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Apprentice winner Tim Campbell on how bamboo, yes bamboo, can improve your social media strategy

Having supported over 200 companies in their start-up journey with Bright Ideas Trust, and connecting with some great brands with our latest company MarketingRunners.com I get asked a lot of questions. The most popular question I get aside from “What do you think of my idea?” or “what’s Lord Sugar really like?” is “How do I get more customers/generate more leads?”. Well, whereas the first two questions are really easy to answer, “If it solves a problem people have then yes”, and “Actually he’s a really nice guy”, the last question is a lot more complicated. So here is my attempt at finally answering that questions: a quick guide to how you can generate leads for business.

Where do I start with social media marketing?

Generating leads is most certainly a long game, a multi-pronged attack which will depend on what you are selling and who you are targeting. There are many strategies and tactical interventions which can be employed to divert the attention of your target customers to your product or service. Recognising the unique characteristics of each demographic within a target market is essential, and there are many analytical and data-focused tools to help one gain such information. Some great free tools I used to get started, and still use today include: Facebook audience insights , Google trends, and Google analytics.

However, in today’s digital age any effort to generate more customers has to involve a deeper understanding of the market, and actively promoting via social media marketing . Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the hundreds of other social networks available today are, in my opinion, the new digital form of word of mouth.

So what is this mythical social media marketing I speak of? Well it’s a lot less painful than it sounds!  The first thing to say about anything related to social media marketing is best summed up by the age old adage “good things take time”. Sometimes, no matter how great your brand is or how intense your efforts, some things simply cannot be rushed: as Warren Buffett famously said, “you can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant”. If you see your business and any associated social media marketing as your baby, as many entrepreneurs do, then you will know that results very rarely happen overnight. Quick wins can be beneficial for a sudden burst of engagement, but to really create a ‘buzz’ around what you are selling, you have to think more like a bamboo farmer.  Yes you did read that right: a bamboo farmer.

Why bamboo is the secret to social media marketing

Once the bamboo farmer sows their seeds, there will be nothing in sight for the first few years, other than a very small sprout in the ground. But during those early years, development of the plant is happening beneath the surface. All of a sudden, the bamboo tree will dramatically increase in size, growing rapidly to over five metres tall, in what appears to some as almost overnight.

A large number of aspects of social media marketing are similar to the growth cycle bamboo tree. For an effective response from any social media marketing campaign you have to start small. Initially, undertake the task of researching your target audience to find out aspects such as their age, gender, lifestyle, and interests.  With this information you then devote time, effort, and energy into actively investigating and studying the materials, and sources of potential competition to refine your messages.

You do everything you can to care for and protect your campaign while it is growing, and occasionally there may not be any success in sight for a long time. But with the assumption that you’ve obtained accurate data, are using it consistently, and are adapting to feedback received, a time will arise when a sudden acceleration will take place. And you will be impressed!

It is incredibly difficult to accept or tolerate problems and stay patient when you first start a campaign — but to coin another adage, “patience really is a virtue”. So here are my five top tips to ensure your social media marketing campaign grows as strong as a bamboo tree.

Quality over quantity

Don’t worry about getting a million followers, focus on the smaller picture. Getting ten followers who really love what you do is so much more valuable than thousands who are disengaged. Those first ten can go on to tell another ten, and another ten, and another ten, and so on. A million followers who do nothing, will always be trumped by one who really invests in your brand.

Research equals results

Don’t guess what your customers want: ask them! Use research data to drive decisions, engaging with your followers online. Ask them what they want to see, what time they want to see posts, and what they think you could be doing differently. Create polls on social media too, to gauge interest in ideas or plans you might have in the pipeline.

Pick a couple of channels and focus

Many companies will be tempted to use every channel available, but it is much better to just select a couple. Getting the tone and content completely correct on one or two platforms will ensure that you are not spreading yourself too thin, and all of your campaigns stay on brand.

Measurement matters

Set smart targets on the numbers you want to see, and dates you want to see them by. Regularly  review how you are doing using analytics tools to see if traffic is coming from your social media marketing campaigns. Compare the performance of each social media outlet you have used for your campaign to discover which channel your audience are responding to best.

Learning from others

Those that fail are those that never ask for help. Getting a little perspective and help from experts could be the key to accelerating your social media marketing campaign. Experts can help interpret the work and progress you have already meade, and give you the next steps to take to achieve our goals.

Despite what most may think, social media marketing isn’t just about viral content. Like bamboo farming, it’s a long game which takes patience and care, but yields spectacular results. I’ve taken this approach with every company I’ve encountered, and have always been proud to see them grow into social media masters. So why not give it a go? For more insights like Tim’s, visit the blog or help centre for more advice.