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How to gain social media followers


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Growing your brands Social following

OK, let me just start this post off by dismissing any concerns that you may have about me thinking followers are the most important measure for your social. Put simply it isn’t. But whilst we all outwardly say your followers, likes friends etc aren’t important, there is that element of vanity that means we all pay attention.

How to gain social media followers

How to gain social media followers

When looking at these numbers in context of a brand, there are genuine reasons why you need to consider follower numbers, but again, don’t make it your only focus.  A good example of this was when I first joined N Brown Group. We had a focus on growing Social Media for Simply Be in the US to enable us to generate organic traffic, buzz and awareness.  However the follower count on Instagram was very low (low double digit thousands).  This prevented people taking us seriously in the social space and caused a restricted engagement level from our audience.

We set a target of 100k Instagram followers to enable us to look credible to the audience, which in turn would improve engagement and drive organic KPIs.  Whilst I won’t go in to the specifics of what we did, the following tips on how to grow your social following will give some clues.

We hit our 100k Instagram target on SBE USA instagram

We hit our 100k Instagram target on SBE USA instagram

1. Be part of and lead conversations

The most important part of any social media approach is to be part of the conversations that your audience are interested and engaged in. Be relevant.  The days of brands not following and not engaging with their community are over.

You need to know who your audience is. Don’t deviate from that to chase followers. Be credible and relevant to those people and they will share, which should gain you more followers

Obviously there are some hygiene factors that you also need to ensure are in place:

  • Complete profile – make it interesting, provide as much info as concisely as possible and add links if relevant – this is your opportunity to convince the doubtful viewer
  • Whilst ensuring your content is always relevant is the first rule, but don’t forget to use keywords you want to be known for, hashtags etc
  • Make sure your feed is valuable and varied. Depending on the platform, sharing relevant posts is a good way to be part of the larger conversation but also allows you to tap in to other audiences.

2. Be active and engaged

Slightly linking to the previous point. People are often looking at how their numbers are perceived and from a very basic level, they do clean up the accounts that they follow. Make sure you aren’t one of the accounts they put on their consideration list to be unfollowed.

Test posting frequencies and test what content works well and when.  Comment on other relevant accounts post. Communicate with your audience, seek out others and communicate with them.

For others to consider engaging with you, make sure you are present on your target platforms. Make your account worth following.

Now the counter to this is, don’t overdo it. You can become a pest, post too much and cause people to unfollow you as well. Testing is key.

3. Always Listen

Its important to always listen to your customers

Its important to always listen to your customers

Both points up to now have been more about your behaviour and what you post. But equally important is how you respond to your audience.

Now the obvious thing to mention here is genuinely listen to your followers, its surprising how many brands don’t read or respond to comments.  You should also have a means to track sentiment to your brand and understand the feelings and perception to your brand that may not necessarily be directly posted to your platforms.

You can adapt your content strategy to help build on positive views or to address any negative perceptions.

A potentially less obvious point is look at how your followers are responding to the content you post.  If they continually speak with their feet by not engaging, their could be something wrong with what you are producing.  If they respond to a certain type, don’t just think you have the winning formula, but obviously look to see how you can expand on that theme. Don’t become a one trick pony though.

Remember, there is no shame in posting something and if it gets no engagement, take it down.  Its not interesting to your audience so it doesn’t deserve a place on your feed.  Even if it looks beautiful and you have spent time and money on the content, if your audience doesn’t like it, why is it there?

4. Build networks not just followings

Going right back to the start of this post, you shouldn’t just focus on the number of followers you have. You should be building a genuine network or community. Do this by seeking out relevant people in your network that you should be associated with. Sometimes this could simply be the accounts or people you follow. Don’t be tempted to just follow accounts with large follower base, follow relevant people, interesting people, people that you may want to share content from or engage with

Have a reason to be followed and reason why people would want to be part of your network. Could you post other accounts content on your platforms, share the audience reach and increase your follower base and that of the other account.

Its not just about influencers. Yes influencers are the new celebrities and depending on your sector, they can play an amazingly important role. But consider other brands, consider events, consider your customers. Bring those in that can enhance your network and get them active.

5. Have a point of view

Most importantly your platforms need to stand for something. It might be stunning creative. It might be a cheeky edge. It might even be deliberately controversial. Whatever your point of view you need to have one. Who wants to follow a vanilla account?

6. Hashtags

Use relevant hashtags

Use relevant hashtags

On some platforms (at the time of writing) hashtags are still useful. At this stage primarily Twitter and Instagram.

  • Don’t overdo the hashtag use though as it can make posts look desperate or unprofessional
  • Be careful on the hashtags you use. Research them before you post. Make sure the content is right to be seen next to your brand
  • Make them relevant to the content. Its easy to jump on trending topics and you might gain some short-term followers, but why would you want them if they aren’t relevant and why would they hang around if the hashtag or content posted isn’t what you are about

7. Don’t forget the traditional

Now this is an obvious one. But most brands have other marketing channels that they use.  Take the opportunity to include your focus social channels on all other channels.  Don’t forget printed material. Don’t forget outdoor. Don’t forget TV. Your site and emails are key. But if you move goods around the country, use your vehicles, receipts, delivery notes etc

If you can round all of this up with one campaign theme that lends itself to social then you are on to a winner.

