How Entrepreneur Gretta Van Riel Used Her 16M Social Media Following to Grow Her Businesses

Gretta van Riel is a serial entrepreneurship and social media influencer who has built companies like SkinnyMeTea, The 5th Watches, Drop Bottle, Hey Influencer, and many, many more. The Australian is one of the biggest names in influencer marketing, with 16 million fans spread across her social channels!

Gretta von Riel founder CEO SkinnyMeTea Hey Engage Hey InfluencerShe talked to Eric about her ventures as an entrepreneur, how influencer marketing changed her business, and how to become an influencer.

Gretta first founded SkinnyMe Tea while working full time in a digital marketing role at a print agency transitioning to digital agency. She had had done a lot of detoxes on the market at the time and was out of new healthy cleanses to try.

About Starting SkinnyMeTea

I’d always been really addicted to tea, so I started playing with my own detox tea blends. I was testing them out, making them at work, and doing my own little detox of tea. People started asking me what I was doing, wanted to try the teas,; then they would get really good results from the detox of tea, and they’d let their friends know about these teas I was making.

So, I started getting some demand to sell the detox teas. I was getting a bit frustrated dealing with everybody over Facebook messenger and email. I thought: ‘”There’s got to be an easier way to do this. How do I make an online store for this?”’

Then  one night in bed I had my ‘aha’ moment — the word Teatox. I had been trying to think of a way to describe a tea detox and now I had it!

Coming up with that term Teatox really sparked it for me. I’ve always been quite communication-driven, so I just had to pursue Teatox full-time after that. I got up the next morning, made my Shopify store, that day, and we launched for sales. The first day, we sold four packs of tea to total strangers!

How Instagram Influencer-ship Launched SkinnyMeTea

Instagram was an emerging platform probably, back in 2012, not many brands were on there at all. To put your brand on Instagram, all you did was change your username to a brand name, so we just had an Instagram called SkinnyMe Tea.

I’d had a bit of success growing my own personal Instagram already because I kind of liked the shift away from the friend-centric economy of the Facebook, for example, to the interest-centric economy of Instagram. So, I started kind of building an audience around interests, rather than just around personal relationships, and I liked the idea that you could follow people that you didn’t know already, a bit more like a Twitter or something.

So, back in 2012, a lot of people did that whole follow, unfollow thing through automation now … Well, not so much lately, seeing as a lot of the automation platforms have been shut down by Instagram, but basically, it was a matter of just doing things that didn’t scale. It was just interacting with the audience non-stop.

I would think like, who is my demographic? And all my friends were really interested in the Teatox, so I’d follow all of them, and I’d follow all of their friends, and then I’d follow someone from a different city and then follow them and all of their friends until I seriously felt like I’d followed every single girl around my age in Melbourne and Sydney.

I don’t know, I just did it each night after work when I was watching TV or something, it was just a very manual task at the time, doing that stuff, but then it became increasingly … You know, to do with customer service and stuff. I did our own customer service for SkinnyMe Tea for the first six months as we grew from that zero to 600k a month. So, I learnt so much about our audience in that time, so that was really, really helpful.

I think that having an audience of 16 million has taught me that … More so the importance of audience over product, potentially. Like, just the idea of product market fit, for example, for me, I have a bit of semantic problem with it. I prefer the term market product fit because I think that it’s about finding your audience, growing and establishing your audience, and then developing a product. The idea that if market comes before product, you might focus on market first, just chronologically.

So, yeah, with Instagram, that audience has helped establish multiple different brands. We used that audience as well to help us launch our watch company called The 5th Watches, and The 5th Watches grew even quicker than SkinnyMe Tea did. On day one of sales we did $100,000, and on our first birthday we did $1,000,000 in a day of revenue. So, that was a really fast growing, really exciting brand as well because basically, the way that it worked was it was through scarcity and exclusivity. So, we only sold our watches on the 5th of each month for five days, so, that’s kind of the way that it worked. It was exclusive through time not by price, because the price point was quite accessible, all the watches are under $200.

How Gretta Earned 16 Million Social Media Followers

 Well, my following’s quite diversified as well. It’s not just obviously on the one account, that’s my combined following across all my different accounts. What I’ve been successful in is building up accounts in the vertical that I’m interested in. So, for example, with SkinnyMe Tea … I learnt this actually because our Instagram account got hacked and deleted when it got to 200k at the start of 2013. So, I was like, “Oh god, what is the quickest way I can possibly grow this back?”

Building Vertical Accounts and Leveraging Viral trending Content

So, I had to suddenly think of everything I’d learnt on Instagram and the way to hack that growth back as quick as possible, and that was mostly, for me, through growing vertical accounts, and then using those vertical accounts as a funnel into my main product accounts.

So, for example, SkinnyMe Tea, we have that Instagram, but then we also have 10 others around the health niche, like detox tips, detox water, be-fit foods, be-fit smoothies, there’s just so many different vertical accounts for us. They’re closer to the top of the funnel and then we keep moving people down the funnel, and the product pages are more for lead nurturing, and then once you get them to sign up to your email database or across to your website, that’s more the conversion stage for us. So, definitely developing those vertical accounts has worked really, really well.

