When Candi Carter launched a line of educational DVDs for children in March, she had to deal with a problem that’s all too common for entrepreneurs—a lack of cash.
“We didn’t have a multimillion-dollar budget,” Carter says. So instead of paying for advertising, the 40-year-old mother and television producer turned to social media—blogs, online videos, and social networking sites such as Twitter (www.twitter.com) and Facebook (www.facebook.com)—to promote her business to potential customers and build a brand.
“Most businesses can benefit from social networking since it takes you where your customers are,” says Jamila White, a Bowie, Maryland-based online marketing strategist known as the E-Commerce Diva.
Carter’s customers were parents of toddlers. She came up with the idea for creating videos that used hip-hop songs to teach children basics such as the alphabet and numbers when trying to communicate with her then 3-year-old-son, Emerson, who had been born with a rare chromosome disorder that resulted in developmental delays. “One day we were in the kitchen and I started beatboxing the ABCs,” she says. “He stopped screaming and was looking at me and I thought to myself, ‘If I can distract him long enough to stop screaming, maybe I can put instructions in the songs and [teach him] stuff.” The move worked, and eventually, Carter decided music could also help other children learn. So with an initial investment of about $45,000 in cash and credit cards, It’s Hip-Hop Baby! (www.itshiphopbaby.com) was born.
Carter started her own blog and Website to attract potential customers, offering parenting tips and a forum for discussing parenting issues. Seeing the reach the Internet offered, and realizing that social media space is a fluid two-way street, Carter agreed to post links to other bloggers’ sites on her blog in exchange for a link to her blog on their sites. She even participated in online discussions to further market her expertise. Carter rounded out her strategy by joining Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). On Twitter, Carter gives fellow moms an incentive to follow her by sharing parenting tips and events for children across the country. She has about 1,500 followers on Twitter, but she’s able to reach them directly as well as through a moms group of more than 14,000 members. And she has access to another 800 people between her Facebook and LinkedIn presences where she’s set up groups for mothers to discuss parenting issues.
Without spending money on marketing, Carter’s products have been featured in media outlets such as CNN, Working Mother, and the Chicago Tribune, and her products are selling online at a pace of about 125 per week. “I have a little tiny DVD brand in a world of a million children’s DVDs, but people are still buying my products,” says Carter, whose sales for the first six months of the DVD launch were about $53,000. “Social networking is helping It’s Hip-Hop Baby! reach a lot of people.”
But Brent Leary, IT expert and co-founder of Stockbridge, Georgia-based CRM Essentials L.L.C., a management consulting and advisory firm focused on implementing strategies and technologies affecting profitability through customer relationship management, stresses that in the end these platforms don’t make the sale—you do. “People keep saying you cannot make money using social media. They’re right; you can’t,” Leary explains, “Because social media is the start of the conversation that eventually gets people to your site. It’s about sharing and participating.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.