The campaign idea #WeAreUs that me and the team came up with when I was at boohoo was a classic example of this. It put social at the heart of everything we were doing and also created a movement that our customers and target customers wanted to be part of.  It was such a success the #WeAre idea was adopted by many and is still in use.  That in itself is a fantastic endorsement of what we did.

Summary

Remember, followers numbers should not be the be all and end all of your social objectives. Whilst it is often frowned upon, depending on where you are in your evolution, it is a valid KPI as long as its in conjunction with other KPIs, for example engagement.

Know why you want to increase followers and what you hope that will deliver. Have a target in mind and be as obsessed with that target as you would with others, but again not in isolation.

Above all, recognise it as a little bit of vanity and put it in context against your other objectives.

Finally, be aware of fake followers as they won’t last and don’t be tempted to buy followers.  You really don’t want bots or accounts that just repost or follow paying platforms in your base.

Hopefully these tups are of interest and help. I would love to know the views of my readers so feel free to add in the comments or of course, tweet me on Twitter

Finally, don’t get obsessed with it all. Watch this video by DitchTheLabel to see what taking your social life too seriously can do


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Affiliate Marketing (for Merchants) – Part 1

Affiliate Marketing (For the Merchant)- Part 1

Long gone are the days when affiliates used to solely be one man in his bedroom, hacking about with some clever code.  In addition most merchants are more savvy to the opportunities affiliates can present when working in partnership.  Gone are the easy pickings of brand bidding and in the main, gone are the days when merchants used to treat affiliates as a second-class channel.

Affiliate Marketing is one of the most established online marketing channels.  Affiliation can provide everything from volume of clicks or UVs, e-Mail address collection and most commonly sales or leads.  Part One of my guide is centred around the more novice internet marketing professional, call it a beginners guide if you like.

Working out the commercials

The main benefit the channel provides merchants is a manageable approach to customers where costs can easily be controlled.  Merchants should know their margins and in turn know how much margin they can afford to give in terms of a commission (commission being the operative word, more later).  If the programme operates on a CPA basis the maths are straightforward.  If my product makes retails at £100 and I make 20% margin, my profit is £20.  I then know that if I want a 4:1 return on my spend my CPA would be set at £5.  Simple.  Remember if you are using an affiliate network you need to account for their over-ride (standard industry practice is 30% of commission.  In this case it would be an additional £1.50 (which already negatively effects your ROI.

Tip 1 – When working out your CPA to hit ROI targets, build in any network over-rides or additional costs to understand a true Net CPA and ROI.

Tip 2 – The networks will hate me for saying this, but the over-ride can normally be negotiated (if you are a merchant of either perceived value or revenue potential).

Choosing a network or going direct?

This is an age old debate within the sector.  The majority of merchants use an affiliate agency such as Affiliate Window or Commission Junction.  The benefits of using a network (even if you have an internal affiliate team) are numerous.  The major ones from my experience are the fact that payment to affiliates and expensive programme admin are taken care of.  Affiliates are a networks business and as such the platforms are built to take into account affiliate needs (much cheaper than merchants doing it from scratch).  Finally, the fact that the networks know all the affiliates and should be able to guide you on who to partner with.  They can also do some of the lengthy selling-in and negotiation with both established and up and coming affiliates, that direct merchants may not be aware of.

But what about Amazon?  Yes Amazon are one of the key success stories in terms of going direct.  However their entire model (as a vanilla pureplay) meant that they could set the system up from scratch.  The prices and range are so broad that affiliates fight to work with Amazon, rather than the opposite way round with a majority of merchants.

The main benefit of the Amazon approach is that they know their categories better than any network ever can.  They also know their stock and pricing in real-time rather than relying on a third party to update feeds.  They can speak passionately about promotions and campaigns and the affiliates hear it directly.

Tip 3 – Take the best of both approaches. Use the networks to manage and administer the account but work jointly on relationships with key affiliates

That leads me neatly on to the point I told you to keep an eye out for in the earlier post.

Commission

Affiliates will always want more as this is their bread and butter.  Merchants will inevitably want to pay less as it hits their margins.

My view is that if you treat the outlay as commission you should hit a fair level.  I have always considered my top revenue driving affiliates as a virtual sales force.  They are my sales people out on the road that can get people’s attention and drive them to my virtual shop window.

Like a physical sales force, this virtual salesforce will be motivated by money.  However the virtual sales force may be even more motivated by the commission they can earn.  This isn’t due to greed but related to the fact that the majority of this virtual salesforce has to place their own investment in.  That may be monetary through Google adwords or through effort and opportunity cost through the likes of SEO or social media.

Whilst your virtual sales force will be reactive to the commission structures you put in place and any additional incentives, the majority are also pragmatic enough to realise that you can only reach a certain level, before it becomes impossible for you to maintain.

