The Social Media Strategy That Will Transform Your Sales Has Arrived (Hint: It’s Not Tik Tok)

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In the midst of the lost fortunes and ruined reputations achieved by those who try to sell products that have no value, a select group of hustlers and con artists manage to keep their customers coming back, often fostering a level of dedication that their legitimate counterparts never manage.

How do they do it? And is there anything we can learn from them that we can repurpose and apply ethically to our own endeavors?

To begin to piece together the answer to these questions, let’s look at the case of John R. Brinkley—a one-time Confederate army medic who built an empire by selling a goat testicle implantation procedure he claimed was designed to restore male vigor. Despite causing more than forty deaths, “Dr.” Brinkley’s career lasted decades and made him one of the wealthiest people in the country.

Brinkley was a terrible medical practitioner and an even worse human being. At the same time, he was one of the most effective and influential marketers the world has ever known.

In the early 1920s, radio was a curiosity but few people knew how to make use of it. An example of a typical early broadcast was an amateur enthusiast who would regularly wire himself up with a microphone, fly into the sky in a biplane, and then broadcast his screams until he pulled his parachute. Not exactly a recipe for commercial success.

Brinkley changed all this. His key insight was that he could use the technology to replicate on a mass scale his standard approach of making potential patients feel like he cared about them as individuals. To this end, he secured the longest-reaching broadcasting tower in the country and honed a way of talking to his listeners that made it seem as if he was addressing each of them personally.

Because his most receptive market was made up of rural Americans, he affected a down-home style. He answered questions that fans sent in, ranted against commonly held enemies, and featured the kinds of hillbilly singers that the mainstream music industry ignored at the time.

In doing so, John R. Brinkley not only made a fortune, he invited modern mass media.

A Digital Version of a Time-Tested Strategy

Social media is the modern-day equivalent of radio. It is a technological medium that is still constantly birthing new platforms and new uses. If you want to use social media as part of your promotional mix, you should follow Brinkley’s example.

Does this mean you have to be a huckster to be successful? Not in the least.

Take the case of Mutong Niu, a twenty-six-year-old entrepreneur who has become one of China’s biggest (and most legitimate) success stories. As a teenager, Niu wanted to attend college in the United States, but her family didn’t have the money to pay for her tuition. To mitigate this problem, she set up an online business. She looked for a way for someone young and unknown like herself to attract people to buy the cosmetics and skin care products she was selling. Ultimately, she decided on Weibo, a social media platform that had not yet become dominant, but on which more and more celebrities and influencers were spending time.

Mutong jumped on what she saw as an emerging trend, and before long her business was making enough money to pay her way to Boston University. But that was only the beginning.

It was in Boston that Niu’s business, Monarch Ymir, Inc., grew exponentially. It was also there that another Chinese expat named Yu Yang took notice and pinpointed the dynamic that would make her one of the most successful Internet entrepreneurs in her home country.

“I was in the US working and studying business,” Yang says, “and I saw Monarch Ymir and Mutong attracting all this attention. I became fascinated. The question that really interested me was ‘Why would so many people buy from someone they don’t know?’” Yang would eventually seek Niu out and become the company’s Head of Operations.

Mutong Niu used an emerging communications platform to make people feel they knew her. She would seek out the followers of celebrities who used the kinds of products she was selling and then speak to these followers as an equal, in their language, addressing their concerns.

While the properties of her chosen technology allowed her to reach hundreds, then thousands, and eventually millions of people, it was her intimate approach that made each and every one of her fans feel she was giving advice tailored specifically to them. Today the business Mutong Niu founded to pay her way through college is a $1 billion-plus business with roughly 10,000 team members, and operations on four continents.

How to Achieve Social Media Success Without Losing Your Soul

Many of us approach social media with a gold-rush mentality. We notice the latest platform making headlines and then, in fear of missing out, we implement a marketing program that looks suspiciously like what everyone else is doing.

When our efforts don’t make us any money, we jump from one platform to the next without examining the underlying flaws in our approach. That’s how we end up going from Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat to Instagram to Tik Tok, without ever getting any real results.

Instead, get in the habit of scanning the landscape for any new mass communication technology (social or otherwise) that is getting some traction, but that hasn’t gained total acceptance yet. Then, conduct experiments. It’s always possible that a new platform will fall flat, and if you sink tons of money and time into any one of them, you’ll be in a bad position to adjust if that should come to pass. Rather, try things on a small scale. The aim here isn’t to build an empire right away. It’s to collect information that you can use later.

Finally, hone a way of communicating with your fans, followers, and customers that is about meeting them where they are. Picture yourself talking to one person rather than a million. Ironically, it is by doing that that you have the best chance at attracting the millions you seek.

This is the approach that John R. Brinkley used to make a fortune selling garbage. It’s also the approach that Mutong Niu used to build a business that give people the kinds of products they want and need. Imagine what you could do in service of improving the world through the business of your dreams.


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