Marketing an online startup naturally includes a social media element, but if you don’t have key influencers on your side, growth isn’t going to happen quickly. How do new businesses get hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook likes? Sometimes they buy them from a broker -- but that tactic is highly deceptive. There are companies to which you can pay a fee and then have thousands of Twitter followers magically appear overnight, but then all you have at the end of the day is a big number, a thinner wallet and thousands of irrelevant followers who don’t care what you say and will never buy what you’re selling.
Business coaches and marketing gurus will always give the same piece of advice to those just starting out, and that is to engage with social media influencers. Those are people like fashion blogger Crystal Hefner, who with more than half-a-million Twitter followers (and some absolutely gorgeous photos on her Twitter feed), commands a great deal of attention.
And that’s great advice -- if you can get a half dozen Twitter divas to talk about your product, you’ll have a great start. But what those business coaches fail to tell you is those Twitter divas have probably never heard of you, don’t care about you, and are besieged with hundreds of requests from other people who have something far more interesting to talk about.
So how do you get social media stars to pay attention to you?
Startup entrepreneur Aaron Leupp was lucky enough to do just that. So how did a young concert promoter from L.A. get the attention of someone like Crystal Hefner?
From part-time promoter to full-time influencer.
While attending USC, Aaron picked up extra money as a club promoter. He made it his business to know all the cool people, but he wasn’t afraid to reach out to the ones he didn’t know. “Years ago when I was doing music events, I had to get a lot of people to this venue,” he recalls. “Uber was just starting out and they had a deal that if you referred a friend, they could get a discount and you would get ride credit. I put that all over the fliers and promotion materials and I got people out to the event with free rides. We had so much success with that, we went to Uber and asked them to give us cash instead of credit and they bought the idea. It was great, because after all, you can only use so many ride credits.”
From that simple idea, Aaron launched Promo Affiliates , which promotes clients like Uber by working with social media influencers and on-the-street promoters to talk about the service and offer free promo codes on their social channels. The influencers get a cut of the profits, and incorporate casual mentions into their feeds. The results have been astounding, with one top 21-year-old affiliate making $4,500 a month just passing out cards on the street every day and social influencers on major platforms like YouTube hitting even bigger numbers.
His company was one of those rare, unintentional successes. He was a club promoter, and Promo Affiliates rose out of a basic idea to get more people to a nightclub and Aaron’s willingness to step out of his comfort zone and reach out to celebrities and influencers to get them on board.
Clients like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are recognizing that clever television ads only go so far and they have to hit the social networks to get the numbers they need for growth -- and Aaron is just the guy to help them do it. What those marketers have realized is that just starting a Twitter account and posting every day isn’t enough. Buying fake followers is a failed strategy. And to really get results, you have to have real followers -- and some of those followers have to be influencers. “It’s essential to go outside of your immediate circle of friends when building your social platforms,” said Aaron. “Having all of your high school friends following your Twitter feed can only go so far, unless you happened to go to school with celebrities, so you have to take that extra step and reach out to the people who matter most.”
The social media mentions do work -- and the key is that they are unobtrusive, organic to the conversation, and the exact opposite of in-your-face advertising that millennials have come to loathe. Crystal’s Uber mention is certainly hard to resist.
Connecting with the big influencers.
Aaron says that building that network of influencers involves two steps -- first, getting the attention of the influencers and once they see you, then you have to convince them to take action. Getting their attention isn’t always easy -- and the most straightforward way is simply to engage them directly on their social media sites, share their posts and offer insightful comments, but that’s only the beginning.
When building that network, take advantage of your location. Aaron was lucky enough to be in Los Angeles, home to movie stars and other glamorous people. Although Aaron doesn’t hang out in the Playboy Mansion and pal around with Mr. and Mrs. Hefner, he was able to use his word-of-mouth network to reach the big influencers. “Hit them up directly through their channels, but don’t limit your tactics to just posting,” said Aaron. “We’ve had the most success in person.”Of course, there’s no better incentive than cold, hard cash. Running social media accounts when you have a hundred followers is easy -- but running a Twitter account where hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people read what you have to say every day is hard work and those influencers are looking for ways to monetize that hard work.
Most importantly, building a social network to promote your company’s offering isn’t just a matter of posting every day and waiting for people to follow you. Jump in, reach out and connect with the biggest influencers you can find and go out of your comfort zone. Use your word-of-mouth network, reach out in person whenever possible. Aesop may have wisely said “slow and steady wins the race,” but that doesn’t apply to the fast-paced world of social-media driven online companies.