Editor’s note: The following is a guest blog post from my friend entrepreneur Maria Peagler. Maria will be a guest speaker on social media at Tory Johnson’s Spark and Hustle small business boot camp in Atlanta this summer.
Business blogs are filled with case studies of how social media helps businesses flourish and compete in an online marketing age. Today I’m offering a personal story of how and why I used social media, really as a last resort, to promote my business to an international stage.
September 2008: 3,000 copies of my indie-published book arrived in my warehouse after I had invested $25,000 on its production and printing. Color Mastery was a four-color softcover book, with over 200 illustrations and photographs, on museum-quality paper. It was my eighth title, but my first in the quilt market, so I was unknown and needed a big way to promote the book. I had plans for trade shows (another investment of thousands), advertising, and marketing materials. But something changed that forever.
It hit my family with a devastating blow, as my husband is a luxury home builder, and his business halted overnight. It was as if someone had unplugged the phone from the wall, because it just stopped ringing. American consumers slapped their wallets shut, and I was in trouble, as my marketing budget was now necessary to keep my husband’s business afloat.
How was I going to sell those books?
I was forced to get creative with almost no money for marketing and promotion. I already had a blog, but I knew that wasn’t enough, on its own, to move 3,000 books. I had to do something big. I decided on a blog tour, which was almost unknown at the time. I liked it because it was an online version of a book tour, allowed me to reach an international audience, and I could conduct it over a concentrated period of time for sustained interest and demand. The result?
Color Mastery skyrocketed to #10 on Amazon’s top ten list for Quilting books, and it consistently made appearances in that top ten list over the next two years. My blog traffic increased 1,000%, sales tripled, my social network subscriptions all increased, and I received bookings for interviews, lectures, and book signings. I continued to keep up my social media efforts for those two years, selling 8,000 copies of Color Mastery, and was so successful I created a start-up helping other small businesses with their social media. SocialMediaOnlineClasses.com is an online course site where I coupled my 20 years of training experience with my social media success to teach others how to enjoy those same results.
My top three tips for any small business wanting to use social media to promote?
Be willing to make mistakes. I tried many different social media campaigns and promotions, and not all worked. You have to be willing to fail before you hit it big, so don’t quit on social media if your first experience isn’t successful. It’s often the offbeat promotions that will surprise you. Before I had the confidence to shoot YouTube videos, I made a primitive slideshow on Slideshare that continues to garner more hits than any slick video I’ve ever done. I’m almost embarrassed by its simplicity now, but it works.
Realize results take time. My blog tour was a two-week affair, but it took two months of solid preparation and planning to develop, and years of blogging to understand the medium before that. Even a short five-minute YouTube video takes time to do well and get results. Viral is an outlier, and not something you should count on. Ashton Kutcher may have millions of Twitter followers, but the rest of us build those networks everyday, one contact at a time.
Collaborate for maximum impact. The best results I’ve gotten in social media are when I collaborate with others for a true win-win. This blog post is a collaboration between Mary Ellen and me, as she has generously provided me with a guest spot. My blog tour was a collaboration of ten bloggers who promoted my book in exchange for exclusive content. My “Color-of-the-Month” shows were collaborations between quilt designers and me, and those shows continued to sell my book and keep it in Amazon’s top ten list.
Social media wasn’t in my original plans, but when I saw its results, it soon became my primary promotional tool. What’s your story of how social media has helped you and your business?