Unique Muscle co-founder Charlie Ercan, who recently revealed to My Business how she went from being homeless and living with a chronic illness to growing a multimillion dollar business, pins much of her success on social media.
The online business has amassed an enviable following on social media – 144,877 Facebook followers and 60,600 followers on Instagram.
Then there are the 8,080 reviews listed on the company’s website.
3 golden rules to using social media
So what is this business’ secret to success online?
Ms Ercan said the key is to get your customers to effectively do your marketing for you, and to achieve that involves a bit of discipline and a lot of trust-building.
Just three simple rules are what Ms Ercan uses when it comes to anything posted on social media.
“Is it fun? Is it informative? Is it empowering? If it’s not, don’t post it – don’t even think about posting it,” she said.
Such an approach, according to Ms Ercan, has helped the business build a database of “raving customers”.
Ms Ercan said in the early days, the business relied heavily on social influencers to help build brand awareness and credibility. Once established, its following took on a life of its own as customers referred one another.
“In the beginning, when we obviously had no customers or anything, that was in 2014 when you could send a product to an influencer and they would promote it for free and they had a huge following and you’d gain 10,000 followers from it,” she said.
“That’s what initially helped us to grow and build an audience, but now we’re fortunate to have that audience and we’re able to keep communicating with them without the need for influencers and that sort of thing.”
Verified reviews ‘help build trust’
Adding another cost into the business, which many would say is unnecessary, initially sounds unwise. But Ms Ercan said that by using a service that verifies customer reviews delivers tremendous return on investment (ROI).
She said her business is “really proud” to have more than 8,000 legitimate product reviews listed on its website for current and future customers and suppliers to see, and that the vast majority of those comments are positive.
“It’s a third-party app called Yotpo, and you can only do a review if you’ve purchased the product,” Ms Ercan said.
Her business partner, Daniel Papanikolaou, emphasised that fake reviews, and businesses writing their own reviews, are severely undermining customer trust. (As a case in point, in July this year property giant Meriton was fined $3 million for manipulating reviews of its sites on third-party site TripAdvisor). Hence having reviews verified has been of great value to their business.
“These days, we are finding that a lot of companies are writing their own reviews. [But] we are lucky enough to get amazing reviews from our customers that are so good they can even seem fake sometimes, that’s why we enlist the help of Yotpo who verifies our reviews by ensuring that they are a paying customer,” he said.
“By using the Yopto review platform, we are building a tremendous amount of trust amongst our customers and potential customers which we believe greatly assists our sales!”
Ms Ercan admitted that “we pay them a pretty hefty monthly cost ... but we get the value”.
“Reviews are everything – I wouldn’t purchase anything without reading tonnes of reviews. I’m very sceptical of anything on the internet, so for me, verified reviews are gold – you have to have reviews that have been verified, and I only purchase based on that benchmark,” she said.
Mr Papanikolaou concurred.
“As we are a Shopify Plus store (top tier), the monthly costs associated with running our site is quite high, however we feel that the value we get from our customer reviews is priceless,” he said.
Add value at every opportunity
Both of these approaches come down to a broader strategy of adding value to customers and prospects wherever possible.
“I think because that’s our message and that we really try and add value – we’re the ones giving free e-books when other brands aren’t,” Ms Ercan said.
“We’re giving so much value to our audience, whether or not they’re customers. I think because of that we’ve been able to gain a lot of trust, and people naturally just want to share their purchase and want to show that they’re part of what we’re doing, which we’re very lucky about.”
Asked about concerns that some business leaders have about giving things away for free, Ms Ercan said that providing information online is a cheap and easy way of adding value without compromising profitability.
“It’s really your time that’s spent putting together an e-book – it’s not like a physical book that we have to invest money into. We’re an online business, so we’re able to just provide that as adding value to our customers,” she explained.
“I saw other brands were charging their customers… whereas I just thought ‘this is basic information, I don’t know why they are charging for this’. It costs us to implement new recipes and get nutritionists to approve them, but we’re happy with that now – I don’t feel like that’s a dent, I feel like it just keeps adding value and boosting awareness for our brands.
“We have a lot of word-of-mouth customers… thanks to our e-books.”
Take a longer-term view
Social media is built around immediacy, but in Ms Ercan’s experience, it is the exact opposite that works best when it comes to sales.
Trying to drive customers to take immediate actions often comes across as pushy, while taking a longer-term approach of nurturing leads to let them make a purchase in their own time can lead to better sales growth.
“I’ve had experience [personally] with other companies and businesses that provide heaps of value, and they’re not pressuring you to buy,” said Ms Ercan.
“We never do hard-sell tactics that other brands do on our customers. I’ve always hated that. I feel like when I’m being sold something, I’m immediately put off.
“So I wanted to have a business that didn’t pressure people to buy something, and I had all this information that I’d learnt through my journey of trying to get healthier, and I thought ‘what’s the harm of just giving this information to people’.”