DRAWING STRAWS: Which digital marketing platform sells best.

Published on 03 September 2020

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Queensland based and owned MiEco sell eco-friendly straws made from bamboo, packaged in a calico bag complete with straw cleaner, retailing for approx. $10 for a pack of four. 

The social media challenge concept was to take a pack of bamboo straws and give five social media experts 72 hours, a budget of $100, and one of their favourite social media platforms to see how many straws they could sell and/or how much engagement that they could generate.


Instagram: Toby Leon, Wanderlost & Found

Adopted Strategy

Toby approached the challenge using his golden rule for all campaigns: start small and test early.

“You really are dealing with a lot of different factors that you can't control.

“Trying to create something that you can control where you can have identifiable data that tells you one way or another who might be interested in this product, is key, he says.

The digital marketer acknowledged while the brief timeframe made the challenge fun, he usually allows a campaign to run for a week at minimum to get a solid sense of how it has progressed over that period.

Running an A/B test, Toby had a set of people who looked at one ad and a different set of people who looked at the same ad with slight variations to see which was working and who was appreciating what he was trying to sell them differently.

While he knew he would be dealing with health conscious people, likely to be women aged 25-34, Toby says the key indicator he looked for was whether these health conscious consumers might buy these as a present for themselves or for their family, or more specifically their father in the lead up to Father’s Day.

Toby explains as Instagram is owned by Facebook; it has a rhythm map to its advertising campaign. If you pick a campaign objective, Facebook and Instagram will decide how they are going to roll out that objective depending on all target audience data you enter, such as age, gender, likes, dislikes.

“If you try and run your own smaller tests within that, which is what I did, they do not like it.

“Not only do they not like it, they will try and put a bunch of things in your way to stop you from doing that.

“When conducting an AB test, you usually leave it for about three or four days because you want to get a sense of exactly who's liking it and what they're liking.

“Through Facebook and Instagram’s rhythm map, they will test inside of your ad for that audience, so they might show them a different card to start with than the one you chose because that one might be getting better responses from people,” Toby clarifies.

He says testing to approx. 2,000 people gives a good indicator as to whether what you are putting out there is working or not.

Toby found the people that were most interested in the bamboo straws were women aged between 25 and 34 who were interested in clean eating and the paleo diet, specifically.

He also found they were much more interested in engaging beyond just liking or looking at the content.

“For me, the most interesting part was to actually have conversations with the very people I was trying to target,” he admits.

Number of sales: Nil

While he did not make any sales, Toby says he did not expect to.

“It was a lot of extra grunt work because every time I made a change Facebook didn't like it.

“What I found was if I change something in the advertising block for the A or the B testing little bugs would erupt.

“I only used videos because it's Instagram and you want that kind of interactive experience. When I changed anything, subtly, Facebook and Instagram changed all those videos to thumbnails.

“If I had not caught that I could have spent an extra $15 or $20 having people looking at thumbnails of the videos, which were not going to convert.

Takeaways: Sticking to the single platform

Even though Instagram has a range of users (500 billion people), Toby says it is specific in lots of ways.

Instagram’s engagement rate with ads tends to be people between the ages of 18 to about 29, after which point, advertising becomes difficult. 

“I would say that that has something to do with a generational shift about people seeing what you like and being associated with certain things,” Toby proposes.

He says sticking to a single platform has restrictions, especially with building the conversations that build a warm customer, or one who knows you, knows what you do and what you are about.

“Sticking to one platform restricts that,” he cautions.


TikTok: Ben Kennedy, Gecko

Adopted Strategy

Being a mostly mobile-based platform, unsurprisingly Ben encountered some issues with his TikTok campaign.

One of the newer social media players, TikTok's business side is not as advanced as Facebook or Instagram.

Ben says there were a few pain points and bugs within the system itself which made it difficult.

“We didn't spend any money on ads because every time we tried to upload videos it would get to a certain screen and it wouldn't upload to the platform.

“What we decided to do was just create these ads, of sorts, on TikTok itself, which made it a little bit more difficult because it's not as clickable and what not,” Ben acknowledges.

For his TikTok campaign to sell MiEco bamboo straws, Ben made a couple of different videos, put a link in the bio which would click straight through to the MiEco landing page where users could then buy the straws in different quantities.

