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How to convert social media followers to customers

For startup SpikeBee, the trick to a strong ROI on social media will be the soft sell

Jun 22, 2016

by Robbie Jeffrey

Spend months building your brand on Snapchat. Obsessively scrub your tweets for trace amounts of offense. Dream of figuring out Facebook’s unknowable algorithms. Have nightmares where PETA sics its followers on you for your off-colour animal rights joke. Wake up in a cold sweat and think, “Maybe social media is taking its toll on me.”

“They know they should be on [social media] and they have a product to sell, so they automatically associate the fact that there’s people there with the product they’re selling.”
– Gary Meldrum, g[squared]

That’s how not to manage your social media presence. Just ask Jo-Anne Reynolds, the founder and CEO of SpikeBee, an online resource for parents looking for camps and summer programs for their kids. “I’ve been trying Snapchat for months,” she says. ‘I don’t know if it’s the right audience – I keep getting random requests, almost like it’s a dating site.”

The problem is that Reynolds is running all of SpikeBee’s social media platforms. As a startup, she felt like social media was an easy way to market SpikeBee without a budget. “It was such an integral part of how I started to grow the company,” she says. But now, 18 months later, she feels like she’s “social media’d out.” She’s becoming increasingly convinced that, as the CEO of the company, she could put her skills to better use. “At some point,” she says, “I think I need to realize that I have to pass it on.”

The thing is, Reynolds is SpikeBee’s online presence. She has nearly 14,000 Twitter followers, but they’re there for her, not for SpikeBee (which, itself, has around 1,300 followers). In fact, there’s scant mention of the company at all. But Reynolds wants to convert those followers to customers. There’s just one problem: people on social media don’t log on for sales pitches.

“Putting your product there is one thing,” says Gary Meldrum, a partner with Edmonton marketing firm g[squared], to whom Reynolds has reached out for help. “But you can easily sully your brand that way.” He says many businesses operate their social media platforms not with principles but with mere arithmetic. “They know they should be on [social media] and they have a product to sell, so they automatically associate the fact that there’s people there with the product they’re selling,” he says. “But people want to see the content. It’s not about the sales.”

Instead, go for the soft sell, he tells Reynolds. SpikeBee’s got it good. Since the SpikeBee brand is all about having fun and making life easier for parents, Reynolds can populate her feeds with videos, testimonials and images, and still raise awareness of her service. “Rather than interject a product, I’d interject the fun that’s happening and the results of the activities – that way the product can be part of the message,” Meldrum says. “You have a product that’s so social media friendly because you’re showing how you make people happy.”

So should Reynolds give up social media? Should she hand the reins over to marketing pros? Maybe there’s a middle ground. Maybe she can refine her social media efforts – and, once and for all, abandon Snapchat – and delegate some of the marketing work. “You only have so many hours per day,” Meldrum tells her. “The last thing you need is to be burned out.” She’s the CEO, after all – she shouldn’t be waking up in a cold sweat over social media. She should be waking up in a cold sweat over all the other things that keep CEOs up at night.

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