How to Do Online Marketing on a Shoestring

It may not be rocket science, but it does take employee and leadership buy-in to start an effective grassroots online marketing program.

Jason Seiden is a hustler. You know, the good kind. The kind that can make things happen through sheer will, gumption, and thoughtful innovation. Jason, an online marketing expert, is making waves these days with the launch of BrandAmper – a SaaS application that improves the quantity, quality, and consistency of employee brand advocacy.

I sat down to get Jason’s ideas about how regular folks like you and me, who don’t count marketing as a primary responsibility and have minimal financial and time resources, can start an effective grassroots online marketing program.

Alex: So Jason, I’m not a big brand with deep pockets. It this even possible?

Jason: Possible?! Who started the rumor that online marketing requires a major marketing budget? The reason online marketing looks expensive is because the media tends to feature tools built to accommodate massively scaled consumer marketing programs with the goal of turning complete strangers into fans.

But if you start with loyal employees – people who already chose to work for you – your probability of success skyrockets. The data on starting with employees is compelling: employees are almost 6X more trusted than company spokespeople  and when you activate employees as ambassadors, you get immediate feedback about what’s working and what’s not.

Alex: But how do you win over employees so they want to be spokespeople?

Jason: First, make sure leadership is on board. They may be gray-haired digital immigrants, but they still set the tone, and it’s important that they lead by example. Second, make sure your employees have guidelines to follow. Has marketing ever created conversational treatments of your brand? Can an employee explain the company’s vision to a friend without sounding like a robot? Finally, activate your employees by running an internal communications campaign that gives them a reason to care, and then inviting them to sessions that show them how to convert their interest into action.

Alex: You’ve seen lots of big brands spend a fortune on marketing. What are the most important lessons we can take away without having to make the same mistakes?

Jason: One lesson we see over and over is that reach is nothing without resonance. All those retweets that no one cares about? Spam. All those likes you bought with the promise of a free iPad? Useless. When companies start with online marketing, they almost always chase that shiny viral object. They buy all these tools and content management platforms and measuring dashboards, and all anyone is measuring is how little people are engaging.

So if you’re just starting, skip that shiny object step. Start with your strategy, figure out what matters to you, put blinders on to everything else, and then blog and tweet and post and engage about that one thing until your fingers bleed.

Alex: What do you think scares people most about online marketing, and how do we get over that fear?

Jason: One-hundred percent of our clients have involved legal too early in the process to be healthy. Also: 100 percent of our clients have a manager who has expressed to us the fear that putting employees on social media will open them up to getting recruited by competitors. So based on our experiences, I’d say that the #1 organizational fear is the rogue tweet, and the #1 personal fear is losing one’s team.

To get over either fear, people need to get on the darn platforms. Seriously, rogue tweets are better managed by your presence than anything else, because as a leader, you set the tone for acceptable behavior. And as far as your employees go, who do you think is going to respond worse to your putting the kabosh on social media? It won’t be the complainers. They’ll complain but won’t do anything, because they never do anything. Your go getters are the ones who will take action. Specifically, they’ll show you why you’re out of touch, and then when you don’t join the 21st century, they’ll leave you with a bunch of complainer employees.

Alex: If you were starting an online marketing program from scratch, what are the first few things you would go out and do tomorrow?

Jason: Get leadership on board. But don’t start with a 50 person pilot. True story: Chipotle struggled when it was a part of McDonald’s because no matter how much it grew, its numbers amounted to a rounding error when compared to McDonald’s core business. When you start with a pilot in order to win over your executives, you’re creating a Chipotle/McDonald’s scenario because your tiny numbers don’t mean anything to the people you’re talking to. Find your executive sponsor first, then define success, then work with employees to define the program, and THEN run the pilot. If you want the shortest path to success, that means getting leadership’s attention before anything else.