E-cigs and vapes both have a unique situation in the world of marketing. On one hand, they’re healthier, less-dangerous alternatives to a dangerous addiction. On the other hand, they still hold many of the same negative connotations, mostly due to a lack of knowledge or understanding in the population at large. Between that and the lack of many conclusive studies that can be cited as proof one way or the other, many companies try to play it safe when marketing them.
The result is that, as a business selling e-cigarettes, you’re aiming at an audience that largely loves to use Facebook. At the same time, you’re categorized as a “restricted” substance in the Facebook terms of service, which means you can’t use Facebook ads. Tobacco products, alcohol, firearms, prescription drugs and illegal drugs all fall under the same category.
Still, Facebook can be an excellent place to market, if you use the site properly. Being unable to use Facebook ads is just removing the “easy road” you would be able to take if you were marketing a more benign product, and of course had the money to spend.
Fully Flesh Out a Facebook Page
No matter what your business or your pitch, the number one step to success with Facebook marketing is to have a complete profile. It should include all of the information you have to give, including physical location if you have one, to open up the map and review section.
As an e-cig shop catering to a generally young audience, you’re going to want to excel at graphic design and imagery. This will come into play with many of the later steps, but it begins here. Start with your cover photo and your page profile picture. What exactly you post will depend on your business, of course, but you have a lot of options. I like to see a cover photo showcasing your stylish products, though that tends to work better for vapes than for e-cigs. You can also showcase a logo design, though that typically works best for your profile picture. Another option is just showing your product in use.
Participate in Relevant Facebook Groups
Without the ability to use Facebook ads to bring people to your page, you need to attract them in another way. One such way is to look around for active groups about e-cigs with communities you think you can infiltrate.
Your goal is essentially to find people hanging out and talking to each other in a community that revolves around your product. By participating in the community in a non-sales way, you become “one of the guys” so to speak, and become a welcome member of the community. People will wonder why you’re interacting with them as a business page rather than a profile and will click to your page, where you can ask them to follow you or just present them with other pieces of content you’ve created.
This is much the same as finding and participating in web forums about e-cigs and vaping. The primary problem you’ll encounter is that many of the people in these communities aren’t newbies and aren’t looking to buy, because they already own. Therefore, this technique will work best if you have something to offer people who already own e-cigs and don’t want to buy more. Whether this is refills, different flavors, different styles, or accessories, is up to you.
Write and Post Educational Blog Posts
This is, unfortunately, where you need to do supplementary work in order to get Facebook to work. See, the biggest benefit you can bring to Facebook is content, which you can post and share in your enthusiast or layman circles. That means you need a website and a blog where you can post all of this content.
There are a ton of tutorials around about creating a high quality website, and again, your specialty is largely going to be in graphic design, so you can make a very slick site.
I recommend educational posts here because there’s a lot of misinformation, a lot of politicized information, and a lot of propaganda out there surrounding e-cigs. The more you’re looking like a propaganda machine, the less appealing you are to the people who think they’re already in the know. Therefore, an honest and educational tone is best for people who are on the fence.
The most important part here is to cite sources frequently and liberally. Any time you state a fact, make sure you have some source backing it up. And no, JustAnotherSmokingBlog.com doesn’t count. Trace the information back to a real study, scientific paper, or other trustworthy source. I and many other people hate it when you see a news story and click the link to the source, which is just another copy of the story on another thin blog with a link to the source on a third thing blog, ad infinitum with nary a real fact to be seen. It happens a lot in hyper-conservative and hyper-liberal niche blogs, as well as “fanatic” blogs for any industry. Avoid falling into that trap.
Write and Post Blog Entries on Current Trends
While you’re busy targeting fence-sitters with your educational content, you need a way to attract and entertain the people who already are part of the culture surrounding your product. This is where more trending and newsworthy posts will come in. For these people, you want to make yourself into some kind of resource they can use to keep up with legal news, product launches, recalls, reviews and anything else relevant to the culture.
At the same time, this is where you find anything relevant to popular culture as a whole, or the niche underground scene, and post that as well. You’re going for broad appeal through multiple narrow channels. One post won’t appeal to everyone, but you should be posting enough content, often enough, that you’re attracting a lot of people from various angles.
My typical advice for a blog in business is to post 1-2 times per week, but in the e-cig market, you’re a bit of a special case. I would instead recommend posts ranging from 750-1500 words – depending on the topic, of course – around 5-7 times per week.
If, however, you can get a few inside industry sources and become a sole source for news and rumors, you can post even more often.
Target Narrow Niches for Individual Products
Another thing you should do while you’re blogging is work in the occasional post about specific products, while avoiding mentioning other products. For example, if you have 25 different flavors of your product, you can do similar reviews for each of them. This will serve two purposes; first, it gives you an idea of which products draw in the most organic search traffic. Second, of course, it helps you identify which products go from review to sold product the best.
When you’ve narrowed your content down to the most popular and most lucrative products, you can continue to mention them in future posts, and you can focus on news about them. As long as you’re not shoehorning in “buy here” links and you’re not slamming product names into otherwise unrelated posts, you’ll be fine. It’s only keyword stuffing when the keywords don’t make sense in context.
Find Active and Interesting Users to Interview
One nice part of belonging to a niche community is being able to be active in that niche community. You’re more than just a business; you’re a passionate person partaking in a particular pleasure. You can strike up conversations with your followers and learn about any interesting hobbies or lifestyles they live. I know it seems a little cliché to sell cigarettes with videos of snowboarders smoking, but that’s the kind of appeal-to-activity content people get excited about.
