Five Ways a Business Grew 800-Fold With Social Media
Would you like to grow your business using social media?
In this article you’ll discover the social media “Secret Sauce” that anyone can use to grow their business without spending money on advertising.
The Cheapskate’s Guide to Marketing
Alison Prince–a self-described “cheapskate at heart” and owner of Pick Your Plum, an online retailer specializing in limited-time discount deals–grew her business 800-fold using what she calls her “Secret Sauce”.
Prince, a mother of four living in Utah, started a blog called How Does She with two friends in 2009. The site focused on tutorials for craft projects. After a small initial investment from each partner, they used social media exclusively to promote the site, which grew phenomenally and now reaches 1.5 million people per month.
After getting many requests for where to find the materials for projects featured on How Does She, Prince researched how to get good-quality materials in bulk for a good price. In April 2011, she decided to start her own business, Pick Your Plum, to sell directly to customers.
To promote Pick Your Plum, “We started with social media from day one,” she said. She started the company with a moderate initial investment with no budget for advertising. But she had learned the power of social media in growing How Does She’s audience.
At first, Pick Your Plum was selling products Prince found through distributors in the United States. But her audience was growing so much that the company would run out of products in half an hour, and the site would sit dormant until the next morning’s deals went on sale.
Six months after she started the business, Prince and a friend were on a plane to China to meet directly with manufacturers. Neither of them spoke the language or knew anything about manufacturing or importing. “We were shaking our heads thinking, ‘What are we doing?’” laughed Prince.
Now Pick Your Plum has its own warehouse in Layton, Utah, and employs 40 people. They ship thousands of packages daily.
Two part-time workers spend 10-15 hours a week each managing the Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest pages for the site. Aside from $100 in Facebook ads that Prince spent once, all of the company’s sales have come from organic social media.
#1: The Secret Sauce
So what’s the “Secret Sauce”?
“It’s working together,” said Prince. “It’s what we were taught in kindergarten. We work with other bloggers and shops to promote each other, passing traffic and readers.”
Prince has developed relationships with hundreds of bloggers over the years. She got to know them through making comments on their sites and going to blogging conferences such as Altitude Summit, the SNAP! Conference and BlogHer.
When she launched Pick Your Plum, she sent an email to her blogging contacts asking for their support. The response was overwhelming, and the reach for Pick Your Plum grew quickly. In return, Pick Your Plum promotes those bloggers on its own social sites.
The key is finding complementary, high-quality blogs and shops that she knows her customers will enjoy. She says they complement each other like meat and potatoes on a plate. Prince gives an example:
“The day that we’re selling thread or fabric or buttons, we’ll post it on Facebook as the product of the day, and a couple of hours later we’ll post, ‘Have you checked out Make It and Love It? She’s got some great patterns for free that you could use these products on.’ And that way we’re pushing her traffic back. We’ve sent her products and she’ll post, ‘Have you seen this great thread color from Pick Your Plum? P.S. I heard it’s going to be on sale in a couple of days.’”
Everyone’s traffic increases, and so do sales. Prince said that most of the sites she works with have over 100,000 active Facebook followers.
She adds that there are sites that have turned down her offer to cross-promote, concerned that they would be sending readers off their site. “[Those sites] are still at 20,000 Facebook followers,” she added. “If you keep it to yourself and keep it secret, you don’t grow as well.”
There are a few more ingredients in addition to Prince’s Secret Sauce that contribute to Pick Your Plum’s loyal customer base and subsequent sales.
#2: Give Your Fans Ideas
Pick Your Plum occasionally sells sets of plain wood blocks. The first time, sales were moderate. The next time, they had just started on Pinterest, and included a link to a board called Wood Block Ideas.
“We sold so many more,” said Prince. Now she says that when they link products to Pinterest boards with ideas on how to use them, sales increase an average of 50-200%. Their Pinterest following has since increased to nearly 80,000 followers.
#3: Give Your Fans a Way to Know You Better
“We found that Instagram isn’t a direct correlation to sales, but it is a direct correlation to fanatic fans,” said Prince. She sees Instagram as a place where fans can get to know your brand better and know your voice outside of what you have to offer for sale.
#4: Give Fans a Reason to Share
Pick Your Plum is constantly giving their social media followers reasons to share. They often run promotions asking customers to tag a friend and then give away something to both the winner and the friend. Prince reports that their Facebook likes always go up dramatically during these promotions.
Another popular giveaway is called Winner Winner Plum Dinner. They ask followers to click Like if they’d like to see 20 random followers get a free gift, and routinely get several thousand responses.
#5: Give Your Fans a Showcase
Pinterest and Instagram are where Pick Your Plum gives their fans an opportunity to shine. The “Plum Picks … Made by You” group board on Pinterest is where customers can pin projects they made with Pick Your Plum products. It currently has nearly a thousand pins and over 200 contributors.
Pick Your Plum has been very savvy about converting many of their followers to their email list so they can stay in contact with them, even if social media algorithms change. But Prince is adamant about the power of social media for growing your business.
“Social media has been an absolute life-changer for me,” she said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
What do you think? Have you tried growing your followers and sales by cross-promoting with complementary sites? What’s your “Secret Sauce” on social media? Include your comments and questions below.