Vertical accounts are much easier to grow because you can do things like leverage viral trending content. The way that I would identify viral trending content, it’s pretty simple, follow some of the vertical accounts that are your industry leaders within your niche. You’ll be able to find them, they’re just large accounts. You can check in the top posts, in hashtags for example, to find them. Then, find their best performing content, say like usually they get 4,000 likes on a photo, and then one has like 12,000, that’s the photo that you want to kind of repost and repurpose. So, that’s kind of the main way that we find viral content, and then it’s about growing that viral content again.

So, as you know, like in any kind of content marketing, when you do repurpose content, the next stage is all about the distribution. The best way that’s working for distribution right now on Instagram, and we’re actually releasing a tool for this on Monday, is engagement groups. So, have you heard of engagement groups?

There are a lot of problems in pods, but first I’ll describe what pods are, because if some people haven’t heard of them. Basically, they’re private groups of like-minded people that are willing to mutually interact with each other’s content in order to grow their accounts. So, basically, if we want to put it down on a really simple to understand level, you find other people in your niche with a similar sized account, and within the first certain amount of time, after you post a post, you engage with each other’s content with authentic comments, and you like, and you might do whatever else is asked of you within the group. You know, if it was a product hunt group, you’d up vote. If it’s LinkedIn, it’s mostly liking, commenting, and even sharing, if you’re comfortable with that.

How Gretta Uses LinkedIn

I’m a part of some really powerful LinkedIn groups at the moment actually, which have increased my LinkedIn engagement by an insane amount. I used to be getting closer to like 10 to 30,000 views, and I think my best ever was 70,000. Now I have 14,000 followers on Linked In, I get 100,000 views on every post, and my best post has close to 500,000 view, and that’s all from engagement groups.

To become a LinkedIn influencer, you create a group of like-minded people from within your niche, just see the people that are also posting and getting great engagement that you follow already, and then you just approach them and you can create a group together on whichever platform. The issue is, all engagement groups are across all different platforms and there’s kind of no way to discover where they are, unless you’re a part of the inner circle. Or unless you go ahead and create one yourself, but then a lot of people are already a part of them, and then they won’t maybe interact.

Hey Engage: Gretta’s Pod Discovery Product

Our product Hey Engage is a discovery platform. So, you can go in and you can discover the pods that already exist. You can also create pods through the platform, and you can manage your pod in the platform. We have a few different things to help keep the engagement within your engagement group up, because, as you know, engagement’s most powerful when it’s received as close to the post being posted as possible, because the way that social media algorithms work is that the algorithm releases your post and determines who can see your post to a segment of your audience first, let’s say 10% of your audience first, and then the remaining 90% that is determined … Like, how many people of that 90% see your post is determined by how well the first 10% engage. So, that’s kind of the way that it works.

So, the most sensitive aspects in engagement groups are definitely time and niche. So, time as in, you want to engage as quickly as possible, and niche because accounts engaging within your niche with your content will boost that out to your following more so because platforms, like Instagram for example, classify all accounts into niche. For example, you might notice that if you like five photos in a row of a car in your newsfeed, then as soon as you go to the explore page, the whole page is full of cars.

Because it’s like, well that’s your niche interest. So that’s also the way that it works for engagement. If you are engaging with other people within your niche, you’re far more likely to get pushed out to their audiences as well on the explore page, and those audiences will also be more engaged and interested in your content, so you’re much more likely to get more engagement on your post from that. You know, somebody that’s interested in cars would rather look at a car post than a picture of a smoothie. So, it just makes sense. So, our entire platform, Hey Engage, is built around … It’s very niche sensitive, it’s size sensitive in terms of matching accounts up of a similar size, and it’s time sensitive. We have things like engagement timers that you can set, and only the people that engage within that timeframe are counted within that engagement group round.

Hey Influencers: Gretta’s Influencer Marketing Company

 Hey Engage is the engagement group platform, which works for any platform, and Hey Influencers is my influence and marketing company. So, one of the main successes that we’ve had in building our brands alongside my own social media audience has been obviously leveraging relationships and other peoples’ audiences through influencer marketing. For The 5th for example, apart from launching with my Instagrams, we also launched with 30 different influencers that we’d sent out sample watches to to do anything from content creation for us through to converting through to email signups, because our signups, obviously for a launch, were a big indicator of the sales that we thought we might be able to achieve.

Hey Influencer: A ‘Dating App’ to find influencers

Well, I’ve been doing influencer marketing for like five years on Instagram. With SkinnyMe Tea I first realized influencer marketing was really, really powerful when a girl with 1,000 followers posted on us and we had our biggest day of sales ever, back in 2012. It was … And 1,000 followers was an influence.

Every time I was going through and engaging with our audience, every time I saw a girl that was quite health conscious that was engaging with us with over 1,000 followers, I’d just screenshot her account, reach out to her, and send her some tea for free, and that was kind of just the way that we started doing influencer marketing back then. Because nobody else was doing it on Instagram, you could get away with just product gifting. Now, of course, influencers, like larger macro influencers, often expect a payment for posts, but yeah, back in the day you could literally just send it out and you had like a 90% positive response rate as well.

