social media case studiesMany salespeople swear by cold calling. But the inherent problem with it? Interrupting people when they’re otherwise engaged. The person might be amenable – or might be turned off.

“We spent a lot of time cold calling or direct emailing,” said Craig Robertson, co-founder and CEO of “We would catch people when they were busy and they didn’t want to talk to us.”, founded in 2009, is an Internet-age twist on the cash-for-cans concept. Rooted in the belief that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, the site connects recycling discarders with collectors for mutual benefit.


Green startup connects recycling discarders and collectors for mutual benefit.

As a start-up, needed to build its signups of both discarders and collectors quickly. Founders took to social media to grow awareness among businesses and individuals.

Well beyond posting on Twitter and Facebook, their proactive tactics made a real difference. From securing in-person meetings to landing media and blog coverage, the scrappy partners’ use of social tools has rapidly grown signups and earned the company a sweet grand prize in a small business challenge.


Social Media Handles & Stats:


  • On average, the company lands one meeting per week with potential partners, collectors or discarders through Twitter.
  • In a 3-month challenge, added 151 collectors and 623 discarders.
  • regularly receives coverage from relevant bloggers by meeting them first on Twitter.
  • Visual and interactive posts on Facebook make the site the #1 social media source of traffic, generating about 10% of all traffic.

From Trash to Treasure

If you’re of a certain age, you may remember the days when people collected and recycled aluminum cans not because they were green, but because they wanted to earn some green – cash from recycling stations.

With so many curbside programs now, those recycling spots have largely disappeared. But there’s still money to be made. co-founders Timothy Laurent and Craig Robertson were children of the can recycling era. As a Cub Scout, Laurent raised funds for his troop with aluminum cans, while Robertson took the same route to buy his first computer.

Years later, the college friends, now both with prestigious Big Four consulting backgrounds, hatched their business idea over coffee.

ecycler founders

Founders Tim Laurent and Craig Robertson, who both raised money with cans as kids, debuted at TechCrunch50 in 2009.

The concept is simple. Someone wanting to discard (“discarders”) recyclable items posts them on the site, where a “collector” can then arrange to pick them up locally. For smaller, lighter items like eyeglasses, discarders can now ship to collectors.

In many places in the U.S. today, there’s still real money in recycling: 10 cents for a glass bottle in Michigan, 5 cents for cans and bottles in California, and 67 cents for a pound of cans in Northern Illinois.

Currently, 10 states have “bottle bills” that legislate the value of these recyclables. But even in non-bottle–bill states, cans, bottles, paper and cardboard can be exchanged for cash.

aluminum cans

Aluminum cans commend 68 cents per pound in Northern Illinois, or about $4.50 per bag!

Those now cashing in through run the gamut from business owners of recycling centers to church groups to teachers wanting cash to fund an in-classroom pet.

But Laurent and Robertson have found the market for reusable goods extends well beyond the typical items. Collectors can even be artists looking for specific items for their work, like corks, compact discs or keys.

While the service is currently free to both collectors and discarders, foresees that collectors will be willing to pay for the opportunity to connect with discarders.

Finding Targets With Twitter Search

From the start, the founders have used social media to spread the word about the business and drive traffic to the website. They began with Twitter and still find the tool a top powerhouse for their business.

“Twitter is our main communications channel out,” Laurent said.

With posts that interest discarders, collectors and other recycling enthusiasts, has grown its followers to more than 8200. The partners frequently post items such as welcomes to new collectors, twitpics and YouTube videos, updates on bottle-bill legislation, or answers to questions about recycling in general.

ecycler twitter engages fans with recycling-related content and answers to general questions.

The small team at uses tools to make it simple to update the Twitter stream. When a new collector signs up on, the site uses the Twitter API to tweet automatically each new collector’s location and types of items collected. That alerts potential discarders who might be in that geographic area with those items.

ecycler twitter

A Twitter API automatically updates Twitter when a new collector signs up.

Additionally, the partners proactively use search tools to identify those talking about recycling and find organizations to partner with. Beyond basic searches, they use TweetDeck, IceRocket and to find relevant activity. With the latter, Robertson sets up automatic email notifications to himself for certain keywords and phrases such as “I just recycled” or “I recycle cans.”

From there, they follow collectors and potential partners; hoping following is the first step in expanding business relationships.

