Full access to Entrepreneur for $5

Get Creative with Social Media: How to Make it Work for You

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Social media marketing is a great way to network and share information. For a business, that means it's a good channel for making and maintaining prospective business contacts; distributing news and announcements; and sharing examples of your work.

But that's only one way to use social media. There are many other ways to mine your social network and make it work for you. Take Elizabeth Amorose, Amanda Neville, and Brett Traylor, partners at Thinkso Creative, a design and branding agency in New York City, as an example. They have turned their social networks into a resource for finding creative assets, sourcing talent, recruiting focus groups, and gathering market intelligence. Here's how they are doing it.

When Thinkso was planning a photo shoot as part of a new advertising campaign, Thinkso's team posted casting calls on their Facebook walls and cast the entire shoot through Facebook. "The time table was super tight, and the campaign concept called for real people, not models so we decided not to use any casting agencies," Amorose says. "Each of us has a lot of Facebook friends. It seemed worth a shot. The bonus was that we could preview someone's look by browsing their photos — it saved a step."

After the casting call went up on their profiles and fan page, the partners had plenty of options for their campaign. Some of the respondents were actors or models, but at least half of the people selected were amateurs, which gave the campaign an authenticity that felt different from typical model shoots. The strategy saved money too; without agency fees, the budget stretched further and all compensation went straight into the participant's pockets.

The agency has also turned to Flikr, the photo sharing community, to source images for marketing collateral, such as a brochure for an education reform organization. "It feels more real because it is more real," says Traylor. "It's not staged, over-styled or retouched, and it has more of an edge than what you can find through the stock houses." Thinkso pays the photographer a fair market price, minus the typical stock agency mark-up.

"We've also tapped into our community to find usability test subjects; survey participants; and subject-area experts," says Amanda Neville. "Folks are willing to help because they know us, and they're willing to connect us to their networks if they know other people in our target demographic. We've found that we can be very specific in terms of who we reach out to " moms, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, hipsters."