Number of sales: Nil

“Give it a year or two I think TikTok will be really great in terms of advertising and platforms, but they're still working out a few bugs with the actual advertising platform itself,” Ben admits.

Takeaways: Sticking to the single platform

Ben says he does not take issue at advertising on just one platform, as it gives you a laser focus on that specific platform and its intricacies.

While TikTok is a great platform, Ben says it is quite easy for things to go wrong too.

“It’s not the purest app when it comes to posting. You could almost go onto every video and you'd see at least one negative comment and that is because there's a sense of anonymity on TikTok because it is still new and people do not have to know you to follow you,” he explains.

He notes one of the biggest selling points is that TikTok’s can be shared on other platforms too.


Twitter: Daniel Johnsen, SmartHub Turbo Traction Lab facilitator

Adopted Strategy

Trying to sell bamboo straws with 280 characters might seem like the impossible task, but of the six challengers, Daniel Johnsen was the only marketer able to generate revenue through his Twitter campaign.

“If you go straight into selling odds are, you're going to get denied.

“Instead of saying "You need to buy these straws, I took the standpoint of, “I've been issued this challenge, I'm going to show you exactly how I go through this, record it and then share that on Twitter,” Daniel explains.

He says his approach involved R& D; or to rip off and duplicate someone else’s successful model.

With the peak of interest in bamboo straws well behind us, Daniel said he had to think, how do you get people that are no longer interested down the sloping curve?

Questioning ‘What do you do with straws? he found the answer in bubble tea, the popular drink containing chewy tapioca, seeing an opportunity to sell these straws so people can drink bubble tea with them.

“60,000 people a month in Australia look for bubble tea.

“What do I do? I rip off and duplicate Brisbane start-up, Pizza Roulette. Their business model is that up to 15 people give them $2 each, and one of those 15 people spins the virtual roulette wheel and the one out of 15 people gets the pizza delivered to their door.

“They get paid $30, they spend $15 on the pizza and they take in $15. Which sounds like pretty good math to me,” Daniel says.

Daniel documented this campaign on strawchallenge.com, letting people donate a dollar to the Straw Challenge.

After buying the domain, bubbletearoulette.com, Daniel went to make his page public in the aptly named Bubble, a no-code tool that lets you build SaaS platforms, marketplaces, and CRMs.

Unfortunately for Daniel, bubble.io has an internal regulation that does not allow the use of the word ‘bubble’ in your product, which meant his page could not go live within the challenge timeframe.

Back relying on his solo social platform, Twitter, Daniel started tweeting about it.

“I let the people who won Pizza Roulette know and asked if they’d like a Bubble Tea Roulette instead, so I was poaching another business’ customers,” Daniel admits.

Discovering people on social media love to post about bubble tea allowed Daniel to do geographic research.

He also reached out to the founders at Pizza Roulette offering to license or buy the concept to market Bubble Tea on Twitter and Daniel is now about to enter a partnership to create a platform that allows anybody in the world to play a roulette game for whatever food they want delivered to their door for $2.

Number of sales: Nil (Revenue: $3)

People paid for Daniel to stream how he was undertaking this strategy on www.strawchallenge.com, earning him $3 in the process.

Takeaways: Sticking to the single platform

“Whenever we are looking at a commodity-based product, which peaked over twelve months ago, we were starting with an uphill battle.

“Three days is really hard to build the customer journey, so that you build a sustainable item,” Daniel admits.


Facebook: Mark Allen, Patch

Adopted Strategy

Mark’s approach considered the customer journey; stepping people through the online sales journey of a customer by creating three different tools.

The first was content marketing. Mark created social media content, sent out ads and then conducted a re-targeting ad.

“Using Facebook Manager, we created a wide net audience, Australia wide, male and female, 18 to 65, so really broad.

“We threw in some interests around natural health, environment, natural products, natural health, sustainable products and things like that, that would trigger the bamboo straws,” Mark says.

Using that audience, Mark sent out ghost posts or dark posts, which do not actually appear on the business’ Facebook page.

He scheduled one post per day; Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as general wide net posts so specifically meant to convert to sales, rather to put content out there that aligns the content with the values of the audience.

