5 Ways to Build a Following by Giving Something Away : Social Media Examiner

social media how toDo you want to build a following? Are you using free stuff to build your brand? Do you want to learn how?

From Lady Gaga to Oreo, brands have been using freebies to build a social media following for years. The details may change, but the approach is still the same—build a following by giving something away.

In this article, I’ll cover five methods to grow your following using freebies.

#1: Work with Popular Apps

Work with existing applications on social networks (like Farmville) to make your own unique mark with a freebie. You get access to their network of users and they market the offer with you.

Look for apps that compliment your product and partner with them. Offer a great prize or exclusive access and promise only users of the app will get it. This exclusivity makes more people curious about the freebie and drives a following for your brand within the app. For example:

Gagaville takes over Farmville

Although it operates inside Facebook, Farmville is actually a social network within a social network. People connect with friends and build bonds by working together. So when Lady Gaga announced she would launch her own farm, Gagaville, it was a chance for her to connect with this large user base and use it to promote the launch of her new album, Born this Way.


For two weeks Lady Gaga practically owned Farmville.

Aside from being able to feel part of Lady Gaga’s universe, the Gagaville farm gave fans the chance to listen to new Lady Gaga songs before the launch of the album. No other channels had these songs, so for diehard fans this was a fantastic free bonus to be unlocked.

The masterstroke was that songs were given out in the days before the album launch. This gave the Lady Gaga PR team another means of promoting the album and getting fans fired up for launch.

It was also another story for the media to run before the launch, and because it was using Farmville, the story was even more appealing for the press. The album sales speak for themselves.

Billboard.biz reports that this is just the beginning. In an interview with Raquel DiSabatino, Zynga’s director of entertainment and media, they were told “Zynga’s phones have been ‘ringing off the hook’ from various music industry execs looking for ways to work with the company and its games, including labels, managers, and others.” So watch this space for more.

#2: Use Your Facebook Page

If you don’t have a Facebook page already, then make one now. It takes minutes and is a key place to drive people to learn more about your brand.

TOMS Shoes saving the world

TOMS Shoes built a following by giving stuff away, but they don’t actually give it to their customers. Instead they give away one pair of shoes for every pair purchased by a customer. This free pair is sent to the developing world.

TOMS reports on their progress toward this goal via a Facebook fan page—a page with over 900,000 fans. Although the number of fans has no effect on the number of shoes they give away, they’ve still been able to get people interested in their brand by giving stuff away.


The TOMS Shoes' philosophy.

TOMS’ Facebook page is branded with their “One for One” campaign, and they have a PDF available that shows all the good work that they’ve done. Although they would have worked for a good cause without social networks, it has nevertheless proved a very effective way of building a brand following on the network.

TOMS advertises a new shoe via their Facebook page nearly every day, allowing them to capitalize on this audience of fans, even those who only joined to learn about the donations made by the company.

It goes deeper than just Facebook, with FastCompany.com finding that “a standing army of social media activists and over 1200 TOMS university clubs use their online and personal networks to broadcast their love of TOMS Shoes.”

#3: Encourage User Content on YouTube

Create a YouTube account and hold a competition where people need to film themselves to enter. You’ll get viral content from other people doing the hard work, and if you include example videos of yourself and your employees, it gives people something to aim for. For example:

Be the Beatles

To promote the launch of his remastered albums, Paul McCartney (known by many for his involvement in the Beatles band) asked fans to create videos of themselves singing his song “Maybe I’m Amazed.” MSN Music reports that fans could then win advance copies of the album, but only if they got the most views.


Just some of the 135 video entries received.

McCartney then added the best videos to his YouTube account, which builds his own YouTube following by giving fans a central place to observe the competition. The landing page of his profile is branded to promote the new albums. It has a call to action for anyone arriving via the competition. It’s an account with 8,977,352 views.

The competition itself has 135 videos, all recorded by fans who want to win, and fans who want to have the most popular video. As they promote their own video, they are in fact pushing the new albums as well by singing a McCartney song—a very clever strategy.

#4: Promote Via Twitter and Set Up an Alert Using TweetDeck

Don’t just consider your own Twitter account. Give people a reason to talk about your brand on their accounts. Set up an alert on TweetDeck to tell you when people mention your brand on Twitter. Then monitor conversations and reward those spreading positive messages. In time you can encourage more positive brand discussions by offering freebies and rewarding loyal tweeters. For example:

Toyota gives away $1 million

Rather than giving someone a product you can also give money back. Toyota employed this strategy in December 2010 by every day giving 250 people the chance to earn $500 for tweeting that they had bought a new Toyota. This flooded Twitter with brand mentions of Toyota from satisfied customers.


Toyota encouraged happy customers to spread the word for cash.

People tweeting that they had purchased a car was a very effective form of promotion. To see people you follow actively promoting a purchase is certain to increase the likelihood you would consider that brand in the future. With the $1 million offer, Toyota dominated Twitter for a solid month, and gave out a good brand message all round. This helped Toyota achieve an 8% rise in sales year over year (source: The Guardian).

#5: Build a Competition Within Your Own Website

Build a competition within your own website and then encourage people to enter through any social network they wish. Although you don’t need to create any social media profile for this to work, it helps if you register accounts with YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. For example:

“Compare the Market” Offers a Dream Job

In a recent Social Media Examiner post, Ben Pickering highlighted how running a sweepstakes is an easy way to increase the number of Likes on your page. For Compare the Market, this sweepstakes focused on a dream job. People were invited to apply for the job of brand ambassador, which would earn them £40,000 ($65,000) for six months’ work. Not a bad payday, and certainly a good freebie.

compare the meerkat

The winner was revealed from 1,000 applicants.

More than 1,000 entrants then had to promote themselves across social media in order to get the most votes to win. With all of these people trying to get heard, it helped drive traffic to the site in large numbers. Once there, people could Like a candidate, which then drove more awareness of the brand and competition.

The winning candidate made his way to victory thanks to a tweet from Davina McCall, one of the biggest celebrities in Britain, who has over 650,000 followers. It generated amazing exposure for the brand, and that’s just one of the tweets for one candidate. When you factor in all of the other candidates’ efforts, the viral impact of the campaign is impressive.

The Process

Free stuff doesn’t just have to be products. We’ve seen charity donations, competitions, free entertainment and dream jobs, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To succeed all you need is:

  • Something that gives people a reason to come together
  • A free price point to the customer and a great prize
  • A social network or networks for them to connect on

What are your thoughts on using free stuff to build brands? Have you seen it work anywhere else, or do you feel brands’ marketing efforts are better spent elsewhere? Please share your comments in the box below.

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