screenshot of a couple in a hot tub
A Facebook post such as this one, placed on a customer’s personal facebook page showing them enjoying their new hot tub, can be a powerful selling tool, as friends and loved ones are introduced to the pleasures of tubbing through a trusted source. Secure the customer’s participation with a small incentive.

You've heard it before: Social media is one of the keys to modern marketing. The numbers back it up: Facebook now boasts more than 1 billion users, and in May 2012 alone, Americans spent 53.5 billion total minutes on the social network — that's more than 101,000 years.

You knew it was popular, so you created a Facebook page. Maybe you even created a Twitter feed and Pinterest page. You post regularly about your products and services, what's happening locally and what's new in your store, all in the hopes of gathering a following and finding new leads.

But as you know, simply having a Facebook page is just the beginning. To make social media work, you need to plan and execute strategies that take advantage of the ways people use these outlets. Here's one way to do just that:

The Strategy

After your customer's new hot tub is installed, offer him a promotion: If he takes a picture of himself and/or his family enjoying the new hot tub, uploads that picture to his Facebook page and *tags your company in the post, he will receive a free incentive (spa chemicals, on-site maintenance, etc.).

Tweak this approach to suit your customer base and your capabilities. Perhaps for every month he makes a post, he receives a free service.

Why This Works

This strategy is the classic word of mouth on steroids. In the pre-social media era, customers could only make referrals one friend at a time. But thanks to Facebook, everyone's page is a platform from which they can broadcast their thoughts.

When a customer posts about their hot tub purchase on their page, your name reaches a new audience of people (and since they're your customer's friends, they're likely to live in your area) in a far more persuasive manner than a traditional commercial or ad. Finally, the tag to your page gives you credit as the source and invites these new people to see your page — and down the line, see other images of happy customers enjoying their hot tubs.

However, this strategy has a special resonance within the pool and spa industry. According to research from the Harrison Group, 62 percent of hot tub prospects — or those with both income and interest in making a purchase — said the recession made them "re-prioritize" and focus on what is important. When later asked for the reasons they were interested in a hot tub, the options that scored highest included the intent to "relax with a spouse/partner" and "spend quality time and connect with their spouse/partner." These people are not interested in a hot tub solely because it's a cool buy — they're interested because it can enrich their lives and relationships.

This Facebook strategy taps into the heart of this psychology. A picture of your customers enjoying their new hot tub visually promotes the idea of the hot tub as a means of connection with others; your customers are, in effect, selling the closeness and memories a hot tub can provide, not the hot tub itself.

Best of all: You didn't lift a finger for any of this. Instead, your customers are doing all the work for you.

Continuing the Strategy

When a customer tags you in a post, it will appear on your Facebook page under the "Recent posts by others" section, located on the upper right of your page's Timeline. Click the image and share it to your page.

This means your customer's image has been shared among two networks: the customer's network — a completely new audience of his friends and family — and your own, which helps reinforce your relationship with your fans.

Furthermore, when prospective customers visit your company's Facebook page, they can scroll through your company's Timeline and see these images over time, giving the well-documented impression of a company that has been selling relaxation and family fun for years.

Eventually, you can take this strategy further: When a few people have taken advantage of your offer and uploaded their images, **build a Facebook album to keep them in a centralized location for visitors to flip through. Having an album full of happy customers enjoying time in their new hot tub again reinforces the idea you're trying to sell — good times and memories. And an album of such images could help a customer say, "You know, my family and I would have a great time in a hot tub of our own."

The End Game

The ultimate goal of this strategy comes down to two words: exposure and growth. First, as previously explained, this strategy allows you to more easily tap into new networks of potential customers. Second, this strategy encourages growth for your Page. Many small business owners are frustrated by stagnant Facebook "like" numbers, but oftentimes, this happens because their posts only reach the same people: the fans they already have. This strategy allows you a new avenue through which to reach potential customers and grow your "like" count along the way.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. But in the case of this strategy, a picture could be worth more than 1,000 words. Try this out and let us know how it works for you.

*When your customer tags you, remind them they need to make their post "public." Otherwise, the post won't appear on your wall. They needn't change their privacy settings for the overall account, they just need to click the button in the lower right of the status box and click "Public." To make this easier, type up the instructions with screenshots and give them to your customers who wish to take advantage of your offer.

**Sharing an image to your Page's Timeline is easy, but doing this doesn't automatically place the image in an album. (You can't share a fan's uploaded image into an album of your own, either.) To create an album, you'd have to download the picture, upload it into an album and quote the customer. It's a little more work, but the payoff is worth it as it helps build a history of satisfied customers.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail cailley@aquamagazine.com.

Cailley Hammel is Managing Editor of AQUA Magazine.