“What that did is that gave us another audience, people who interacted with it meaning they spent more than three seconds looking at it or they tapped it, they interacted it, they liked, they shared, they commented, anything like that, it put them into another audience of Facebook engagement,” he explains.

Mark created a landing page which Facebook directed people to, using Shopify as the e-commerce platform to buy bamboo straws.

From there he created a specific one-off ad that spoke about the discount, the product, and call to action the sale ends on Wednesday.

“We served this ad up to this audience, which is a much warmer audience and these are people who they're familiar with the product we don't have to educate them, they've been to the website, they've seen the posts, they know what the bamboo straws are so we can serve up a more sales-y message that pushes them back to the website here,” Mark details.

Mark’s Facebook campaign achieved a reach of about 10,500 people, with 12,500 impressions, which means he reached 10,500 people who saw it 12,500 times, sending 134 people to the website at 0.49c per person.

Number of sales: 1

“We got one sale… it was me testing the website though.

“E-commerce is a long game…creating an audience and warming that up before you put the ads out there is really, super crucial,” Mark admits.

Marks recommends avoiding turning on the targeting ads in favour of focusing on the content, to get the audience nice and warm and familiar with your product.

“Don't sell to them, give them reasons to trust you and align with them and understand what you're doing is in their interest.

“Then when you have that audience nice and warm then start serving them up the ads, then start re-targeting them and you're going to find that that'll have a much better result,” he advises.

Takeaways: Sticking to the single platform

The self-described omni-channel marketer believes you need to have as many touch points for your customers as you can.

“In an ideal situation you want to reach them with some content on Facebook and then they see a post on Instagram, they might jump on TikTok then and see you talking about straws.

“The more channels the better. I think you're constrained a little bit if you're only on Facebook,” he cautions.


LinkedIn: Jason Foss, Almost Anything 

Adopted Strategy

Selling a $10 item on a platform like LinkedIn, that traditionally has a cost per click of approx. $10, did not make much sense to Jason.

Instead of trying to sell individual bags of straws, Jason attempted to generate leads in and requests for bulk quantities to be branded.

Jason spent his $100 budget and got a total of 11 clicks and 2,500 impressions, saying this is not unusual for LinkedIn.  Setting the world on fire there, but that is not unusual for LinkedIn.

He then created a landing page with the catchphrase “Don't Be Boring, Get Straw-ing” which lead to a 'Request a Quote' form.

“I also created a LinkedIn showcase page, which is designed for building a community around.

“It was the showcase page that I actually ran the ad campaign on,” Jason explains.

Number of sales: Nil (Quote requests: 5)

When Jason shared his LinkedIn ad on his personal LinkedIn profile, he generated five quote requests from people in my network, totalling a thousand straws.

“This circles back to the same lesson that a cold sale to a stranger is hard work.

“You need to work on building the relationship first, whether it's a relationship with you or a relationship with your product or service, you need that first,” he advises.

Takeaways: Sticking to the single platform

“I probably could have stuck that $100 in my pocket because the sales leads I generated all came from when I shared it to my personal profile and those inquiries came through my network on LinkedIn.

“A big takeaway is to respect the customer value journey, that someone has to go on with you before they actually transact with you. Before they become a customer,” Jason said.

So… who sucked the best?

Given the challenge deadline was 5pm Wednesday; the winner being the person who had revenue, Daniel Johnsen and his Twitter campaign was declared the challenge winner by Smart Hub Business Manager, Elize Hattin.

The prize? A free twelve-month SmartHub membership (plus a bubble tea with bamboo straw).

The SmartHub encourages entrepreneurs and business owners to adopt technology and modern based business practice to make the entire business journey more profitable, more enjoyable, more effective and more efficient.

Being part of the SmartHub gives local business owners opportunities to meet with and learn from mentors, to help them learn the discipline required to succeed in business.

The SmartHub is currently offering free membership now (usually $51 a month or more depending on level of membership). If you would like to learn more about becoming part of the SmartHub, contact us via the following channels:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SmartHubRockhampton/

Email: smarthub@rrc.qld.gov.au

Phone: 07 4936 8444


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