Updated: Apr 3, 2020
A year ago, I started at a software startup with a small social following. I had come from two competitors that had deeper pockets and a lot more resources when it came to marketing. At first, the task of marketing my team and branding us as "thought leaders" was daunting; I had a meager marketing budget, a broader job description, and fewer resources. My chances of out-marketing our competitors felt slim, if not impossible. However, I created a strategy that helped us gain traction online and acquire roughly 300 new followers month after month on a shoestring budget. Here's how I did it:
I leveraged the friendliness of LinkedIn's algorithms.
I picked LinkedIn as the platform to focus on the most (with Youtube as a close second) because its algorithm is much more friendly to marketers than Facebook and Instagram's currently. You're able to get much more reach organically. Keep in mind that your posts need to be interacted with to keep sharing, so impressions are one thing, but you need folks to like, click on, and engage with your posts. I posted to LinkedIn at peak hours to make sure the most people were online. Thus, the more interaction with your post in the first thirty minutes or hour, the better trajectory your post has overall.
I practiced the Content Inc. model:
Coming from two competitors in the industry, I already had a good idea of what didn't work, whether it was a sponsored post or organic. I knew I needed actual helpful and valuable content to share in building an audience, but this had been difficult to do before in a large corporate environment due to the technical team members being so removed from marketing. Working on a smaller team gave me more access to the expert team members that I needed to leverage to create compelling and knowledgable content. After team members began to see the results of their contributions, they were more likely and willing to create more.
The Content Inc Model, in short, focuses on providing real value through marketing. You're never writing blog posts for a blog post's sake, or as I call it content to have content. Instead, you're initially creating an article or video that will, in some way, shape or improve someone else's life. Whether it's making a task more manageable, helping develop their career or skillset or just increasing their knowledge on a particular subject. What do you get out of it? Well first off, you can feel good about yourself, and secondly, you're building an online rapport with prospects and begging to build your pipeline, whether you know it or not. Not to mention, you're probably helping your SEO, driving traffic to your website, and building your email database.
I made video content, and a lot of it:
Think about how you use Facebook or LinkedIn. The next time you're online pay attention to what type of content is the most eye-catching and engaging to you. What do you spend the most time on? For me, and 80% of all internet consumers, it's video. Video is the best way to express ideas, communicate, and engage with your audience.
We generated tons of video. Much of it was quick educational tips and tricks, other videos were roughly an hour long. What we noticed was the more value there was to a specific posts or videos, the more engagement we had with our audience. The more our audience engaged with our content, the more that following grew.
I stopped creating content that didn't perform:
Repeat after me, "I will stop wasting my time creating content that no one reads." It's OK to have trial and error, but at some point you need to get savvy, look at your analytics, and stop reinventing the wheel. If you keep posting blogs about your upcoming sale and no one's reading, chuck it. If you post a how-to video and it gets engagement, then try it again.
You're also going to have to tell your co-workers no. It sucks, and they might have ideas that sound good, but wasting your and their time to create a post that isn't going to benefit anyone is exhausting.
I put some personality into it:
We were marketing on LinkedIn, but I thought about replicating the Youtube stars people get attached to. Our competitors all had very dry, much more corporate-like marketing tactics, and we wanted to stand out. So instead of using my personality, I put each of our technical staff members in front of the camera. Within two months, we were receiving comments from our audience on webinars that we were the "BIM Rockstars" (BIM is an Architecture/Construction industry niche term).
I treated it like a relationship:
Marketing is not a one-time thing or whenever-you-feel-like-it kind of deal. It takes commitment. My team committed to posting weekly short videos of 2 minutes, monthly webinars that were an hour-long that could be into more concise content, and other weekly or bi-weekly blog posts, how-to-videos, or free tools. Over time you'll begin to build rapport with your audience. They'll start looking for your posts every time they log in. If you post only once in a blue moon, they won't ever remember to bring you up in conversation.
We had freebies of value:
People like free stuff, but not like your plastic junk on a tradeshow table. They like something that will help them get a job done faster, make their job easier, or something that allows them to develop a new skill. Almost every week, we had a small giveaway that was somehow going to help our clients' workflow in the software they were using. This free tool didn't cost us too much to make, nor did it devalue our services. Instead, it showcased our ability, solidified our rapport with our clients, and made our audience curious about what else we could offer.
I relished in the content that performed well:
A huge mistake marketers or business owners use is that they create an article or video for one-time use. While some stories or events are for one-time use and become irrelevant, most things can be reused and maintain validity for an extended time. If you have a blog post, article, or video that does well on LinkedIn, relish it. If something receives 400 click-throughs organically and 50 new followers in a day, post it again in a month. Post it once more a month after that. You'll start to notice a diminishing return and you'll most likely receive fewer likes and click-throughs, but that's just because a large portion of your following already engaged with the content previously.
A side note... This content that performed extraordinarily well organically is the only content that I would ever bother with sponsoring on social media. I use organic as my testing for where I put my money. If something doesn't perform well organically and I back it with the money, I might as well be yelling at annoyed people to buy my product on a busy street corner. The interest is there; it's up to you to engage with people in provoking ways.
Quantities in titles do wonders:
If I tell you that I have 5 hours of free video training on a subject you want to learn, you're guaranteed to click on it. This isn't a new trick; it's overlooked. "Twenty-five tips and tricks for writing" is certainly better than "Tips and tricks to improve your writing." The more you offer, the higher the perceived value.
With all of that combined, I began to build our audience, with roughly 300 new followers per month (and sometimes more). The month that my boss shifted my focus away from marketing, we didn't see any growth. Now imagine if I would have sponsored that same content?
Maybe you're reading this and thinking, so what? Why do we need to grow our LinkedIn following? How does that turn into sales? Growing an audience helps you build a deeper and broader pipeline. Not everyone is in the buyer's journey to purchase right now. However, at some point, they may be, or they might know someone who is. If you're skeptical of social media marketing, you're probably looking for instant gratification. Good things happen with time. Eventually, you'll receive phone calls saying clients are interested in working with you just because of your excellent marketing.