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I’m not one to advocate that social media is for every business. It’s definitely not a one size fits all approach. There needs to be a strategy. That strategy must be aligned to the business’s goals and brand. There must be careful consideration of available resources. There must be a way to measure the return on the investment of those resources.

But there is one thing that is very clear in today’s marketing landscape.

You can either build your own platform, or pay handsomely to those who have built theirs.

You see, there are few (if any) businesses who survive purely on a “build it and they will come” strategy.

So for any business, growth rests squarely on the shoulders of finding your audience, and communicating with them.

And when it comes to spreading the word, throughout the ages there have been two camps: those who have built an audience, and those who pay to talk to that audience.

Traditional marketing relies on newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television programs. Or sponsorship of sports teams, or cultural performances. Each of these outlets had put a lot of work into becoming a trusted source of information, a provider of entertainment – a platform with an audience.

They then charged businesses top dollar to access that audience. Rented space on their “platform”, if you like. The bigger the platform (circulation, ratings), the higher the price.

And the one way communication sometimes led to great results. Sometimes, but not always.

platformNow, with social media, we each have the opportunity to build our own platform. Community. Audience.

Will it take time? Yes.

Do we have to invest resources to make it work? Yes, money, human resources, intellectual property, creative effort and more.

Will it get results?? Sometimes, but not always.

But the way I see it, it’s worth putting the time into building your own platform. Because that way, you’re the landlord. And done right, you’re communicating with an audience that has given you permission to access their attention. They have “liked” your Facebook page, followed you on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest – you get the drift. Or even better, they have subscribed to your email list – one of the most valuable platforms of all.

Does that mean you can bombard them relentlessly with sales message after sales message, peppered with self-promotion. No. (Why do you think the shopping channels don’t attract/retain the same sized audiences as Masterchef, or X Factor?)

But it does give you the opportunity to entertain, educate, inform, inspire. To provide value to that audience so that they know, like and trust you. So they engage with your communication. So that, when you have something to sell, they might just be willing to listen.

Will each member of your audience buy? No. Not this time. But if you have built a relationship, then maybe next time. Or the time after.

But without the platform – you’re relying on someone else’s audience, and (as you would know if you’ve ever looked at traditional advertising), you pay handsomely.

Want an example of out-of-this-world platform building – where a company focused on building their own audience rather than spending dollars on traditional advertising?

Check out Black Milk Clothing.

There are several things that are remarkable about the Black Milk story. One is that a Brissie boy, sewing in his home, has created a multi-million dollar business (and international fashion phenomenon) in the space of a few years.

But another remarkable thing is that Black Milk have achieved this growth without spending any money on traditional advertising.

How? They built a platform. An platform with an audience of engaged, passionate (ok obsessive) fans who are impatient to hand over more money to the company.

And how did they do that?

Firstly, they had a great product. (Now, it’s not for everybody! But it doesn’t have to be.) For its fans (and they are RAVING fans), it’s the best – thing – EVER!!

And that’s the second thing. Black Milk know their audience. They understand their audience – what they love, what makes them tick, what drives them into a lycra-buying frenzy. And they give that to their audience in spades via Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Twitter and their own customer experience. They entertain, tease, inform, inspire. They show their products “in the wild”.

They’ve also harnessed their community’s passion. A passion for their products, for social media and most importantly, for selfies. Their audience has posted over 186,000 pictures of themselves wearing their Black Milk pieces on Instagram (and that’s just on one hashtag). Their fans hold meet-ups – huge events where they gather to celebrate their love for all things lycra. These meet-ups happen all over the world. And of course, are shared on social media.

Word-of-mouth marketing. Tick. Social proof. Tick. Brand endorsements by the target audience. Tick. An enviable platform. TICK!

Black Milk interact, converse and engage with these fans on social media. They don’t just push out one way sales messages – they jump in the deep end and respond to their customers.

They have invested time, resources and creativity. They blog. They post. They create videos and images. They show their personality, behind-the-scenes. They make their audience feel part of the Black Milk “movement”. Their fans even have their own name – “Sharkies”. But that’s a whole other story.

So now (Nov 2014) Black Milk stats look something like this:

Over 694,000 followers on Instagram.
The hashtag #blackmilkclothing has over 186,000 images on Instagram. And that’s just one of their hashtags. Each item of clothing released has its own hashtag.
Over 572,000 fans on Facebook.
Almost 37,000 followers on Twitter.
Almost 17,000 followers on Pinterest.
7,500 subscribers and thousands of views on YouTube.

So while I’m not the target audience for their products (about 15 years past THAT) I am a huge fan of their marketing. And before you say that they’re a unique case (which, ok, they are) just remember that Black Milk Clothing started as one broke guy sewing lycra in his lounge room in Brisbane.

So what’s stopping you from creating your own platform?

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