As with physical sales forces, incentives can prove extremely motivational.  A push to go the extra mile.  Whether that is by taking advantage of a sponsorship property you have and offering tickets.  Inviting affiliates to attend a bespoke event or cold hard cash.  All can influence an affiliate.  However with the more experiential incentives, you shouldn’t necessarily expect a parallel increase in revenue.

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force. Reward them and the commission negotiations are normally easier and fairer all round.

Types of affiliates

As I said in the intro of the post, gone are the days of one man in his bedroom trying to earn a quick buck.  Nowadays, affiliates are some of the brightest online marketers or smartest developers.  You must define your strategy and decide what affiliates you should work with and to what level and on what basis.  Below are a few examples of different types of affiliates

Cashback – this is possibly the biggest area of growth within affiliate marketing.  Sometimes thought of as the pariah within the affiliate community, the growth is in part due to the economic climate.  Essentially, these affiliates pass on all or part of the commission you give them, directly back to the customer.  Sites such as Quidco and TopCashBack fit into this category

Loyalty – the name is slightly misleading in terms of the loyalty is normally with the affiliate and little loyalty will be passed on to the merchant.  Essentially working in the same way as Cashback, except rather than cold hard cash being placed into a customers bank account, points are awarded.  Examples of these are Nectar and Airmiles.

Voucher Codes – if Cashback sites are though of by some affiliates as pariahs, then voucher codes are seen as bandits.  Essentially these sites provide details of all the codes available, people click on a link to reveal the code and generally a cookie is placed on the customer’s PC, meaning that affiliate gets the commission.  Its at this point I feel compelled to say that these views are not my own.  Both Cashback and voucher code sites perform specific roles within a merchants mix.  Whilst I accept some cannibalisation will take place, there are a number of customers that wouldn’t buy without this bargain mechanic.  Examples of this type of affiliate include MyVoucherCodes and VoucherCodes.co.uk

PPC – there are some affiliates that specialise in PPC (sponsored terms in the search engines).  PPC can be a grey area in affiliates and you need to have strict control over who can bid and on what terms.  If you don’t have a PPC agency or any internal expertise, these affiliates can provide great top-up resource to your own PPC activity

Tip 5 – Understand your PPC strategy and place clear T&Cs in your programme on PPC restrictions, such as brand bidding, using your brand name in the URL, direct linking etc

Content – this is potentially where affiliates started out.  People generally with a personally interest, creating great content that they just want people to read.  These sites then realised that they could potentially make money from their sites and started selling advertising.  This could be anything from one person with their site on a topic of personal interest such as making orange food, to more established content sites such as The Sun.  Although blogs are rightly considered social media, I would place them in this section.  Nowadays blogs seem to be more geared towards providing useful content and information as opposed to the web log (diary) approach that was intended.

Price Comparison – another type of affiliate that isn’t normally relevant to all merchants is Price Comparison.  The standard of these types of sites are varied.  Some use bespoke software that allows them to scrape the web for up to date prices and deals.  The others (more akin to traditional price comparison engines) take a feed once a day and produce pricing information.  Networks have developed increasingly sophisticated tools to simplify the process for affiliates to add Price Comparison functionality to their content (the best example being Affiliate Window’s, Shop Window).  There are some broad price comparison engines available through affiliate networks, however the more successful ones for merchants tend to be the more focussed engines such as Whiteboxdeals, a Price Comparison engine specialising in large domestic appliances such as washing machines and ovens.

Social Media – with the low cost of entry of social media and the advances in affiliate technology from networks means a new wave of affiliates are emerging.  These are the ones that have embraced the newer technologies such as Twitter and Facebook.  Whilst all the research indicates that recommendation by a friend, either in person or online, is the most powerful tool, please be aware.  Some people using social media tools are not just making recommendations to their network but creating brand accounts.  This is especially true in Twitter where minimal dev work is needed.  That being said, there are a number of affiliates that have made social media work and come up with creative solutions or use an established network.

Tip 6 – If you consider using Social Media affiliates, ensure your T&Cs are very clear in terms of people using your brand name.  Also, vet applications very carefully.  Some people end up spamming contacts, which reflects badly on the merchant.

OK, so that’s it for Part 1.  In part 2 I get a bit more practical, rather than just an introduction.  I will look at what types of affiliates different sectors/merchants could be best placed using.  I will look at which affiliates and approaches you could use for different stages of a business of product lifecycle and I will also review the methods of building relationships and rapport with affiliates either directly or through the networks.  I may even explore the age-old debate about single Vs multiple network.  If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.

Finally, here is a recap of the tips

Tip 1 – Build in all costs to determine CPA (inc network over-ride)

Tip 2 – Negotiate your network over-ride

Tip 3 – Take a collaborative approach with your network to managing affiliate relationships

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force

Tip 5 – Understand your own PPC strategy and reflect this in your PPC T&Cs

Tip 6 – Have clear T&Cs on affiliate use of Social Media and tightly manage applications

If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.