Many companies pop up in the social web trying to promote themselves and their products. However, when you take a closer look it’s usually companies that sell products that are “easy” to market. Easy, in this context is relative as marketing is always tricky but when you think about it, it’s easier to market fashion, cookies and jewelry as opposed to risqué products.

We all know these companies exist. They make big bucks selling those kind of products and yet, it’s something that our society chooses not to talk about. The use of such products is considered private which is perfectly fine. However, does that mean that marketing through the social web is not an option for online pharmacies or even companies that sell more controversial products?

I say it is indeed an option, though it requires some different thinking. None of us wants to receive Facebook updates or Tweets about weight loss products or any other product that we’d strictly be using in private. We’d feel offended. Rightfully so. At the end of the day, what does a random company know about our bodies or sex lives? NOTHING.

For that reason, companies trying to market controversial products through the social web, need to pay attention to one thing: SUBTLETY. I can’t stress enough that excessive self-promotion as well as direct sales messages is a NO NO for any company on the social web. It’s not what social media is about. Don’t forget, social media is all about the relationships. It’s the opposite to radio spots, TV and banner ads.

However, I have bought products from companies that approached me on Twitter after I tweeted about a certain need. And even though our society is steering towards being more open-minded, I doubt anyone would tweet about his or her need for a risqué product or certain medication.

So, how on earth, can such companies use social media and still be successful?

You are part of an industry! Make the most of it!

It doesn’t matter what kind of product you are trying to sell, you are part of an industry. i.e. medication = health industry. Use that to your advantage. Share information about current health issues. Start your own blog where you discuss controversial issues, give health tips etc. Get GPs to contribute. Get your audience involved. The possibilities are endless.

It seems like a lot of effort at first with little reward (sales!) but when you become a go to source for health information the sales will follow. The same goes for any risqué product. Make sure you realize that you are part of something bigger, an industry, and establish yourself as an expert in that industry.
Pushing sales Tweets or Facebook messages isn’t going to get you anywhere. They will be considered as Spam and the general population gets flooded with Spam on a daily basis and has learned to hate it.

Information comes first. Sales come second.

As I mentioned before, talking about the use of certain medication or sex toys, is not on our priority list. We don’t want our credit card receipts to show that we have invested in weight loss medication, so why would we want the entire Twitterverse to know that we are interested in purchasing?

However, there’s no shame in learning and broadening our horizons. That’s why the information part is so important. It’s less intrusive. We all want to live longer and happier lives and there’s no shame in informing ourselves.

This aspect is important to realize for any company, no matter the product. The social web is not about sales. Of course, every strategy and every investment needs to pay off eventually. But if you are a company with a controversial product, subtlety comes first. Sales come second. This is an important factor to consider because it also marks the point at which you need to make a decision. Are you going to rely on traditional marketing and advertising tools, such as banner ads, or are you going to jump in with both feet and give the social web a try.

The decision is yours, what will it be?
Today’s guest post is by Antonia Harler. Antonia recently graduated and holds a degree in Management, Communications & IT. She’s performed extensive research on how to best use Twitter for Relationship Marketing. For more information about her visit her blog, follow her on Twitter (@antwizzel) or join her on Facebook