to accept your marketing advances, not to mention the fact that they’re already doing a bit of work for you to begin with.

As far as actually attracting them, Matthews offers a few words of advice:

  • Compensate them. Offer shout-outs, free products/product discounts, commissions, or even straight financial payments.
  • Encourage them to create content – ask them to upload photos and videos, and incentivize both your influencers and regular users to answer case studies.
  • Participate – make yourself known in online discussion forums, send out free products/trial runs without requiring a commitment, and swap guest posts with bloggers.

Mind you, influencers aren’t the only source of reach, either. As demonstrated by Starbucks, your own employees can be as formidable a marketing force as any professional firm.  Now, granted, your startup may not have as many employees as a multinational conglomerate…but that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage the employees you do have to talk about your business online, share details with their friends, and offer updates on what they’re doing at work.

Again, though, this is something you need to approach with caution. If you’re going to use your employees for social marketing, Fast Company’s Ryan Holmes advises the following:

  • Make them want to share updates. You can’t force people to use Facebook or Twitter. If you try, their messages are going to come across as empty and insincere.
  • Make sure your messages reach the right audience. If your employees don’t have a social following that would care about your brand or its products, then your marketing efforts are likely better spent elsewhere.
  • Keep it spontaneous. Offer suggested posts to employees, sure, but otherwise encourage them to share their own content. Of course, you’ll need to train them to ensure there aren’t any significant flubs.
  • Keep it simple. If the social sharing process introduces any additional steps or needless complexity into the social media experience of employees, then it isn’t likely they’ll want to get involved in it.
  • Use sparingly. The most important thing to keep in mind is that your employees aren’t drones or an automated marketing system. They’re people. Treat them as such, and they’ll offer well-crafted, valuable content to their followers; content which will bring in new leads and brand advocates.

Last, but certainly not least, don’t underestimate the value of a brand personality. By establishing your brand as a living, breathing entity rather than part of a company, you’ll make your business far more attractive to potential consumers. And by keeping your brand’s attitude, story, and posts consistent and cohesive, you’ll naturally see growth, even if you barely spend a cent.

After all, marketers are like event managers in one thing, at least: they’re natural storytellers. Use that to your advantage, and your bootstrapped company will ace social with ease.