If you were active online last year, chances are that you must have heard about Beni American University – Africa’s first Hybrid University.

Beni American University is a great example of the kind of advantage social media can give you when you don’t have a fat bank dough (money) to be spent on blind traditional marketing. Till date, Beni is yet to spend a penny on offline ads, not even online ads – to the best of my knowledge. So, how did they manage to do it? What exactly did they do to get such awareness both locally and internationally?

  • Tell your story: One thing evident in Beni’s social strategy was (or is) the fact that they told their story constantly and consistently. They did this via blog posts, Facebook posts and several Twitter posts, intimating their followers and distant admirers on every progress made. The result of this was that the public became a part of their story. This included the founder, Gossy Ukanwoke, himself sharing several “exclusives” via his Twitter handle. To go viral online, understand that you have to be great in digital story telling. Researches have proved that customers feel more associated with businesses that tell their stories. This may be from Google posting pictures of its data centers across the world to other small businesses sharing their business stories. The result cannot be overemphasized. Give your customers (potential/current) something to talk about.
  • Interviews: If you have a great business, why should you run away from interviews? At some point, the founder of Beni American University posted a tweet (informally) asking technology blogs in Nigeria for an opportunity to be interviewed via their platform. Within 2 minutes, a tech blogger, Jesse Oguns (then with Otekbits) picked it up and alerted the Otekbits team. Voila, the interview date was set and did rock. This is just another way to tell your story, but this time, you’re giving your fan base an opportunity to question your actions.
  •  Show, don’t tell: Before launch, Beni organized a beta session for the public. Here’s the catch: if you want to get money out of your customers’ pocket, show and not just tell. This is beyond story telling. It’s actually showing them a real life benefit of your core propositions. It’s the same reason why companies will allow you try their product for 30 days and then ask you to pay afterwards. The result of this can be seen in the next point.
  • Customer story telling: Nothing, I mean nothing, can be as effective as having your customers tell your story on your behalf. Surveys have revealed that customers trust the opinions of a fellow customer who has a direct experience with a product that marketing stunts of businesses. After all, which business will advertise against itself? At every point in your business, ensure your customers are telling your story. Take it a step further by rewarding them for this, if you can. When we took the beta class, I noticed several participants sharing the experience on-the-go. This made their followers eager to know more or even participate themselves (but beta applications were closed). At the end, some participants (like me) took it a step further by writing a blog post about the experience. First, have social sharing buttons across your site so it becomes easy for your visitors to share your story. Second, after delivering a world class service or product, call your customers to action. Let them advertise on your behalf. A tweet from one customer does a lot than dollars spent on ads. You gotta trust me on that.
  • Listening: Get off social media if you’re not ready to listen to your customers. One of the things I noticed Beni did effectively (I think :)) was that they listened to the opinions of the participants of the Beni session. This made them adjust their models. Social media is not a broadcast medium. It’s a two-way channel. While it’s good to ask your customers for feedback, it’s smarter to device ways of listening to them even when they’re not aware of you. Customers communicate freely among themselves; social media has made these conversations easy to track. A Twitter search of your name and related terms may say the day.

I hear Beni has some major projects coming up. I personally can’t wait to get full details.

These are strategies noticed from afar. It will be great to interview the Beni team to get an insider detail of their social strategy soon enough. Let’s hope they see this J