In my agency leadership role, anxious entrepreneurs often ask me how their businesses can protect revenue from the marauding Amazon machine.

Amazon can be a merciless shopping category killer, methodically erasing competitors one niche at a time. If Amazon decides to move into your business' selling space with their deep pockets, the danger of being overtaken may seem insurmountable.

At Amazon's massive scale, however, smaller players have available timeless tactics to help tackle the e-commerce behemoth. Smart marketers search for gaps in Amazon's armor. For example, Amazon struggles to compete with person-to-person pre-sales expertise via social media. Earning customers by personally serving community and making friends transcends social media and existed long before the internet.

So let's talk about some classic, human-driven social media hacks to capitalize on the opportunity and help insulate your business from Amazon. It's easy to set up and field a personalized customer empowerment and acquisition campaign using social media channels, while obeying social channels' participation rules and being a mensch.

Among various pathways to selling, most marketers endorse building relationships with potential customers as a top tactic and sustainable method to build a customer base. Amazon simply does not have bandwidth or employee count to participate in granular conversations.

Like most social selling, the trick is to be focused, patient and give magnanimously, asking nothing in return. Earn trust, and only then soft sell products and services.

Public and private topical conversations take place in mainstream social channels, including Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, blogs, etc.

Forums, on the other hand, are among the original social channels that still thrive in many online quarters, but are often overlooked by social marketers. Niche forums remain fabulous channels for sharing thought leadership and making long-term friends. Let's roll up our sleeves and get busy.

Find your audience.

First, search Google to identify forums run by enthusiasts who either have not monetized the forum or perhaps make some money through advertising. Forums run by businesses can work too, but keep in mind a business created the forum to interact with customers, so they too are your competitors.

For the purpose of this post, our client is a business that sells Lowrance boating electronics, a product category Amazon is all over. The setup Google search is "Lowrance forum."

One forum that appears has tons of real conversations centered on the specific brand's marine electronics. Of more than 100,000 forum members, 5,000+ own boats. If your business sells marine electronics and associated products, these are your peeps.

Become part of the community.

Real people ask and answer daunting questions. In the Lowrance section within this forum, some users already own the brand's products, which makes a great pipeline for selling add-ons, upgrades and peripherals.

Join this type of forum for free. It's cool if your profile name is the name of your business. Engage with users. Do not sell as an introduction. Work hard to selflessly serve and support fellow forum users, asking nothing in return.

Quality forums post rules of engagement. Read and honor the regulations. Some forums ask members to rate each other, so aim for stellar ratings for you as a community member.

Forums commonly allow direct messaging between members. Wait a while before using this feature and give free input in open threads. Only take things private after nurturing relationships.

Start the soft sell.

Once you've made a real connection, soft sell only. Broach the notion of selling a weather data antenna by turning slowly to language such as, "Yes, it's complicated for everybody."

You just validated a difficult installation, which will require support Amazon can't provide. "I've been selling the Gen 3 Lowrance HDS-12 for two years. We often retrofit the WM-3 SiriusXM Satellite Weather and Radio Module. We charge about the same as Amazon and personally talk customers through installation by phone, which makes it a snap." From that point, customers commonly move quickly to purchase--not from Amazon.

Don't limit forum mining to highly specific subcategories. In most forums, you'll find various general categories as well.

In the example above, the General Bass Boat Topics and Novice Boaters Forum probably include users who either don't own advanced electronics or may be open to upgrades as they purchase their new boat. Use the forum search functionality to zero in on topics that may yield conversations, empowerment, friendship and sales.

Empowering community members works in all social channels, dependent on the conversations and topics. Earning customers by serving community and making friends transcends any channel and existed long before the internet.

Of course, authentic friendship takes time--time Amazon does not have to invest. Like so many business opportunities, expertise, elbow grease, and hard work can win the day.

Published on: Aug 22, 2017