The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely transferred from one form to another. It is applicable to everything within the confines of Earth’s atmosphere, including Social Media.
Assuming that all brands start Social Media with the intention of becoming one of the most engaged-with accounts among its community, a price must be levied. And this price either comes in the form of time or money.
If money is your choice, it can be invested into leveraging on a competent and dedicated Social Media team, boosting posts to gain better reach, and running advertisement campaigns to fasttrack your ROI.
The external Social Media team takes on the day-to-day tasks of planning, launching, monitoring campaigns which frees your time for important work. Even investments on more expensive equipment can help reduce the time taken to deliver work.
But in case you are adamant on building Social Media by yourself, I hear you. There is, afterall, an argument that the best connection you can make with your customers is a personal one.
Before we head on to the meat of today’s article, I just want to reaffirm that spending money on Social Media in my context does not include using money to buy Likes and Followers. To me, money should only be spent on getting more reach and impressions, not to buy Followers. Simply because these ‘people’ may not even be real humans, and may never buy from you.
With that out of the way, here are the top 5 tips to growing your own Social Media presence without spending money.
Knowing the Right Platform to use
In an ideal situation, it is advisable to be on every platform there is. Since it costs nothing to create accounts on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, why not right? Here is where I disagree.
Each of these platforms work very differently and attract very different crowds. Understanding that, and being able to build a campaign around that understanding, is key to creating good content.
For example LinkedIn specialised in building communities of professionals, which isn’t helpful if you’re a bubblegum retailer. Where Facebook excels with powerful Call-to-Action (CTA) capabilities, younger crowds find annoying compared to the simplicity of Instagram.
Visual-heavy products and services like F&B and Fashion works better on Instagram, while more technical categories like specialised gear work better on Facebook. B2B, however, works better with LinkedIn and Email Marketing.
With the limited time you have on your hands, it is vital that you begin by selecting the right platform. One which your target audience is most frequently hanging out at.
Having a Strong Social Media Presence
There is a classic saying that “Having a dead Social Media account is worse than not having one at all.” The last thing you want is people going to your Facebook account to find your last content published dating back months ago.
There are many moving parts to creating long-lasting content that your audience will find valuable. Here are some pointers to start off with:
1.Consistent and Continual
Your work with the audience doesn’t stop when they Follow you. They need to be occasionally reminded of your presence.
A good average to start with would be between 3 to 5 posts a week. Keep track of how your audience respond to posts, and test by adding or subtracting number of posts to find your sweet spot.
Absolutely avoid bombarding your audience with a tonne of content in a day and going silent for the rest of the week.
2. Content that create Value
I know you are very tempted to start selling from the get-go, but not just yet. Social Media works like any other marketing channel so it will have to go through the same methods.
Understand that people don’t buy from a brand they don’t trust, and they don’t trust a brand they don’t know.
Start by getting their attention, then earning their trust. Only after that can you try asking for a sale. Famous marketing star Gary Vaynerchuck’s book entitled Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook explains how brands need to give (Jab) at least 3 times before asking for a sale (Right Hook).
Jabs are meant to create value to your audience for free. And once they trust you enough, the Right Hook will be very effective.
Example of valuable content are educational, informative and entertaining. Be careful not to hold back on anything. When your audience finds out you’re hiding some information behind paywalls, it they will lose trust in you.
3. Content Planning
One good content will not appeal to everyone in your audience network. But that’s the point. The only way to create true value to one group will, in a way, be neglecting the other.
But with proper campaign planning, you can spend some time with one community and then move on to the next afterwards.
Outside is one of the most trusted outdoor magazines in the world. They publish frequent content that talk about specific outdoor sports like hiking, fishing and rock climbing. Climbing articles will not appeal to anglers, but their specialised articles are incredibly valuable to climbers.
Eventually they will move on to target anglers, then cross-country skiers and marathoners. They pay so much attention on the information that even most avid hobbyist and professionals find valuable.
4. Content Personalised
Let’s say you wrote a brilliant article that you know your audience will love. You post it on LinkedIn with a link, and the engagement is quite good. You then proceed to repost it in the same manner to Facebook. The results are lower here, but still acceptable.
And when you are excited to share it on Instagram, you realise that posts do not accept clickable links. So you either copy and post the entire article onto the post descriptions, or shorten it and lead readers to the link in your Bio. But your content did not create value on Instagram in the same way it did on LinkedIn.
