Warning: This may be the single most important article you’ll ever read about using social media for your online business.
When my friend grew his Instagram page to 70,000+ followers, people in our social circle unanimously jumped into the conclusion that he had “made it”. Ha. But we both knew that it was a false perception and FAR, far away from the truth.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that fame = money especially in the digital era where influencers with large followings also happen to lead lavish and luxurious lifestyles. But the real question is which came first, the chicken or the egg?
This is why I am writing this article. You don’t have to go through all the hard things my friend (also business partner) and I have gone through. So I will be sharing my insights on this topic as someone who has been in the trenches, working behind-the-scenes of a 70,000+ Instagram page of a fitness influencer/coach while growing a six-figure fitness coaching business within 3 months.
So let’s get the ball rolling!
What You Need To Know To Make Organic Growth Work For Your Social Media Business
Most business owners think that if you grow a large following, people will come banging at your doors with their credit card. But the truth is that followers and likes don’t matter much, it’s the sales that counts. And smart business owners know that they need to reverse engineer a marketing strategy to turn followers into customers. That means that every piece of content you put out has the intention to move the sales forward – whether it’s building more trust with your followers or directly promoting your products or services. And it takes more than just being yourself, you’ve to have the right strategies and build the right skill sets to succeed in social media marketing.
So here’s the truth about using social media as an organic growth strategy for your business.
1. You’ve to put a lot of effort and time to make frequent and consistent posts
More posts translates to bigger exposure leading to the organic growth of your social media business account. But these posts aren’t just about quantity, but quality as well. They have to be valuable and relevant pieces of content directly connecting with your target audience. That’s how you can turn those new followers into customers, if not, what’s the point? The more engaging content you create, the more likely you’ll be rewarded by the algorithm, attracting new people in. And honestly, it’s not an easy job to come with a new post idea every day.
2. Social media is a distracting place
Social media is like a slot machine. Every time you get a notification, your brain sends a chemical messenger called dopamine along a reward pathway making you feel good (instant gratification). This heightens the dopamine levels in our blood. And it becomes even harder to practise deep, focused work because the rewards from delayed gratification is much lower. Thus, the opportunity cost of being on social media is the time spent on high level business activities. That includes business growth activities like creating a marketing strategy plan, creating a new product or training a new staff member.
And if you’re a serious business owner focused on growing your business, the last place you should be around is social media. That’s because social media is designed to be addictive; advertisers buy your time and attention from social media companies.
Even if you use it for your business, you are likely wasting most of your precious time and energy aimlessly scrolling through the feeds… as long as you’re a human with emotions, you’re guilty of this. You may tell yourself that you’re just researching and getting inspired, but that’s not often the case.
Just imagine how much more creative energy and focus you’ll have when you direct your attention to creating things, rather than consuming things. Not only will this be beneficial for your business, but it will also improve the quality of your relationships and life.
3. Let’s say, you actually succeed. Is it really worth it?
At this point, you may start thinking of all the successful business owners who have leveraged on social media and grown highly profitable businesses from zero. It’s not that you can’t succeed with organic growth on social media for you business, but only few people succeed (and those who don’t succeed work equally hard but they don’t see the same results). Let me explain.
3.1 Influencers with millions of followers barely making six figures in a year
In recent years, I’ve been purchasing fitness programs from fitness influencers and all of them come with community access. So in order to calculate the total sales value, all I had to do was to look at the total number of people in the community (usually a Telegram group or Facebook group) and multiply that by the product price.
For example, the product price = $40 and the number of people in the paid community group = 1,000, then total sales = $40 x 1,000 = $40,000. This may be an underestimation because not everyone who makes a purchase joins the community group.
(Side note: this calculation gets tricky when monthly recurring subscription is involved but you can still get estimates. I’d suggest calculating reasonable best case scenarios and reasonable worst case scenarios to get a rough range.)
This sales value doesn’t take into account costs like ad spend, production costs, manpower costs etc.
Once I did all these calculations for all the fitness programs I had purchased, I was astonished… I found that the online fitness business that my business partner and I were running was outperforming the businesses of these influencers by a huge margin (and something more shocking in the next section).
3.2 The hustle mentality can be detrimental when you do the wrong things
My business partner had an Instagram account with 70,000+ followers. And guess what? Only 10% of the sales of our coaching program came from that account. He had posted valuable fitness-related content every day for a year and made huge sacrifices to grow that account. Yet, 90% of our sales came from elsewhere. One of our acquaintances who had posted every day for a year had only managed to grow his page to 1,000 followers. Growing on social media is much harder than you can imagine and it may not even be worth it in the end.
