How to Build Brand Advocates on a Budget

This post originally appeared on Your Brand Partner. I’m sharing it here because it gives a bit of my social media marketing philosophy, plus a look at some specific campaigns I’ve developed at my @KCLibrary post.

The KC Library Plaza Branch

Imagine working in a place where everything is free. Where you give away your products to anyone who asks. And, to top it off,  the more people who come in and take your free stuff, the better it is for your business.

Welcome to my world — the world of public libraries.

I am the social media manager and web content developer (my title changes with the times) at the Kansas City Public Library. It’s a world of wonder, adventure, and knowledge, and it’s all free for the taking.

And for that very reason, it can be hard to sell on social media.

The conventional wisdom in social media marketing is that people follow brands on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc, because they’re looking for giveaways, discounts and special deals.

But what can you give to the crowd when everything you stock is already free?

I know mine seems like a uniquely odd situation, but if you’ve ever had to run an online campaign on a shoestring (or non-existent) budget, you’ve felt my pain.

The good news for you and me is that with a little strategy and ingenuity, you don’t need to compete with the Redbulls and Old Spices of the world to build an active, engaged community of that most valuable of customer: the brand advocate.

A recent eMarketer report shows that people follow brands more for entertaining, engaging content than for deals and discounts. They’re there to interact with their friends and the world around them — to hang out, goof off, and have fun.

As a brand, your work on social media should therefore be about building lasting relationships through creating compelling content, fostering interesting conversations, and interacting with fans on a human level. All of that costs you nothing other than the time and effort to be creative, clever, ingenious, and, well, you.

Here at the KC Public Library, we’ve managed to build a loyal and steadily growing base of social media advocates. We do it mostly by rolling up our sleeves and engaging in conversations, curating relevant news from around the web, listening, and responding quickly when someone has a question or, sometimes, a complaint.

But we also develop creative and resourceful campaigns that offer something of value to our fans — both as a means of attracting newcomers and of rewarding our loyal base.

A few examples of budget-friendly social media campaigns we’ve done:

Reading Refresh: Every week at the same time on Facebook and Twitter, our Readers’ Advisory librarians offer personalized book recommendations. We ask followers to post/tweet the last book they liked, and we make a suggestion for what to read next. It costs nothing, it doesn’t violate Facebook’s draconian promotional restrictions, and it takes advantage of our Readers’ Advisory expertise to enhance our patrons’ experience of using the library.

Tweet2Win Tuesday: Each Tuesday, we ask our Twitter fans a question, usually about reading, though it could be anything. (Example: “What would be the title of your autobiography?”) We draw names from the answers and give out a free, brand-new book from the piles of high-quality new releases sent to us by publishers.

Booketology – A Tournament of Books: In our most successful campaign to date, we capitalized on March Madness by building a bracket of 64 books from eight different genres and asking our online fans to vote on their favorites until one was left standing. The winning book was To Kill a Mockingbird, but we won big in terms of viral conversation and positive sentiment that carried over two and a half weeks. For a prize giveaway, we drew a name from everyone who voted and awarded them a branded tote bag loaded with books.

Pin Your Perfect Library: In celebration of National Library Week, we asked Pinterest users to create boards showcasing their ideas of the perfect library. Fans from across the country began filling boards full of famous authors, books, celebrities, craft projects, funky furniture, recipes and other odds and ends they’d put in their dream libraries. The creator of the best pinboard, as chosen by librarians, won a giftbag of hand-picked books tailored to the winner’s tastes (there’s that Readers’ Advisory at work again).

Victorian Valentines: When a historian was scheduled to give a Valentine’s Day talk about how 19th century newspapers invented the dating ad, we asked Facebook and Twitter fans to write Craigslist-style personal ads for their favorite literary characters. The best ad won a box of chocolates and a signed copy of the scholar’s book.

Those are just a few examples of the fun and creative ways we’ve used social media to promote our services, attract new followers, and reward stalwarts. None of them required us to build an expensive app or shell out for a big giveaway, and the prizes all matched our brand.

Going with branded goodies from a supplier like (ahem) Staples Promotional Products is a great way to add bonus value to your social media campaign. My advice: just be sure to design campaigns that are fun, interactive, and rewarding to participate in apart from any material reward.

Your followers will thank you. And, most of all, they’ll stick around after the campaign’s over.

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