Twitter for In-Person and Phone Meetings

Most notably, the two tap Twitter to make connections that open doors for meetings. The partners found that using a traditional approach didn’t take them very far in connecting with businesses that might become discarders.

When Laurent and Robertson switched their outreach from traditional measures to social media, they noticed a difference.

“We were reaching people when they wanted to be reached, when they want to have a conversation – not when we wanted to have a conversation,” Robertson said.

First, they got to know targets by watching tweets. Then, they started conversations on Twitter with retweets or @ messages directed to the business. “The next thing you know, we’d have a meeting planned,” Robertson said.

Now, the partners estimate they establish at least one new meeting every week through social media.

Fostering Blog Relationships

The duo largely uses the same approach for forging relationships with bloggers and media contacts, leading to significant coverage. First, they search for prominent bloggers in the green space and begin following them.

After retweeting, introductions and exchanging information, bloggers or media outlets often write about the company.

ecobellus blog met Amanda Abella on Twitter, leading to a blog post. Abella has since become a discarder on the site.

In turn, those posts drive legitimate traffic back to the website, helping grow the base of collectors and discarders.

Engaging Fans With Visual Posts

While Twitter has generated one-on-one connections, Facebook and YouTube pull traffic to the site with a more visual, interactive component.

Facebook allows the company to start discussions and share information that’s more than 140 characters. Nearly every Facebook post includes a photo or link to a video, helping increase engagement. Such engaging Facebook content succeeds in generating about 10% of the total traffic to the website.

ecycler facebook

Nearly every Facebook post includes a photo or video, increasing engagement.

The company might share how its collectors use recyclables to make art, updates on bottle-bill legislation or one of its “Crush that Can” videos.

For the latter, YouTube serves as the home for the more than 70 videos has created, most of which show funny and creative ways to crush aluminum cans – by pumpkin, suitcase or truck, for example.

The “Crush that Can” montage shows 50 different ways to crush an aluminum can.

Award-Winning Results

In February,’s social media efforts paid off in more than site traffic and new site registrants. The company participated as a finalist in a 3-month Small Business Road-to-Success Challenge from Fairfield Inn & Suites.

During that time, the company could stay free at the hotels while traveling. In exchange, finalists had to meet specific business goals they set for themselves.

In that time, exceeded its goals by registering 151 new collectors and 623 new discarders – largely through proactive social media tactics – leading the company to win the $20,000 grand prize.

At the same time, the company won one of the smaller challenges by landing coverage on five related blogs.

With its winnings, now turns its attention to adding new features for discarders and collectors, such as an iPhone application. As it grows, it will continue to apply the scrappy, proactive social media tactics that have built the company’s momentum to date.

Recycle and Reuse These Best Practices From

Cultivate relationships – Remember the “social” in social media, rather than just blasting out updates. Twitter lets you build relationships and trust over time in a way that works for both sides.

Be visual – Nearly every post on Facebook includes a photo or video. Consider how to add a visual component to all your posts.

Focus on what works – seeded its own wiki with hundreds of articles but it just didn’t pull traffic like other social media or the company’s own blog.

What’s your best example of how social media helped you forge a valuable business relationship? Leave your comments in the box below.

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  •  A good case study of engaging in social media marketing rather than cold calling tactics. Another name of this strategy is called “Relationship Selling Approach” where the main objective is to build a relationship with prospects and than engage with them. 

  •  Thanks Ramy! Good label 🙂

  • Pingback: » Startup Company Eliminates the Cold Call With Twitter @smexaminer()

  • Wow. This is a power-packed case study! Thanks for sharing it. I love how simplifies and systemizes their social marketing approach in a way that works for them, and more important, serves their audience.

  •  Some great .. real world examples. As with anything I expect that their efforts were all front end loaded, so once the momentum was started things were a bit easier to manage

  • I love the post, I adore the hilarious video, and I am jealous of you guys… no, wait, I am being crass! In fact, I am thrilled you are doing so well, and appreciate your sharing… I will get me some of that social media whip power, too! Want to guest blog about it, to the over 40 Crowd? If so, contact me at

  • I love the Case Studies! We’re actually hiring a sales person this week, and we’re requiring her to do some keyword research for listening tactics. Again, can’t get enough of these awesome examples!