My business partner has stopped being active in his account as the efforts to grow the account outweighs the rewards. It takes courage to make that decision because the vanity metrics are ego-boosting. “But wouldn’t it be cool to have millions of followers?”. That’s one of the responses I’ve got when I shared this story with someone I knew. If your aim is fame, then yes. But if your aim is to grow a highly profitable business, you may need to look at the hard truth.
And this isn’t just about $$$ too, it’s about REALLY helping people…
…there’s only so much you can help people with free content. When someone makes a purchase, they show up with commitment. They take your advice, put into action and get results. And this, my friend, is more rewarding than any likes and followers. Just think about it.
Key Insights from this section
- Only few people succeed building a business using organic growth strategies.
- Even influencers who have built millions of followers are having a hard time converting their followers into customers.
- You can have fewer followers (or even none) and still build a highly profitable business.
- Hustling your way through may not always work and can give you unpredictable results. Someone may gain 100k followers in a year, another 1k followers with the same effort.
4. Organic growth is UNRELIABLE
Regardless of what social media platform you use, the algorithm constantly changes… not in your favour, but for the social media platform itself. This is understandable because social media companies are giants. They need to generate revenue and profit in order to sustain themselves. They have to cover their operational costs, pay taxes, dividends etc. So in exchange for having free access to these platforms, they monetise their platform users’ attention by offering businesses to run ads. It’s somewhat a fair exchange.
This is why I cringe when someone still says “Content is the king”… Gone are the days when you could create a social media business page and reach everyone who likes your page. Only those who’ve turned on notifications from your page will not miss your posts. But that’s something only few hardcore fans do and it’s not even measurable.
For example, Facebook pages used to be very popular because every post was shown in the followers’ newsfeed… but Facebook changed the algorithm and a lot of online businesses lost touch with their fans and potential customers. A more recent update was turning Instagram feeds from chronological order to algorithmic feed, showing users more “relevant” posts. There was also the introduction of the feature “mute”, allowing users to stop seeing your content without unfollowing you.
So here’s how social media is an unreliable platform for you to engage with and build relationships with your prospects:
- The algorithm keeps changing. The same strategies used to work to grow your account in the past may stop working anytime.
- The organic reach gets lower and lower as social media companies monetise their platforms using ads.
5. Little control of who will follow you
As long as your account is public, there is no control who will follow you. The algorithm shows your posts to people who’re likely to engage with your content. That includes people of all ages and countries.
And chances are not every product or service is made for everyone. Even if it is, it’s hard to sell something to everyone compared to a specific niche group.
Another reason why it matters who follows you is purchasing power. Even for lower ticket products, teens usually need their parents’ consent to make purchases… and in developing countries, $20 may be the cost of living for a week.
So when it comes to social media, more than the number of followers, it’s important to know WHO follows you. When I started a fitness account on Tik Tok, one of my videos went viral with 1.3 million views. Take note, I’m a female. None of the likes or followers gained was coming from a female. Should I have intended to use my account for business, it would have been a nightmare. As a fitness lady, what could I sell to men from developing countries??
What does this mean in business context?
In business terms, I had to entertain thousands of unqualified leads in order to reach a few ideal prospects… It was not motivating for me. That’s why I decided to work with a partner. He was the face of the brand and I worked behind-the-scenes. And we focused on the real things that make a business profitable rather than the vanity metrics.
Our first product was a $21 online fitness program launched to his 70k+ followers Instagram page. The findings were insane. 57.1% of the sales came from Singapore which only comprised 4% of his followers at that time. Whereas 20%+ followers from India only produced 2 sales. This data spoke a lot and once again proved that it’s not the numbers of followers that matter, but WHO actually follows you.
6. Influencer Marketing Is Bullshit. Period.
Many new businesses with lower following are encouraged to leverage on influencers with bigger following. In my opinion, this is the worst way of using social media for your business. Let me explain.
I’ve enquired the pricing of local influencers from an agency and here’s the pricing list of Instagram influencers. I’ve covered the identities of the individuals for confidential reasons.
You see, my business partner had done partnerships with brands for his Instagram account with 70,000+ followers. He hardly made any sales for the businesses that approached him. So this is coming from an insider, the conversion rate is VERY VERY low. When it comes to influencer marketing, it’s not the number of followers, comments and likes that matter but the ROI – the return on the investment. But most of the time, this approach isn’t an investment, but it’s an expense…
For our fitness coaching business, we paid many large accounts to do shoutouts to acquire new clients. None of the accounts had a positive ROI. Only one account with 6000+ followers did. But this account was quickly exhausted because of its small size. Hence, influencer marketing is like treasure hunting, it depends a lot on luck. It’s not a predictable process that you can on month after month (something you need to if you’re running a legitimate business).
