The insane growth of social media online has nearly dissolved the once-anonymous internet, but what about those who still need to remain discreet about their customer base?

Companies that range from Taco Bell to Louis Vuitton have effectively used social marketing and public communication with the customer to grow their brand. Search engines like Google and Bing have noticed this, and are placing more weight towards social networking as a determinant of ranking.

When your product or service is something that is not as openly bragged about (my background being drug and alcohol rehabilitation), what do you do about social networking and the current desire for advertising to be a two-way conversation? Many will dismiss the idea right away – our customers aren’t interested in sharing on social media!

But surprisingly, there is quite a bit that can be done to foster discreet, yet public, communication.

Using Content to Fuel Social Media Conversations

Content is going to be the strongest connection to your audience, with an emphasis on not just informing them, but getting them to open up about their problems in a safe environment.

Having good content is a great way to draw customers to your website, too, as many may be looking for more information. Because your content can cover not just the product itself, but the community around it, it can be easier to communicate without openly admitting they have a problem.

Personal comments on your “touchy” topic can be great reading and, most likely, they’re going to drive a lot of the conversation. The comments are going to be longer and much less neutral than one on say, a clothing-based website. Make sure you are mindful of this reality when moderating and responding – extra caution can keep things from spiraling out of control and having a negative effect on your brand.

For example, a rehabilitation facility could talk about rehab, but they can also speak of the science behind drugs and why people get addicted. Although it’s still related to your business, a larger group of people can participate, expanding your brand reach.

Often, there will a decent amount of people who are very accepting of and passionate about supporting your type of product or service, and providing them an avenue in which to express that is great for your traffic and for your site’s activity level.

When social networking works

Although social networking seems like the opposite of effective places to advertise, it can be used effectively, and despite the lack of anonymity, many can be open about their need for your product or service.

Keep in mind that followers and likes do not come as quickly or as easily. If you have great, shareable content, however, the likes will come, and your name will spread quicker.

The important part is getting just enough to spread the word – even though one of their friends isn’t going to “like” your Facebook page because of what you sell, she may still need your product or service.

Knowing someone who knows someone who knows someone else – that’s how your social networking efforts will become effective.

Twitter can be extremely effective because it’s open for communication without forcing the user to announce that they just followed your business.

Here, share your content and open yourself up for communication – asking followers questions about their experiences (e.g., Do you plan to talk to a loved one who’s struggling with addiction over the holidays?).

Fostering this type of conversation can improve your reputation as a company that’s concerned about their customers, and because your product is more discreet, this type of brand building is necessary.

Check out some more posts about Twitter to avoid common mistakes.

Fostering communication to help with the stigma

Whether advertising for the embarrassing product or the desperate affliction, you can increase your reputation greatly by fostering open communication about “shameful” problems.

The internet has many pockets of niche groups who find support for their needs that they would have had to hide previously. By taking an open stance with your product or service, it can help to de-stigmatize the need as a whole, and may allow more potential customers to reach out to you because they don’t have to worry as much about getting help.


While some customers will still prefer to be anonymous (and use the more discreet channels to get the help they need), many are willing to be open and communicate through the convenience of social networking.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to assume that there is no demand for your product or service in social media. But this eliminates a potential boost to your business right off the bat.

If you spend much time online, you’ll see that even without the cloak of anonymity, people are pretty (frighteningly) wide open with their life at times.

So if your business isn’t one that you would traditionally think of using social with, re-evaluate. Look for niche networks and groups, do some searches, and see if there is a market that you are missing out there!