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The Key to Startup Visibility: Let Customers Do the Work for You Viral content, reviews and testimonials and loyalty programs all cut down your workload and costs, and that's a good thing, right?

Edited by Dan Bova

Marketing implies the circulation of messages: You conceive of the form, function and content of these messages, then spend your time and money placing them for your target audience to see.

Related: 7 Online Marketing Tools That Are Totally Worth the Investment

For example, you could labor to create the perfect slogan for a billboard, then spend money getting it placed above a busy highway; or you could spend time designing a landing page, then pay money or spend time getting people to it.

In general, the more time and money you spend, the more people will see these messages.

So, for startups, the key problem with marketing seems to focus on working with limited working capital and human resources. There's almost always going to be a hard cap on how many people see your messages, and on how effective your marketing campaign is -- or is there?

Let someone else do it.

Yup, this is usually the lazy man's motto, but here it's the efficient man's motto. Why spend time and money on something that someone else could do for you? When it snows, you don't shovel the streets yourself; the snow plows take care of it. At a restaurant, you don't bring your plates to the kitchen; your waiter does that..

Forgiving the flaw in these analogies (i.e., you've paid for these services one way or another), think of how useful letting someone else do it could be in your marketing campaign. What if you could come up with a message and let your audience handle the distribution? Better yet, what if you could simply let your audience come up with the messages and distribution themselves? Your viewers can do this; all you have to do is enable them.

1. Circulate viral content.

Your first option is circulating viral content: Here, you'll be responsible for creating content that's unique, informative, entertaining, surprising or otherwise original and valuable to your audience. This is definitely the hard part -- the Internet is oversaturated with content, so standing out is harder than ever.

But, assuming you're able to produce something that people want to share, you can let your audience handle its syndication rather than forcing it down their throats. Start by coming up with a catchy headline, sharing the piece on your own social channels and asking your friends, family and coworkers to also share the piece. If your content is good enough and your timing is right, you may attract hundreds of shares, resulting in more visibility, traffic and even more domain authority through backlinks.

2. Encourage reviews and testimonials

People heavily rely on user reviews -- in fact, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. If you can get more of your users to leave reviews and testimonials, any customers doing such research will think more favorably of you -- without your lifting a finger or seeming too self-promotional.

The trick is to encourage reviews without mandating them or bribing your users; simply make it fun to leave a review, and start by thanking everyone who does that, whether the review is good or bad.

Related: Social-Media Marketing Is Not Dead: 10 Companies That Are Still Rocking It

3. Create a loyalty program.

Your next option is to create a loyalty program that rewards your users based on how they interact with your brand. This is a way to build brand loyalty and brand familiarity, which in turn can spark personal recommendations and a higher tendency by users to share your content and promotions.

Loyalty programs come in all shapes and sizes, so find a format that matches your brand -- it could be a point system based on logins and interactions, or a special gift for those who place repeat orders with you. The key is to keep people coming back, and keep them talking about you.

4. Tie everything to social

This is less of a stand-alone strategy and more of a modification to practically every other area of your business. Do what you can to tie everything to social, and your customers will spread the word about your brand automatically. Include share buttons on all your content and encourage users to share when they "check out" on your site. Prompt users to "check in" at your physical location, and ask them to share their thoughts on your brand with a hashtag when they positively interact with you. The more social engagements you spur, the better.

Creating these systems, processes and campaigns will take time and money on your end -- there's no magic button to suddenly rile up an audience as a unified marketing force -- but in the end, you'll spend far less than you would on a conventional campaign of ad promotion or buying traffic.

In fact, it's possible to be successful with any of these strategies as long as what you offer is valuable to your audience, be it a practical incentive, like a future discount, or an emotional incentive, like an interaction with friends or family. So figure out what you can offer that stands apart from the crowd -- and let your audience take care of the rest.

Related: 3 Ways Content Can Convert Social Media Fans Into Customers

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