Most often, the only person who benefits from this transaction is the influencer or their agency, and I don’t know how much you like sponsoring their influencer lifestyle.
What You Really Need To Do To Be A Successful Online Business Owner
If you’ve read this far, you may think that I only see the negative side of things and with perseverance and hard work, you can succeed in social media marketing (organic marketing). But all this comes from my trials and tribulations. I share them so you don’t have to make the same mistakes. So in this section, you will learn how to succeed in the online business world without feeling like you’re walking on a minefield.
1. Choose a strategy that is measurable and trackable – something that you can consistently rely on to generate leads and sales (a repeatable process).
Before getting to it, you’ve to be the one who OWNS your relationship with your prospects and clients, not the social media company that you’re using. And the only way to do this is having contact details of your customers such as emails, phone numbers and mailing address. The most popular way that companies keep in touch with their customers is through Email Marketing (how unsexy, right?). That’s because an email list is YOUR company’s property, but your social media account and you followers aren’t (social media companies own and control it).
Here’re key stats showing why email marketing is crushing it:
- Email generates $38 for every $1 spent, an astounding 3,800% ROI
- There are 3.9 billion daily email users
- 59% of respondents say marketing emails influence their purchase decisions
- 80% of business professionals believe that email marketing increases customer retention
(Stats from The Ultimate List of Email Marketing Stats for 2020)
And my most favourite point about email marketing is that you can directly contact your prospects in a place where they aren’t distracted by all the noise on social media. So if you have social media following, it’s time to transfer them over to an email list!
Will everyone open your emails? Nope… just like how not everyone will see your social media posts. But you also have the option to upload the email list to any advertising platform (yes, including social media). Then, you can run marketing campaigns directly to them to increase your email opens. It’s much cheaper to run ads if you own your list rather than rely on advertising platforms to find new qualified prospects for you.
Create content that lasts more than a day!
What’s cooler is that these campaigns are measurable and trackable. Once you get feedback on which ads are generating sales, you can invest more money into them to generate even more sales.
Unlike social media posts, you can use the content where your content only gets attention for 24-48hours, the content created for ad campaigns is evergreen and lasts for months and even for years. That means your prospects will be purchasing your products or booking calls with you while you go about your day.
What I find the most fascinating is that once you’ve enough data on your ads (usually at least $1,000), you can reverse engineer a marketing campaign based on your revenue goals.
For example, if your campaign produced 100 leads at $3 per lead and you made one sale of $1000, you know that in order to produce $2000, you’ve to spend double of your previous spending.
Campaign #1: Ad spend = 100 leads * $3 = $300
Results: $300 ad spend produced 1 sale of $1000
Revenue goal = $2000
Product price = $1000
No. of sales needed = $2000/$1000 = 2 sales
To generate to get 1 sale, 100 leads are need (from campaign #1 finding)
No. of leads needed to generate to get 2 sales = 100 leads * 2 = 200 leads
Cost per lead = $3 (from campaign #1 finding)
Required ad spend to generate $2000 = 200 * $3 = $600
This may not always be true (you need to do proper market research and have the right strategies) but this is the gist of how digital advertising works. Smart business owners and marketers know this and use it to their advantage.
2. Yes, this strategy is for beginners as well
You may worry that you don’t have any following to transfer them over to your email list. This may be a blessing, honestly. In the case of my business partner who had spend a year growing his page, he found that all his efforts were wasted. He had attracted people who were unlikely to become customers. But if you’re starting from scratch, you can go right into the best strategy, connecting with the people who’re most likely to become clients. This is what anyone with a following should do too.
Advertising platforms store data of their users, including their age, country, interests, things they search online etc. By now, you’ve already noticed that most ads you see online are relevant to you. This can be creepy at times but most of us have accepted this new “normal”. I used to think that ads don’t work as a consumer, but now, as a business owner and marketer, I know they work… in fact, they work amazingly well. That’s because advertising platforms have empowered businesses to directly go to people who’re interested in making a purchase of your product or service. It’s no longer a game of turning “no”-s into “yes”-s but it’s about finding more “yes”-s.
3. The only type of advertisement you should pay for
When we think of advertising, we think about big brands like Coca-cola and Apple. These advertisements are focused more on brand awareness and they can cost an arm and a leg to create, often requiring teams of dozens of individuals, taking months and even years. What’s astonishing is that there’s hardly any evidence showing the effectiveness of these ads, yet, big brands spend millions on advertising.
