How to Run a DTC Brand's Social Media without Paying for Assets

Josh Zhang
April 20, 2022

Last night, I was in my apartment and opened Clubhouse to find one of my closest friends, Farokh, hosting a room. I joined, and immediately we began talking about back when we first started hanging out I used to sling Hint water like a drug dealer to everyone I knew.

"With Nik, he will bring us creators together, let us have a good time, cover the bill, and sprinkle in whatever product he's pushing. But it always works," Farokh said.

As I was looking to find the picture of the time Farokh was describing in the Lower East Side, I found so many great examples of social awareness that I had pushed when I was at Hint, and I wanted to write about it today. It was all free. It worked. Best of all—anyone can do it.

Mastering DTC social media

I want to note that I'm not just talking about organic social media feeds like your own Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, or Instagram account. You can leverage those social channels by capitalizing on trends, building community and loyalty while driving purchases.

In addition, you can use the insights from your organic social to supercharge your paid media efforts. Organic customer feedback, demographics, and other data from your organic DTC marketing efforts will be useful for advertisers who are managing your campaigns.

In this post, I'll be focused on what happens OUTSIDE your own feed on social media with your brand. This is an area that many founders either forget about or simply don't know what to do to execute the right social media strategy with these ambassadors.

Owned vs. earned social media

For your owned channels, aim for two things: education and shares. For earned channels on social outside of your own feed, you need earned awareness.

Wondering why this matters even if you have the most efficient engine of paid media?

You have to remember that paid media is like taking an image and dragging it to expand from the corner. The more you expand it, the blurrier it gets. Bringing organic traffic, new pockets of customer personas, and new audiences to your brand only help your paid media work even harder for you.

Think about some of the best brands. They mostly had incredible organic marketing, content, and awareness before turning their social media ads live. Not only do they have distinct brand identities, but they also drive follower interaction that can inform their paid ad strategy.

That's why having a specific DTC approach to social media marketing is an essential requirement for successful consumer brands.

My approach to DTC social media

On social media, I wanted to do as much as possible.

With our product at the time, Hint water, there was one goal: bottles in hands. We just needed people to try the product. We knew that the product was so good, so they'd be hooked.

As I took this role, I started trying to figure out how to get products to "influencers". I got an address, shipped 12 cases of water, and all of a sudden, we ended up in a YouTube video with an entire 90-second shout-out from Sara Dietschy who had ~500k subscribers at the time.

It started with Sara but happened with Product Hunt, Justin Kan, Jahannah (The floor is lava!), Casey Neistat, Kendall Dickieson, Alex Medina, and so many more. I'd send them more products for a new flavor launch and continued to supply them in hopes of being featured or mentioned on their social media channels.

The goal was simple: figure out how to get people your product, and if they like it, just always keep them stocked. Never let them run out.

Why? Because not only would we see that our influencers were loving the products, but they loved to share with their friends who might also sometimes be just as influential. There always was a level of authenticity in their recommendations and content that you can't replicate.

Whenever Farokh had a friend who he thought might love Hint too, he would text me an address and cases would be on their way. It's about taking care of them, not "Hey, can you post a picture for me."

Much like you establish a customer relationship, you need to establish an influencer relationship with potential ambassadors too. This can drive awareness, increase engagement from online shoppers and ultimately lower your customer acquisition costs through social commerce and memorable social media content.

Your strategy shouldn't just be focused on mainstream influencers, though. You can look for other popular accounts on social media platforms. I also focused on finding niche accounts to keep stocked with our product. These included @SoYummy, @Foooodieee, @LAEats, @TraderJoesList, @NewYorkCity, @Food, and many others. These accounts are authorities when it comes to Instagram's recommendations.

Not only did we build long-lasting relationships with everyone, but keeping them all stocked with Hint just helped us find new audiences across the United States while we were sleeping. This is a dream for any CPG e-commerce brand trying to increase discovery.

Once you figure out exactly who your ride or die crew of creators are, you'll start to produce more higher-end branded content to do things like:

  • Reducing your paid customer acquisition costs by 40%
  • Co-host events together
  • Expand on your authentic relationship

But it all starts with sending the product to the right people. You'd be surprised how easy it can be to get results—especially if you have a good product.

Tying it together

Social media isn't just for storytelling. You need a DTC strategy to drive awareness through partners on social media. I encourage you to go out and just start emailing, DMing, and even finding mutual connections to the people you want to get in touch with.

You should never ask for anything in return. If they like the product, they will post it.

Will you get some people who never post? Sure. But in most cases, if you're getting an address in the first place, you're likely already in a good spot. Many startups forget this. Successful DTCs always keep the big picture in mind.