  • I think that this goes to show you how strong having a vision is! Stay the course! Thanks for the article Casey!

  •  That’s an excellent case study of how sales too has gone 2.0, Casey. It’s all about being visible and being where your customers are. Those salespeople who don’t adapt now will get left behind!

    Thanks for sharing,

  •  Wow! I must say the results impress, but what is more impressing is the amount of efforts that was put into social media (in Twitter particularly). I’d really love to see some details about how many people were handling all the process and how did you organize them to achieve such stunning results!

  • Interesting alternative to the smile and dial approach.

  • Sarah Stickland

    Great post! Thanks for going into such detail. I find that social media levels the playing field between small and large companies. Twitter allows me to network with blogs and traditional media sources, and Facebook allows me to interact with my target market, moms.

  • Guest

    You’re right Ramy-it’s all about the “Relationship Selling Approach”  now.  It’s not too difficult to build that connection, especially with all of the hype around social media. Ecycler has clearly used this tactic effectively. 

  • Guest

    You’re right Ramy, it’s all about the “Relationship Selling Approach.” It’s not difficult for companies to build that connection, especially with all of the hype around social media. Ecycler has clearly used this approach effectively. 

  •  What a fantastic study and thanks for sharing 🙂 As someone who runs a telemarketing company even I can say that this is the way that things are going for some businesses however, it’s even better in my experience to combine social media WITH telemarketing and cold calling rather than a complete REPLACEMENT. 

    There are some fantastic monitoring tools around (our fav is sprout social) which helps to identify conversations and from there either connections can be made online or in some appropriate cases, a cold call is still made but with reference to the conversation online either via twitter, facebook, linkedin, youtube, forums, news, blog comments 🙂 

    Business-to-business works particularly well whereas with traditional cold calling an inefficient amount of time can sometimes be spent getting past the gate-keeper and having a conversation with the right person. And all of this with no rapport or common ground… it’s completely cold.  With social media cold calling is much warmer, efficient and effective but we’ve found this works better with a listening-strategy rather than a broadcast-strategy. 

    Think about it.. why would you spend money on prospect data, telemarketing wages/bonuses, and other on-costs when a proportion of that can sometimes miss a lot of opportunities. Old style cold calling takes a numbers game approach for some industries/products/services and twitter in particular can really help to fine tune campaigns to improve overall results. 

    What I tend to hear from small businesses in the UK is that they don’t have the time to wait for leads to come through from social media and so cold calling is still a comfort blanket. Or the other barrier is that their target audience is not perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be on social platforms.  

    Interesting that from your social media whitepaper you demonstrated findings that a) small businesses benefit the most and b) most small businesses experienced success in as little as a few weeks. So given this, it can work extremely well to combine social media with cold calling rather than move away from telemarketing cold turkey 🙂

    I think it’s a fantastic time to be in the cold calling and telemarketing industry with technology and insights making the future look very different for lead generation. 

  • Dave longeuay

    Very interesting. I’ve done a similar approach for my new upcoming novel.

    I just finished my new novel titled Rebirth, about the rebirth of Israel in 1948. The story takes the reader on a journey through many of the Old Testament prophecies that foretold Israel’s reestablishment—the central theme of Rebirth demonstrates that God always keeps his word.
    Readers will also experience Israel’s humble beginnings through
    dramatic actual events and see first hand the nation’s legal and
    legitimate right to it’s current statehood.  If
    you would like to stay informed for Rebirth’s upcoming released, so you
    can support this compelling book, please sign up with your email
    address on my blog to also receive valuable news briefs about Israel––please pass this link to others
    if you feel comfortable. I
    promise you will never receive junk email. Upon its release, some of
    the proceeds from the sales of Rebirth will be donated to established
    groups that support Israel. I‘m
    currently receiving hundreds of hits per month on the Rebirth Of
    Israel Blog site, and many readers are being touched by the related
    messages of hope and inspiration while remembering to pray for peace in
    Israel. I appreciate your support with helping me to
    spread a needed message to the public––we desperately need Israel’s
    partnership to continue opposing terrorism!Rebirth is also designed to raise awareness to non-supporting individuals of Israel to hopefully change their hearts to support this great nation!
    Watch the 90 second exciting book trailer at: Thank you.  Genesis 12:3 ‘I will bless those who bless you (Israel) and curse those who treat you with contempt…’ Dave LongeuayAuthor/Multimedia Producer
    Typing words to inspire!