Right after my graduation, I had a job interview in TBWA (an international advertising agency). Their clients include Adidas, Apple and McDonald’s. When I showcased a name card I had created to the head of digital, he asked me how long it took me to complete it. I responded that it took me about a month, being worried that I might have been too slow. But he shocked me by telling me that what I had created can take up to 3 years in their agency because of all the iterations and back-and-forth communication with the clients. Can you imagine that?
What’s brand advertising?
Brand advertising is focused more on art than science. Advertisers who focus on brand awareness hope that when it comes to purchasing decisions, you will be likely to choose one brand over the other because of your familiarity of the brand from the exposure to the ads in reputable places. And they have absolutely no control over measuring whether your exposure to the ads has influenced your purchasing decision, so in a sense, ads focused on brand awareness aren’t trackable and measurable. It’s almost a shot in the dark.
But that’s just one type of advertisement and it shouldn’t be the kind of ads small business owners, service providers, consultants and coaches spend on. In fact, there is one type of advertisement that’s even better (both in terms of effort and cost) that you should be focusing on – Direct Response Advertising.
Unlike brand advertising, direct response advertising is both an art and a science. The art part focuses on creatives like the image, video, ad copy and headline, and the science part focuses on trackable and measurable results like the leads and sales generated.
Comparison between Brand Advertising and Direct Response Advertising
|Brand Advertising||Direct Response Advertising|
|Purpose||Brand awareness; mostly focused on retaining existing clients||Increasing revenue; mostly focused on acquiring new clients|
|Size of the business||Suitable for large corporations||Suitable for every business or individual|
|Business stage||Suitable for expansion or maturity stage||Suitable for development, start-up and growth stages|
|Capital||Large starting capital||Small starting capital|
|Effectiveness||Not measurable||Highly effective, measurable and trackable results|
|Campaign creation duration||Long; it can take months and years||Short, it can take days and weeks|
What’s Direct Response Advertising?
As the name implies, Direct Response is a form of advertising by which the prospect can reply to show interest in a product or service, by filling in a form, phoning a number, sending an email. Let’s look at this early 1900s bicycle ad to break it down.
Example of Direct Response advertising in 1923
So what’s the direct response this ad requests?
It’s asking for your name and address in order to deliver the bicycle to your house for 30 Days’ Free Trial. And there is even a monthly payment plan… familiar with these terms?
The Internet is full of social media ads and sales pages similar to what we’ve just analysed. So this type of advertisement is not new, it just works insanely great when you combine it with digital advertising tools that track and measure the performance of your ads in real time.
Examples of modern day sales page in 2020
How Direct Response Advertising Has Evolved
In the past, the print advertisement was delivered to people in one city or town regardless of their interest in bicycles. But currently, with Artificial Intelligence powering advertising platforms, advertisers have the opportunity to target someone based on their interests or things they search online.
On Facebook or Instagram, you can run an ad for a bicycle to people who are interested in bicycles and on Google or YouTube, you can run ads to people who’ve expressed purchase interest by searching “what bicycle to buy”. So digital advertising provides you with the opportunity to go directly to someone who’s ready to buy a bike, rather than people who have no interest in it. And this is the best way you can use social media for your business.
And unlike brand advertising, you don’t need an astronomical advertising budget to do this. In fact, you can start with $5/day (of course, the more you spend, the more data you can get, making better decisions and getting faster results).
Once you make sales, you can reinvest the money back to ads and get even more sales. And once you’ve enough data of customers, you can run ads to Lookalike audiences – audiences that behave similarly to your existing or past customers – increasing the possibility of more sales. This way your business gains more control on scalability – you don’t have to limit yourself to the number of followers on your page.
In conclusion, using organic growth on social media for your business takes a lot of effort, and can be distracting for you as a business owner. Even if you gain a lot of followers, you may attract the wrong people, people who are unlikely to become customers. You’ve little control over the algorithm making organic reach on social media unreliable and unpredictable.
Whereas having your own email list, you’ve more control over reaching your prospects and customers. And you can use digital direct response advertising to generate leads and sales.
You can still use social media for your business if you like, but not owning your email list and not getting into digital advertising soon enough may cost you a lot more in the future should the social media platforms that you use make significant changes to their algorithm.
And if you want to run ads, here’s a case study training I’ve recorded showing you exactly How We Spent $9,657.90 on Ads To Generate $114,696.60 For Our Online Coaching Business.