How My E-Commerce Startup Reached 1,000,000 Facebook Fans Without Spending a Dime on Paid Ads

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I’m a co-founder of Diamond Candles, an e-commerce company that sells eco-friendly soy candles with a little twist – each has a ring inside worth at least $10 but up to $100, $1,000, or even $5,000.

My team and I turned it into a $12 million business in 12 months with a Shopify stock theme, a crowdsourced logo, a Paypal account, and a little social network called Facebook (our page has 1,047,120 fans as of this moment).

Our insane growth on Facebook started with the fact that…

We were broke.

And we needed a way to reach our audience that was free, fast, and scalable. I knew that our target audience – 25 to 45-year-old women – were hanging out on Facebook.

I didn’t do in-depth market research.

My spouse was on there. My partner’s spouse was on there. My friend’s moms were on there.

That was enough research for me.

So I ran with it.

I tested my way to what works.

I didn’t figure out the secret recipe to getting 5,000 fans a day overnight.

It took time and tons of testing.

This isn’t as complicated as people usually make it sound.

It was me, sitting in front of a computer, and posting different Facebook updates to see what got likes, comments, and shares.

I’d post, see the results, post, see the results, and post again. I got sucked down the black hole of “What’s the best way to do this?” – and you will too. It gets addicting.

The principle here is this: Your tactical approach is going to be wrong, and that’s normal. Test your way to what works. Discovering what to talk about and where to talk about it is a process.

When we found out what worked, we called it…

The Multiplicative Effect

Facebook’s algorithm isn’t complicated. The more people that like or comment on your post in a short period of time, the more Facebook serves the post to your other fans. The company only shows what’s most popular.

To hack this, we came up with one sentence that sums up our value proposition: “A ring in a candle worth up to $5,000.” Kind of like Apple’s “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

This was social media gold.

It wasn’t something long and boring like “A new and innovative candle within the home fragrance category that contains a ring after the wax melts down to its core.”

We got to the gist, and it got people’s attention.

We included the phrase in multiple sweepstakes we ran. It led to likes, comments, and shares that spread to friends of friends of friends, then those friends came back and liked our page. This is where growth got interesting.

I call it “The Multiplicative Effect.”

Yes, these Facebook fans became customers.

So much so that we didn’t even focus on collecting emails until about two years in. All you marketers are cringing right now, aren’t you?

We only collected emails after people became customers. When we released a new set of candles – a group of five every three to four months – we emailed customers, and they bought again.

Our system was working, but I still we wish we’d started asking for emails earlier. Since it’s better to own the customer relationship via email than have Facebook own the relationship via likes.

We incentivized customers to share photos.

Images also played a big part in reaching a million Facebook fans (and growing our business).

Every time a customer shared a photo, it educated people about the product and added a layer of social proof.

People thought “Hey, other people are experiencing this and it looks really cool.” By the time they came to the website, they were primed to buy.

This was huge.

But the answer isn’t just to “use Facebook”

The tactics we used worked in the environment we were in, with the customer base we had, with the unique value proposition of the differentiated product we created.

The answer wasn’t and isn’t just to go on Facebook and start posting like crazy.

We saw the growth we did because we had a product people loved and then added clever marketing to blow it up.

And you, my friend, can experience the same.

The key principles are simple and timeless, but hard to execute.

Create a killer product. Find out where your people hang out. Go where they hang out. Thenuse tactics to reach sky high growth.

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This post originally appeared on the blog of Autopilot. Automating customer journeys as simple as drawing on a whiteboard and engaging with prospects at just the right time with personalized email, in-app messages, SMS, and postcards.