A man was standing in a North London Wetherspoons pub when he noticed something odd.

The carpet – patterned with ornate blues and reds – was actually quite beautiful. And it was completely different from the carpet in the East London Wetherspoons pub that he was drinking in the day before.

He took a photo and tweeted it, wondering if anyone else noticed this.

His Twitter friends responded with photos of Wetherspoons carpets.

They were all different too. And each one was unusually ornate for a discount pub chain floor.

Oh, before I go on, I forgot to mention an important bit of this story… the man in question, whose name is Kit, happened to have set up a small publishing company a few years before, and was a writer himself.

His niche was ‘site-specific writing’, which means writing about very particular places in depth, which may not be covered in mainstream books – for instance, inner city marshlands, public transport or superstore car parks… or Wetherspoons!

Anyway, what Kit did was set up a Tumblr called Wetherspoons Carpets, asking people on social media to send in their own examples. Really, he was just curious, and it was an idea nobody had expressed online before.

To his surprise, it went viral.

Soon the Tumblr was being shared across the social media platforms and bloggers started picking it up.

Eventually the mainstream caught on and he was interviewed or featured in the Buzzfeed, The Guardian, Metro and The Daily Mail.

Within one year, it is believed he got a very handsome book deal from a major publisher, plus some great publicity for his own small publishing company AND massively boosted his social media following.

The reason I am telling you this true story is that there are two really good lessons here for ANY business (offline or online) looking to find customers online.

LESSON ONE: Find something unique about yourself and let the customers share it for free

First up is this…

People think Wetherpoons is all about super-cheap beer and food for people of a certain income level. Yet their business has a unique selling point that they never mention, or put up front. It turns out that they use award winning interior designers to produce unique carpets that reflect the history of the buildings or local areas that their 900 pubs are in.

Remarkable, really!

More care and design goes into their super-cheap pubs than many of the reputable middle class gastro-pubs that charge double the price.

Now, perhaps they didn’t realise their uniquely themed carpets would be interesting to the general public… or perhaps it wouldn’t concern their ideal target customer.

Either that, or their marketing department are total geniuses.

Perhaps they realised that instead of advertising the concept using their own money, they would wait for a canny blogger to stumble upon the idea and make it go viral online, thereby giving them mass free marketing in all the broadsheet papers, tabloids and news websites.

I doubt it’s the latter. But it goes to show that if your customers find something unique, interesting and unexpected about your business, THEY will do the marketing for you.

The most powerful marketing is always the stuff done by the people who use your services and products, who review it, comment on it and share it.

Thanks to networks like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram, you have a potential army of free marketers out there ready to share what you’ve made – and it works just as brilliantly for offline business as online.

As you can see, an offline bricks and mortar business with a dull reputation CAN become interesting, unique and popular on social media.

I mean think about it… carpets and discount pubs are hardly Gangnam Style are they?

But it worked.

However, to make this happen, you have to have something worth sharing. And if you want it to spread far enough to get traffic flowing to your website, or bodies through the door of your premises, it has to be original.

Which brings me to…

LESSON TWO: Find something original and interesting to say, and be the first to say it

You don’t need elaborate videos, big production values, teams or marketers, designers and web technicians to create powerful online campaigns.

All it took to create a viral carpet appreciation juggernaut was an iPhone camera, a Tumblr account and Twitter.

But here’s the key…The idea was original.

When the copycats emerged, all they were regurgitating was someone else’s original idea. They were soon slapped down in a highly transparent social media world where you cannot get away with cloning ideas like you used to.

So whenever you find some amazing photos, videos or an idea that you think your audience will appreciate, always credit the source and add your OWN opinion and perspective.

Better still, find something original to say that’s unique to you. This is how you use content to market a business.

What’s more, it’s now really the only effective way. Google now penalises sites that repeat information (spam sites, keyword-stuffed sites, clichéd marketing sites, jargon-heavy sites, duplicate sites, plagiarised sites) and ranks more highly those that are unique and valuable.

Savvier users are now getting wise to it.

Think of content like a pyramid content scheme…

The top tier of the pyramid actually produces something interesting and original. That could be a beer brewer creating their own infographic, a video gamer setting up a retro UK arcade game blog, or someone creating a pub carpet Tumblr!

Then you’ve got the second tier. These are the people who write about, or comment upon, these creations – the reviewers, the curators, the interviewers, the journalists.

The people who add opinion, add value, add their perspective and make it easy for others to understand complex ideas, or even challenge and change those ideas.

When you produce content for your website, you should really be in one of these two tiers. That’s the material that works hard for you and gets you noticed by Google.

It also makes you authentic, credible and original. A strong factor in building trust and gaining an audience of prospects.

However, a lot of so-called ‘experts’ and ‘authorities’ are in the lower tiers of the pyramid. They might look the part at first glance, but they’re empty of real substance.

The third tier simply take content and opinions readymade from tier two. They neither create anything original NOR do they come up with anything original to say or add to what’s been created.

This content has far less value, and is far less likely to get you ranked highly by Google. It’s also a kind of phoney second hand expertise that doesn’t win you influence in the long term.

Then there’s a fourth tier…

These are the people who are simply taking the third tier material and rejigging THAT (or even copying it directly). So they’re copies of copies.

This sort of content is the Pot Noodle of the marketing world – it’s low in nutrients, dry and unsustainable in the long-term. It might fill a few blog posts, or get you a bit of traffic, but not for long – and it won’t build trust, credibility, authenticity and respect.

So instead of joining the pyramid scheme… start one!

The only people who make the money in pyramid schemes are those at the very top (the creators) and those who do the very first referring.

Same for content. So here are some tips…

  • Use TweetReach. This tool allows you to search for how much activity and buzz there is around a topic, and find out who is responsible for the best content. This way you can get nearer the top of the content pyramid and find the freshest, most relevant material – but make sure you always add your perspective. Have an opinion on something. Take a stance. Make a claim. Be yourself, not someone else.
  • Use Google Alerts to get the latest information on a topic related to your business. Use the raw material you find online to create your own articles, videos and materials – but turn it into something that really sounds like it comes from you.
  • Collect images or ideas using Tumblr – but find an original theme or angle. You can also use Instagram or Flickr.
  • Finally, what can you put on the internet that’s truly your creation? Videos of your products, staff or customers in action? Photos from your research trips? Interviews with influencers and CEOs? Recipe, shortcuts, tips and hacks that you’ve discovered yourself? Find a way to MAKE something and get others to share it. If you get copied a bit, don’t worry – originals always win out in the end.

These are just a few ideas to get started. For a full content strategy for you business, make sure you have a good peruse of this very website.

As for me, I’m off to check out the local Wetherspoons carpet (so I’m telling Heloise, anyway).