How to run a social media campaign for free or with no money
Your boss walks in. They tell you about a campaign that is launching next month. Your job is to raise some epic awareness about it on social media. But you’ve got no budget, so you need to run the campaign only using free tools.

What is free?

Before you hand in your resignation letter, there are plenty of options. But first up, we need to lay out a few ground rules. The first thing to keep in mind is that raising awareness without money does cost something else: time.
The second thing that you need to make clear to the powers-that-be is that you are unlikely to reach as many people using free methods as a paid campaign. If they can free up some budget for paid advertising, your campaign will be more likely to succeed.
In the end, it’s a misnomer to say that you can launch a social media campaign with no money: what we’re really talking about is using all your digital-owned assets in a smart way to leverage exposure.
Let’s run through your options.

Work it

Take advantage of your personal network of friends. Activating your personal networks isn’t just be letting your Facebook friends know about your campaign (and following up on those who say they are interested to make sure they get involved), but using the knowledge your friends have, too.
Need to know about a particular demographic and what websites they visit? Need to know what Facebook groups that a certain audience is a part of? Ask your network for advice. They might be in that group, or be BFFs with someone who is.
As the adage goes – there’s not such thing as bad adverting, just badly targeted advertising. Take advantage of the knowledge your social network has to ensure your message goes to the right people.

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 Going old school

A well-written press release which clearly outlines your campaign, and the angle of the story is essential to gaining exposure.
It’s useful to write this from the outset because it can formulate the key messaging for the rest of your social media content and provide supplementary information for people you want to help spread the world.
If you’re wanting the word out on social media, make it really clear in your press release how people can get involved: what key message you want people to spread and how they should be hashtagging it.
Send your press release to newspapers, radio, magazines and websites – big and small – with plenty of lead time.
If you’re doing something specific for a particular demographic, you could even send it to clubs, societies or schools.

If you scratch my back…

A contra deal is where you make a deal with a company to promote each other’s products for free.
It’s worth ensuring you have an audience which complementary: such as an audience that is in their demographic to which they wouldn’t usually have access. You might be able to get free banner ads on their site if you mention them in your newsletter – make sure your deal is comparable, so both parties feel they get what they need out of the deal. It is, after all, mutually beneficial.

Pulling out the big guns

Let’s face it – snagging an influencer or a legit celebrity is the dream in terms of exposure. But it’s pretty unlikely to happen unless you strike a financial deal with them because few celebs will work for free.
If you’re wanting a niche influencer to spread the word (like an up-and-coming Youtuber), you could strike a contra deal with them.
Approach your influencers with a clear key message, what you want and what they can give you. Be specific using numbers, figures, dates, times expectations (for both parties).
Keep in mind that many influencers, in the end, will want cold hard cash – but it can’t hurt to ask the question!

Get out there

Online outreach is a tricky one because it has gained a bad rep from the days when blackhat forum seeding was the norm: when someone would jump on a forum stating that “this company is really super awesome!” – posted by someone who worked at that company.
Modern day outreach is far more legit. It involves finding communities online which follow a particular topic, and letting them know about your campaign. These communities should be hand-picked where they would contain your target demographic, and that they allow promotional posts in the space.
It could be a forum, a Facebook group or Page, or a Google Plus community. Be respectful of the rules of the place you are posting, because you’re entering into someone else’s private space and selling to them.
When you post, mention that you’re part of the company promoting the campaign for transparency’s sake, state why it’s relevant for that community. Be respectful and let the moderators know that they can remove your post if it’s in breach of their community rules.


While the campaign you’re on might need to be run for free, what you might be able to do is run a campaign a few weeks before this campaign that does have time, budget or reach.
Piggyback off the prior campaign with it’s increased audience and promote your smaller campaign off the back of it.
For example, you have a campaign that does have paid advertising pointing towards it, you could include banner ads for your new unpaid campaign on that page to take advantage of that spike in traffic.