Yeah, yeah, of course. We take you through the entire process from campaign creation, which are templated kind of campaign creation … It’s a templated campaign creation tool, so you pick from one of three different goals, whether your goal is content creation, sales, or increasing your social following, and then we take you through the entire step of … We’d take you through step by step creating a campaign for an influencer marketing campaign as well. So, then it takes you to the find stage where you can connect with influencers, and it works from two different ways, obviously you can either reach out to them, or they can reach out to your campaign, but on Hey, you need to have matched to then go and work together. So, both the influencer and the brand need to Hey each other before it take you though to the negotiation stage, which is kind of handy.

Marketplaces work really, really well for things like houses with AirBnB, or cars with Uber, but people can’t really necessarily be a part of the market place. The thing that brands need to stop trying to do is imagining that influencers are just like a number on a page, or a figure line in a budget sheet, they’re still people at the end of the day, and relationship building is the key to influencer marketing. It’s not trying to scale some sort of ROI. The confusion between influencer marketing and performance marketing is becoming really detrimental to the influencer marketing space.

Tracking Influencer Marketing ROI

Yes, there are ways to track influencer ROI, and we’re building them into the platform at the moment. For sales, for example, it’s through using individualized discount codes, or cookie tracking. For following, we are building a tool at the moment that can track like … Say an influencer posts on your brand, it knows how many new followers you’ve gained off their followers. So, it’s able to kind of show that and it really helps with diminishing returns as well. So you can see something like, the first time this influencer posted on my brand we gained 50 followers, the second time we gained 20, now we gained 3, okay, maybe it’s time that we started cultivating a relationship with somebody else.

Yeah, well, I’ve definitely been more so in the ecom space until more lately, after we started Hey. So, Hey Influencers and Hey Engage will go together really nicely. With Hey, I’ve always focused on kind of the more multi-directional nature of influencer marketing, not just that kind of commercial relationship that’s from a brand working with an influencer, but also having understood the market from both sides, as a brand interacting with influencers, as an influencer interacting with brands, I know that 80% of your time as an influencer is spent in growing your own account, and maybe only 20% is spent interacting with brands. So we want to build growth tools that help influencers to maintain the growth of their accounts as well, but definitely moving more into the educational and software, as I said, this type space, because every entrepreneur knows that if they could just clone their brain and have two versions, or three versions, of themselves, their day would just be a lot easier, and their life would be a lot easier. Basically, that’s the way that I see software, as a way that you are kind of able to clone your brain, or the information that is in your brain, and activate that at scale for a lot more people than you would physically be able to reach if you were just having one on one conversations.

Using Facebook Messenger Bots

Facebook, definitely. It’s just a huge opportunity. Again, I’ve spoken to so many people that have been like, “I haven’t used Facebook in years, but this year I’ve got right back into it.” They’ve done something really smart cultivating these kind of micro communities through groups, and Facebook groups are just such a huge opportunity right now for everyone. The other huge opportunity on Facebook right now is messenger bots as well. So, I’m having a play with my messenger bot at the moment, which I’m calling 100 Days of Health, and you get a healthy tip to your inbox for 100 days, basically. But it’s just a different way to diversify your database of customers, or your database of leads, or whatever you’d like to call them.

I’ve always been very into diversifying the risk of my data. So, I wouldn’t just keep it all on Instagram, for example, because Instagram can change their algorithm, they can delete your account, you don’t own that data yourself. Email, yes, you do, but email open rates are going down and down over time. So, it’s just about getting where the most eyes will be, I guess. I’d say messenger bots and messenger marketing is the single biggest opportunity behind email marketing right now.

I mean, we’re seeing open rates of up to 94% and that’s … It’s B to C, right? So, that’s crazy, you’d never get that unless it’s like email back in the day. I am wondering to, if there’s people listening like, “Oh, Gretta’s talking about Facebook groups,” so, which Facebook groups do you really like? What do you recommend?

My very, very favorite Facebook group is Badass Marketers and Founders, do you know that one?

And he’s a friend. We actually met in real life recently, which was awesome, and he’s a super, super switched on guy and amazing growth marketer, and he just has a really similar mentality to me as well about founders helping other founders. So, he’s always willing to kind of have a chat, and I met him up in Queensland actually, in Australia. He was over at QUT, which is the Queensland University of Technology, helping their accelerator founders learn more about community building and stuff. So, Josh and his group BAMF, so Badass Marketers and Founders, is probably my favorite, but then I’m a part of all different ones.

All Things Social Media is another amazing one, ATSM. I’m loving Charm Offensive, this copywriting group, at the moment. There’s just so many that I’m a part of that I use non- stop all the time.

Well, as a marketer I would say the book that changed my perspective of marketing the most was probably Influence: The Psychology of PersuasionThat’s like my marketing framework now. I literally go through and tick off certain parts from that book. I’m like, okay is there … I’m running a viral marketing campaign for referrals, is there reciprocity in here? Is there scarcity? Is there social proof and liking? I honestly go through and check my marketing communications to make sure that those techniques are in there because they do work so well..

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