  • Diane

    This is a great and inspiring case study about ecycler.  They have planned well and followed through with all their approaches and I can see that the results speak for themselves.  Imagine where they will be in another 4 years..a totally international project with members or franchisees operating their systems around the globe??  Or a straight out selling of their business/social systems. Or bringing in a very powerful affliliate system??  You obviously don’t need luck, as you have a very carefully thought through plan and its working well. Keep up the great business.  

  • What a great case study! There is so much to be learned from this story, and a great example to present to executives who are still cold with the idea of allocating resources to social media marketing.

  • caseyhibbard

    Thanks Nick! Yes, their listening has been key to connecting and building relationships. A great example of listen first and then post.

  • caseyhibbard

    Appreciate it Michele! They are certainly an inspiring, scrappy startup.

  • caseyhibbard

    Thanks Wim! Exactly. Most social media examples fall more into the marketing category, rather than sales. It’s great to see real-world sales examples.

  • Great case study! This shows how Social Media Marketing is emerging day by day and startups are finding new ways to get connected with their potential customers and drive traffic to their sites

  • René Power

    A great case study Casey. Kudos to the guys at ecycler for having the guts to go about their business in a non-conventional way and proving that if the premise is strong enough, social media can be tailored to the needs of any business. And kudos to you for sharing it.

  • Sunil Gandhi

    Need more such case studies pls. SM is enormous opportunities.
    6 Ways Individuals Can leverage Social Media (professionally)

  • Very interesting and indeed inspiring. Without negating their considerable efforts in any way, what this case study also demonstrates to me is that if your business has a strong, easily communicated proposition and occupies a niche in the marketplace, it’s going to be so much easier to use social media effectively.

    Whilst I’m a firm advocate of the power of (correctly used) social media techniques and channels, you’re never going to score big wins if the core proposition and business idea is flawed.

    The guys at spotted a gap in the market and have successfully exploited it, long may their success continue.

  • mattfraser

    Thanks for sharing this information as it has inspired me to focus on my social media marketing methods.  That being said, Cold Calling Sucks and is a complete waste of time, I learned that from

  • Charles Ngige

    Is there a probability that you would do more of sch kind of Articles, I learned alot and for once I felt I should write to you and tell you I like this. The infor on tools to use to gain leverage on social media, just a wow……. am so jazzed, please do some more covers on such stories

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  • Wow, this is an article that I want to file away for the next time someone says…”meh, social media…I don’t care what you had for breakfast…”  This is a perfect response.  Thanks!

  • caseyhibbard

    Thanks Rene, I appreciate it!

  • propagandahouse

    Great case study – show’s how a mundane sounding service can become a thriving success via SM.

    Coincidentally I plan on starting work on a SM strategy for a very similar business today, this has provided a great blue print, thanks!

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  • caseyhibbard

    Hi Judith,

    Good point! Your value prop has to be there first, and then social media is the tool to get the word out. You can’t have SM success without filling that gap, as you said.

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  • VitamistAmerica

    Wonderful!  We started using social media in just the last few months with absolutely wonderful results.  We are able to passively share information, facts and the truth.  Thank you for sharing!

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  • I am sure there are many more success stories like this from companies that have adapted and use social media. I am have been finding great success using social media to open new opportunites for our payment processing services. I used to cold call and direct email, but response rates we very low. Now I use social media and get in front of people when they are actively looking for a solution.

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  • 雪敏 郑

    Thanks for the excellent and detailed case. I’ve learned a lot; and I do believe that companies who care the their customers and share more information with them will sooner or later get paid off.

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  • I never thought they could do this kind of promotion for recycling and turned it into this successful opportunity to earn from trash in wider scope. This is really helpful. 

  • This is a fantastic case study.

    A practical question though – I can see using Twitter to cold-call getting really annoying for your followers, as they end up getting a constant stream of @ messages that have nothing to do with them. Do you know how ecycler – or anyone else that’s used this method – deals with this? Do they use the main ecycler Twitter feed – or do they have personal ones with less followers, and use those for cold-calling instead? 

    Just a concern I had, but otherwise incredibly impressive. I recently used the cold-call method myself to build press for an event my nonprofit was holding. I got a great response, and I did it all from 8 times zones away!

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