The more effective way to post onto Instagram would have been to convert it into a bite-size narrated video with stock video clips.
Each Social Media platform has its own perks and drawbacks. While Instagram may appear incredibly spartan in functions compared to Facebook, that’s precisely what users love about it.
Take some time to understand how people in each platform consume content. Then repurpose yours to suit. That way, your content reach and effectiveness will be maximised.
5. Type of Content
All the Social Media gurus out there are telling you to create animated and video content, because images do not work anymore. While it is true in general instances, I found certain occasions where it wasn’t.
My advice is to test the same message with still and animated visuals to see which get better engagement.
There is also a rule of thumb that asks you to refrain from creating videos over 2 minutes long. But there have also been many viral videos over 30 minutes long.
The questions to ask here isn’t how long the video should be, but how long can you keep your audience interested in your content. Check out my old post on Social Media Storytelling to find out how you can structure compelling content.
Again, experiment by putting multiple versions out and seeing which can retain more views and gain more engagement.
Engage with Audience
Social Media was built for individuals to socialize with each other online. The purpose still hasn’t changed, but brands seem to think they can treat it like an advertisement board and be effective.
The work of posting content is only half done. The other, and arguably more important half, is responding to audiences who engage with you. This is where you learn a great deal of what you’re doing right or wrong. It is also the best way to connect with your audience on a personal level.
Be as human as possible when conversing with them, and treat them as equals. There will be times when criticisms happen, which actually is a good thing. Better for customers complaining to you than with each other.
This does not mean you should tolerate trolls and bullies. Being an online setting, there are bound to be woke keyboard warriors. Handling their childish behaviours in public calmly and professionally will even earn you merit point with your audience.
Use Your Personal Account in the Beginning
It is incredibly difficult to start a brand account on Social Media today because they are given so little visibility. The irresponsible and spammy acts of brands in the past few years have led to this backlash by platform providers.
If you are not planning to increase the visibility of your posts using some money, the other best way is to leverage on your personal account’s connections.
Assuming that you started this business because you are personally passionate, this also means you have Followers and friends who share common interests.
Start by sharing all the posts from your brand’s account on your personal one. This will help garner some reach and awareness. Interested people will eventually Follow your brand’s account for more similar content. Slowly but surely, your organic content will snowball.
Very Occasionally, Sell
I know, you started this Social Media account so you can ultimately sell something to people. And thankfully, your audience does too.
The reason why this comes last in the list isn’t because it should be treated with the least importance. It is actually the most important, but should only be done after everything else above is completed.
All brands need to sell, and your audience knows it. But do it in such a way that they want to buy from you.
Having done all the necessary four steps above does not guarantee you sales, rather enables you to ask for a sale. The two come from very different angles. The former comes from the perspective of entitlement, whereas the latter is a reflection of humility and service.
There is a general ratio of Social Media sharing that most brands adhere to, which is the 80/20 Rule. This means that 80% of the posts should educate, inform and entertain your audience, while 20% be allocated for sales and self-promotion.
But this doesn’t mean all audiences consume content equally. There were times when I tried a higher percentage of sales posts which also worked well. Best is to try and test the ratio out and see at which point your audience lose interest.
Time For Organic Growth
Building a social media presence for your brand without spending money is possible, but it requires a lot of tedious work, learning, and time. Even if you do not allocate spending on advertisements and boost posts, you will still need a marketing team to manage all the above.
But like any good branding effort, Social Media marketing eventually rewards you with exponential returns sales can never do.
In the event you decide to pump
in a little bit of cash to speed things up, always refrain from using money to
buy Likes and Followers. It is very important that growth of Likes and
Followers be organicAt the end of the day you want potential buyers, not
 “Gary Vaynerchuk on Twitter: “The One Thing I Didn’t Clarify Enough in ….” 27 Feb. 2016, https://twitter.com/garyvee/status/703611436350775296. Accessed 9 Aug. 2019.
 “Simple Steps to Get Storytelling on Social Media Right – Info Trek’s Blog.” 16 Jul. 2019, https://blog.info-trek.com/2019/07/16/simple-steps-to-get-storytelling-on-social-media-right/. Accessed 9 Aug. 2019.
 “The New 80/20 Rule of Social Media Marketing | Inc.com.” 16 Nov. 2018, https://www.inc.com/tanya-hall/the-new-80/20-rule-of-social-media.html. Accessed 10 Aug. 2019.