Do you know what the best ways to increase your following and engagement on social media are?  Free products, contests, and information.  The best way to get people interested in your product is to give it away for free.  I know that makes a lot of business owners and executives anxious, but it’s the cost of doing business.   I’m not suggesting you give away so much product that you lose a considerable amount of money in production costs, but just enough for a taste test.

If you go to any mall across the country, and visit the food court, you will see employees giving away samples of their restaurant’s food.  When I was literally a starving college student I used to go to the mall just to get free samples of food.  The big chain restaurants would never have their employees giving away samples, but the smaller sandwich shops and Chinese restaurants are always willing to give away tastes to anybody walking through the mall.  The older I became the more I wondered about their conversion rates?  One afternoon I sat there watching as people sampled the bourbon chicken, thanked the employee and eventually order the combo.  Even when they weren’t necessarily going to order anything from the food court, the sample convinced them to order food.  Social media marketing is very similar.

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A couple years ago, in an attempt to prove their technology could keep liquids cold or hot for a full 24 hours, Genuine Thermos Brand launched their hot coffee guarantee campaign.  Each month they picked about 25 followers and shipped a Thermos filled with hot coffee overnight to a followers’ door.  The company partnered with multiple coffee houses from San Francisco to Minnesota in order to fill their containers.  The most interesting part to me about this particular campaign was how it came to my attention.  I didn’t see it from a promoted campaign or video ad, it was through a friend who spends a very limited amount of time daily on social media.  A group of friends and I were sitting around eating, when he held up his THERMOS and started telling me about the promotion they were running.  He started promoting them as if he worked for the company.  “Go on Facebook and follow them, the coffee gets here and it’s scorching hot” were his exact words.

I thought to myself, this guy doesn’t even use Facebook but maybe once a month and he knows about this?  I have to say that I’m not surprised.  There are a ton of companies with superior products but are getting hammered by bigger brands because they aren’t willing to have product giveaways.  They don’t understand fully the difference between sales, advertising, and marketing; many of them lump all of these into the same sector and even the same position.  Here’s a good way to distinguish the difference.

Marketing: Concentrates on crafting images and verbiage that resonates with potential customers, they study trends in society and the psychology of your core customers.  It is their job to make sure that when your sales rep calls a potential customer, that person knows of your company.

Sales: Prospects new business through outbound or inbound contacts, they speak directly with the potential customer or client to close the sale.  They are knowledgeable in all of the price points and how to build a package that suits the customer’s needs and is within their budget.

Advertising: Takes the messaging and creative that has been crafted by the marketing team or person, builds a strategy to determine where to place this creative and negotiates the costs of the ad placement.  Much of this has started to transition from traditional TV and radio media buys to digital media placement.

Marketing and Advertising are often interchangeable in the digital sector, but the sales team should continue to be kept separate.  Social media marketing is a very demanding job, a lot more difficult than some may be willing to give credit.  It is no longer just posting a couple of times a day and then moving on to other things.  It requires strategically thinking about when to post, what to post, who are you going to target, researching industry trends, analyzing data to determine the best messaging, and responding to irate customers.  Traditionally, marketing and advertising was about promoting your product and telling people why they need it.  Social media marketing works in the opposite format, it’s more about informing people on a particular area of expertise and that you just so happen to sell products as well.

For example, let’s say you manufacture sunglasses.  A traditional marketing campaign may include a message that is similar to “Our sunglasses are the best in the business, sleek in design, made from recyclable materials, and very affordable.”  A social media marketing campaign looks more like:

“Did you know that studies show our eyes lose focus each day because of exposure to sun light?”

“X amount of accidents happen each year/day with drivers citing sun light affecting their view”

“Have you seen this?  We turned a soda bottle into a pair of wayfarers!”

“What do you think are our coolest shades?  Post a photo of you wearing your favorite sunglasses and use #CoolShades.  You could win a free pair of sunglasses.”

Social media is a totally different animal in terms of marketing, you may find out that your core customer on social media is not reflective of the core customer your company is accustomed to.  Again some companies cringe at separating their marketing in this manner but it may be necessary.  Not all companies will need to do this, but if you are on social media and just can’t get users to engage then it may be time to shake some things up.