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One of the most difficult tasks that small and midsized businesses face when using social media is cultivation of a significant ‘following’ of users. Without a decently sized population of followers, utilizing social media is the 21st century equivalent of speaking to a brick wall. There’s no value in social media if your firm can’t be sufficiently ‘social’ enough. So, what is a firm supposed to do about it?
Advertising might help to an extent, but most managers have well-founded reservations about the value of investing in advertising in order to gain followers. One of the biggest advantages of social media usage is that it is supposed to be a comparatively low-cost marketing endeavor – but that can quickly get out of hand if traditional, or even pay-per-click advertising is used.
Plus, depending on what kind of business the firm is in, there’s limited value in depending solely upon existing customers to follow your brand on Twitter or Facebook. So what is a firm to do?
One strategy that can be employed is to utilize existing connections between yourself and another business in order to promote the visibility of each brand to each others’ followers.
For instance: consider a local shop that specializes in fine wines. This shop wants to improve its reach on Facebook, but is struggling to do so. Next, we have a small, local grocer that specializes on regional organic produce. It has the same problem attracting followers on Facebook. How can these two businesses aid each other?
The answer is simple: run a cross-promotion on Facebook. “Like” the wine shop’s Facebook page, and you get a discount at the produce store; “Like” the produce store’s Facebook page, and get a similar discount at the wine shop. This provides an incentive for patrons of each store to become patrons of the other.
This social media cross-promotional pairing works because the businesses are different enough that they do not compete with each other in any significant way, but are similar enough that the clientele of one business are likely to appreciate the merits of the other. Generally, people that bother to go out of their way for regional organic produce tend to be the sort of ‘foodie’ that would also have an appreciation for fine wines. Likewise, those with the developed sense of taste that fine wine appreciation requires will probably appreciate the produce offered by the wine shop’s promotional partner.
There are a number of areas where this type of promotion can work. The issue at hand is attempting to figure out an area of overlap between the clientele of two establishments, such that the clientele of one establishment can be assumed to have an interest in a second establishment. I.E., a shop that caters to competitive cyclists would probably benefit from a cross-promotion with a partner that sells nutritional supplements; an interior designer might partner with a landscape designer, or a realtor might partner with either of the latter two.
What about partnerships where the link between two businesses is somewhat questionable? If there’s a compelling reason to give it a try, it might be worth doing, given that the amount of investment required to establish a social media promotion is quite low. As long as the stakes of the promotion aren’t too high (i.e., running a loss-leading promotion is probably a poor choice in this case), trying out a cross-promotional marketing effort on a social networking platform presents very few disadvantages to businesses. At worst, each business gains a few more followers, and perhaps a few hours of time is wasted on the effort. But in the end, the costs associated with this promotion method should be low enough that risks like these can be taken.
Of course, there are certainly instances where this kind of promotion probably won’t work particularly well. For instance, firms that focus on business to business sales or services will probably gain very little business using this method, unless they happen to cater to the needs of small home-based businesses and sole proprietors. In addition, there are probably quirky promotional pairings that nobody should try (i.e.: an auto shop and an upscale clothing boutique). However, in many cases, small and mid-sized businesses should be able to identify at least one potential partner for such a promotional effort with relative ease.