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Using promotions to generate more sales

Key Facts

A Social Media Promotion Outline should include:

  • The type of promotion
  • The theme of the promotion
  • The social media channels to be used
  • The participants in the promotion
  • The responsibilities of each participant
  • The materials needed for the promotion
  • The goals of the promotion

Social media is all about the conversation. If you create a conversation with your customers, they will become more engaged with you and your organization, and your organization will prosper from the healthier relationship.

That is certainly true, and it represents the critical idea to remember about social media and business: it’s a process that takes time to build. Of course, there also will be times when you’ll want to promote something important — a new product, a sale, a fund drive — in a short-term timeframe. When that happens, social media can be used as a marketing tool to help build participation in your promotion, no matter what it is.

Make the Plan

Like building your long-term social media community, creating a promotion typically can't be done on the fly. Nor should it. Even if you are a marketing expert who intuitively “gets” how to run a promotion from start to finish, you’ll still want to make a plan, for two very important reasons. First, there’s accountability. If your work is being judged by others, then you will need to provide a framework upon which those people (perhaps your supervisors) can base their criteria.

Second, there’s the issue of legacy. In software development circles, this is often known as the “What if so-and-so quits?” problem. It sounds rather painful, but in actuality it addresses the very important issue of what happens when a software developer moves on from a particular project. Who will take over for him and has he left behind the right sort of information to allow that new person to take his place?

It’s not just a software development problem — legacy is a problem for everyone. If you are promoted, or transferred, or otherwise leave, who will take over for you and how will your replacement do the work?

That’s why it’s important to have a plan — even if you’re a marketing expert.

For the rest of us, you need a plan for your social media promotion for a third, and very critical reason: without a plan, your social media promotion will likely be unsuccessful. You don’t need to script every single detail, but you need to work out the major details of your promotion, because you don’t want inconsistencies making your audience upset.

Do the research

Before you do your promotion, you need to get online and see if anyone has done something similar.

Don’t worry if your idea isn’t original; unless a direct competitor has run the same promotion, it should not stop you from trying something similar. If a competitor has already tried your idea, don’t be discouraged. You can learn what worked or didn't work in his implementation.

The key is, if you have an idea for a promotion, find a similar promotion and learn from it — it's like finding a pot of gold. You can read online how the promotion unfolded. What worked for the organization? What didn’t? If you don’t find the details you want online, you should be able to find contact information about the organization and ask them directly how the promotion worked. If you’re polite, you can ask them about more details on the business side of the promotion.

If you’re having trouble locating organizations willing to discuss their social media campaigns, try joining a specific marketing social media community, such as the one found at The CMO Site (, which discusses promotional ideas that have worked or didn’t work and why.

Tip: If you do get detailed information on another organization’s promotion, offer to share the results of your promotion when it’s finished. That way, you both can learn from each other’s experiences.

Create an Outline

Once you have researched promotions that are similar to what you want to do, you need to create an outline citing how your promotion is going to go. It is very important to understand that you will not be creating a step-by-step script of every single step in your promotion. There’s no need to put in that kind of work, because you are bound to have some unexpected developments that would throw you off the script. Instead, the outline serves to list the major points of your promotion. At a bare minimum, it should include (but not be limited to) the following information:

  • The type of promotion
  • The theme of the promotion
  • The social media channels to be used
  • The participants in the promotion
  • The responsibilities of each participant
  • The materials needed for the promotion
  • The goals of the promotion

That’s the minimum, mind you — you may also want to construct a loose timeline of the sequence of events of the promotion. But if you have at least these minimum pieces of knowledge worked out, you will be able to stay on track with the promotion, no matter what happens.

Set the Goals

Keen observers will have noted the last required point on the outline: the goals of the promotion. Often, promotions will be launched with just vague goals in mind: “get more people in the store” or “successfully launch new company.”

Instead, it’s important to set concrete, measureable goals for the promotion so that you can see how it truly performed. Did it adequately meet your expectations, or better, did it knock those expectations out of the park? If the promotion didn’t work out as planned, analyze the results after it’s all said and done for insights into what went wrong and what went right.

The types of goals that can be measured in a promotional campaign include the following:

  • Increased sales/donations. This is the first-level goal for most organizations — a specific increase in the sale of a particular item or the amount of donations received.
  • Awareness. This is a more loosely defined goal but valid nonetheless. It involves making your organization more prominent in your social community. Specific metrics would include attendance at a specific event or an increase in the number of new contacts on an organizational mailing list.
  • Participation. This goal may revolve around a specialized major event, where you need people to participate for the event to succeed. This could include a community fundraising event in which your organization is participating.

Choose the Type of Promotion

As you might imagine, there are many different kinds of promotions you can try. Just look at the early days of television for, shall we say, creative examples of promotions, where the dignified salesman of used cars would climb into a chicken suit to entice his customers to come on down for great deals.

But unlike the chicken suits of yore, your promotions can be fun and productive at the same time. You just have to know your audience and figure out what will work best for them.

Hold a Contest

The idea of a social media contest is pretty simple. Essentially, you will post information about the contest on a social network or microblogging site and ask your audience to share that information with their friends or followers.