You can also become a community activist in some way and benefit from the fallout of that goodwill. It draws a contrast between you, peddling a tobacco alternative for health and safety, and the tobacco companies that don’t contribute to communities and only exist to sell “death sticks” to the masses. As inaccurate or fickle as those descriptions are, they’re useful for a marketing exercise.
Create Interesting, Educational or Newsworthy Videos
If you have any way at all to produce high quality videos, do it. YouTube marketing is very effective, but that’s really a fringe benefit for Facebook marketing. See, Facebook has been pushing videos hard for the last year or two, and their tenacity is starting to pay off. Facebook is, by some accounts, either the second or the first most-watched video platform on the Internet. That’s right; some people consider Facebook ahead of even YouTube.
Now, how can you utilize Facebook videos? That’s simple; just create them and upload them. They’ll be shared and circulated based on the quality of their content, which you can assist with a good description for the post. While you’re at it, upload the video to YouTube as well. No sense in alienating one audience in favor of another when you can just use both.
Create Infographics with Accurate Information
Facebook isn’t a huge fan of infographics that relate to e-cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create them. It just means, like everything else, you can’t use Facebook ads to promote a post with e-cig infographics in it. That’s not a problem.
Infographics are highly visual, which appeals to a Facebook audience. E-cigs are a controversial subject, which appeals to people to comment, which boosts your reach and engagement. Plus, fans of e-cigs will share the graphics as a way of showing their support for the culture, as well as using them to convince fence-sitting friends of theirs. In essence, infographics become some of the most viral content you can create.
The only downside is that, much like Facebook, many infographic aggregators don’t like to curate content about restricted content, and that extends to e-cigs in many cases.
Post All of Your Content to Facebook for Sharing
All of the content you’ve been creating and posting to your blog should be shared on Facebook. This will, very likely, make you a very active Facebook page. In addition to posting all of your content, you should also be curating content from potential partners or allies in the industry. For example, you don’t necessarily want to share a post from a competitor, but a high-profile news site is valuable enough.
While you’re posting your content, you also need to stick around to read the comments people leave. When you find an opportunity to be social with them, respond. It’s always good to see a business taking an active role in communicating with their followers, and with a niche culture like yours, it’s even more beneficial. When faced with the choice of buying from business A or business B, and business B routinely talks to them on Facebook while business A ignores it, which do you think they’ll choose?
Showcase Pictures of Products
Once again, this one comes back to the ever-present love of graphics that Facebook users display. In pretty much every case, a post accompanied by a picture is going to do better than a post without one. Plus, taking stylish pictures of your new products and posting them to Facebook is a good way to get users to follow you; they can’t find the pictures elsewhere, and while they might not care or do anything with them, they’ll at least look at them.
Offer Products as Prizes for Contests
Facebook recently lifted some of their rules on running contests, which means you can run contests through organic posts rather than through apps. This makes it a lot easier for you to run a simple contest. You can also choose to use something like Woobox to create and use a cross-site contest app that works in Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.
As far as I’ve been able to find, Facebook does not have any rules against offering e-cigs and e-cig related products as prizes for your contests. There’s nothing in their contest guidelines that restricts prizes in any way. You’ll be hampered a little in that you won’t be able to promote your posts, but that’s not new. You’ll just have to do the best you can.
By offering your products, you ensure that the people who register for your contest are the people interested in your products themselves. By using an app like Woobox, you can make one of the methods of entry following your Facebook page, which grows your audience. You can include other forms of engagement, like Twitter follows and retweets, to get as much out of the contest as possible.
Run Ads to Promote Communities
This is a bit of a gray area. Facebook has a specific example for e-cigs in their advertising guidelines. You cannot run an ad that promotes the sale of e-cigs. However, you can run an ad that promotes an e-cig community. So, for example, if you have a web forum for users who are supporting each other in quitting smoking, or a forum that encourages discussion between e-cig users in any way, you can promote that community. You just have to make it clear it’s not attached to your store, and it’s not directly selling anything.
The tricky part is that Facebook can and will often deny these ads based just on the topic, without following their own guidelines. The best you can do is try and try again. Your one advantage is that you don’t really care if you’re banned from running ads, because you normally can’t run them anyways.
Sell Non-Cig Products and Advertise Those
This is another gray area workaround. It’s obscurely possible that you can sell e-cig accessories as generic non-cig-related products and get ads for them through the system. This can lead to sales, depending on your site, but it’s potentially risky. Again, it’s easy enough for Facebook to click through to your site, see the main focus of your shop, and block the ad. Still, it’s something you can try.
Focus on Soliciting User Testimonials and Reviews
I likely don’t need to tell you, but e-cigs and vaping are very prominent niches right now. There’s a lot of competition and there are a lot of newcomers looking for a slice of the pie. Your best bet is to become a prominent shop by soliciting user testimonials and reviews as much as possible. You’re working to build a reputation, which puts you ahead of a lot of the nameless, faceless shops that may or may not be scams.
There are all sorts of methods you can use to solicit more reviews. The best method, regardless of platform, is just to ask. When you ship a product, include a card asking for reviews. Send follow-up emails asking for them. Ask for them on Facebook. The more reviews you have, the better off you are.