Sell your product

The most passionate advocates for your product should be you – and your colleagues. Get your staff to share to their personal networks about the campaign. If you have ten staff, and they have 140 Facebook friends, that’s over 1000 people potentially reached.
If your staff aren’t pumped about the campaign already, then consider running an internal competition – if 1000 people sign up to the campaign, then everyone gets a half day on Friday.

The gentle nudge

Find people who are interested in the topic your campaign is about and follow them on Twitter or Instagram.
The objective is that will build up your community of people in that space, but they will check out your account, see your relevant posts and engage with the campaign. There might be a lower conversion than other methods, but it’s far less rude than messaging a stranger on Twitter with what they consider to be spam.

Dominate owned

If you’ve got fairly sizeable earned social media channels, don’t be afraid to strategically post regularly about a campaign.
Consider posting three times a week about a campaign, but in the lead up few days, post every day.
Ensure your promotions have a variety of designs, giving a new angle or new bit of information – but don’t be afraid to promote the event often.
In the same way, that an ad for a new product is on the air, billboards, and the radio at the same time, do the same thing. The idea is to give you repeated exposure to the same brand before converting into consumers. Don’t be afraid to ensure that people see the promotions for your campaign once – twice – three times.
It’s easy to feel spammy and like you’re flooding your feed with promotions about your, but remember that your audience might only see one or two of those posts if you post once a day in the lead-up. If each post is unique in how it’s designed or the information it shares, it’s simply reinforcing the message of your campaign.

Size does matter

Consider what your largest owned asset is – is it your website traffic? Is it your Instagram followers? Your newsletter? Maybe you have high numbers of people physically in your store. Leverage your largest owned asset to ensure it has promotions of your campaign. It might not be the first place you think of, so have a little brainstorm and think of where your largest opportunity for exposure is.

Every nook and cranny

If there’s white space of your website or social media accounts, it can have a promotion for your campaign.
Think of the campaign in the same way that you would a sales campaign for a client – where are there spaces across your owned assets for promotion? It might be your Facebook Cover image; it might be in your email signature. You could create house ads or customized annotations to your Youtube channel. It could be on your menu in your cafe. It could be a mural on the wall of your business. Think creatively about where you can promote your message because every exposure of your message helps reinforce it.

Plan It

However, before you use any of these tactics, the first thing to do is to have a coordinated plan of attack. Once you know what resources you’ve got to work with (I’ll give a rundown of these below), plan which ones need to happen by which dates, ensuring similar audiences are exposed to your promotions in a coordinated way.
Consider whether things like Press Releases should happen a few weeks out, but emailing your database could happen the day before the campaign begins. Once you know what you’ve got to work with, plan it keeping in mind that free campaigns take time to execute – so leave extra time for the physical execution in terms of labour.
Don’t just consider what promotions happen before the campaign. Consider the entire campaign lifecycle: what happens the day before, the day of, during the campaign period, the second-last day of the campaign and any wrap-up promotions. You might find that things from week 1 of the campaign can be fed back into promoting the campaign in week 2. Think of it as an ecosystem.

Hook in

In the end, there are loads of ways you can run your campaign, without spending a dollar.
This type of promotion requires a lot of research, manual posting and creating of content. It is exceptionally time-consuming, so it’s worth reinforcing that the flip side of saving money is taking time. Doing all of these activities can easily take up a whole week of someone’s time outside of their day job. Keep in mind your resources, and ensure you have enough leeway to execute your ideas effectively.
Free promotion often has a far smaller reach than something like an advertising campaign, so if you can find some moolah which you can free up from an unused budget, it really will help give your campaign an extra edge.

Want to work with Rachel?

Rachel Beaney is a writer and social media content specialist, helping businesses connect with their audiences.

She’s worked with local, national and global companies, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping businesses tell their stories with creative and data-driven solutions.

She is based in Sydney, Australia.

Want to work together? Rachel would love to hear from you. Get in touch today.