Pre-social media examples of such contests might be Kodak’s photography contests, where contestants could compete for prizes by submitting photos on various subjects. And while Kodak has changed from its days of film and paper, the contests still go on.

In a social media setting, people can be entered into the contest by either a quick registration on a website or social network page, or even by simply sharing the information about the contest. This is the easiest way to get people involved in your contest. For example, on Twitter you could ask followers to retweet a link to your website or mention your Twitter handle (such as @AskPayPal), company name, or product to be automatically entered in your contest. Or you could ask people on Facebook to “like” your contest page on that social network to be entered to win. It’s very much up to you.

Tip: When someone clicks “Like” on Facebook for a company or product, the person’s Facebook wall could be inundated with events and news about that company. This could be quite irritating to Facebook users, so be sure your promotional page keeps such content to a minimum.

Keep your goals in mind, though, as you think about how the contest will run. If you’re trying to increase the notoriety of your Facebook presence, then make sure that your brand appears in the contest name when sending requests to Facebook users to enter the contest. When they re-share the information with their friends, then your brand will get carried along for the ride.

Or, if you want to gather customer information, then you will want to bring in the users to a Web page where they’ll need to enter their information on a small form.

Tip: A “small” entry form is the operative word: don’t make your contest participants have to enter a lot of information. Keep it simple, requiring only basic contact information, like name, email, and address (for identity purposes).

Here are some other considerations when developing a contest:

  • Know the law of the land. Contests can have different federal and state laws governing them, depending on where your organization is based. Ever see those disclaimers on a contest that say “Not valid for residents of such-and-such state”? That’s because such-and-such state may have legislation that prevents certain contests from being run. Contact your local or state attorney’s office to find out exactly what you can and can’t do. If you’re giving away a valuable item or services, you may want to consult an attorney to go over your rules to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
  • Come up with a cool prize. Maybe your business has such interesting and desired services or products that coming up with a prize will be a no-brainer. But if you don’t, try to be creative in what you give away. If you own a car dealership, you may not be able to afford to give away a car, but you could offer free oil changes for a year, for instance.
  • Create a landing page. Even if you don’t require much input from entrants for contest participation, you will need to set up a landing page for entrants to visit. This page will have the details for the contest, with the complete rules and how the prizes will be awarded. You won’t want any ambiguity to upset the contest, so this page is important.
  • Stay with the contest. Track how your contest is going. If your contest is based on work submitted such as with a photo or video contest, highlight entrants on a daily or weekly basis. This will generate more interest from that specific entrant and the contest as a whole.

Contests are a fun way to promote your business, and social media is tailor-made to run them without a lot of costs. Just make sure you have everything detailed and spelled out, to ensure your contest is legitimate for everyone. Your sense of fun will be picked up by the entrants and keep the contest more enjoyable for them.

Host a Real-world Event

If you have a brick-and-mortar business, you can pull in people to your location with a special real-world event.

Such events are not hard to organize: schedule a date and time (perhaps after normal business hours) and bring people in for a special just-for-social-media-fans event. It could be a sale. Or a special product debut. It could even be a civic-oriented meeting that addresses an issue in your community.

The type of event is not terribly critical — it doesn’t even have to be a direct sales opportunity. You want people to come into your business, get to know you and your staff, and feel comfortable about your business. You can also use this as an opportunity to give local social media users a chance to meet each other face-to-face, which is usually a nice change for them after all those online conversations.

Log on to an Online event

Online events are becoming more and more common these days. These coordinated gatherings on the Internet can range from something as simple as a Google Plus gathering, where participants can jump onto a video conference call at a certain time and date, to a full-fledged multiday training seminar.

Obviously, the bigger the scale of your event the more complex it is to plan. If you want to start with something simple, try one of these ideas:

  • Run a Twitter Chat. Twitter (or any microblog) chats are a great way to get customer feedback or set yourself up as a knowledgeable source for your products or business. Using a special hashtag, get your audience into a broader conversation about the topic of the week or month. Chances are followers will start sharing the conversations and chime in themselves.
  • Host a Social Network Event. You can also hold a robust chat session on a social network like Facebook or Dispora. Simply set up an event page and then invite all your guests to jump on the page at a specific time. You can encourage them to bring their friends, if they feel the conversation’s getting interesting.

Online events like these are not especially tricky to set up from a technical standpoint. In fact, many social media networks make it easy to implement social events like these online. The real trick is, like in any social gathering, keeping the conversation fresh, interesting, and as much on-target as you can. Sometimes the conversation will go off-topic, and that’s okay. But if you have a specific point to make, you will want to steer the discussion back to your topic every once in a while.

Measure Your Results

The final task that you should be undertaking with your promotion, no matter what it turns out to be, is measuring the results of the event. How many people entered your contest or showed up at your real or virtual event?

More importantly, how did the social media tools work for you? What were the re-sharing rates on the social media platforms you used? How many visits did your landing page get?

Analyze these numbers carefully, because you will want to know what worked and what didn’t work in your promotion.

After all, if you’re going to do it again, you’ll want to do it better the next time.

1 Brian Proffitt; The PayPal Official Insider Guide to Social Media; P. 102-111