Moses started his business in 2017, at a time when social media was already proving to be an invaluable marketing tool for small businesses. So, like many entrepreneurs hoping to reach potential customers, he set up a business page on Facebook and, later, Instagram.
However, Moses could not gain visibility by running paid advertisements on Facebook and Instagram like other entrepreneurs did.
Why? He was running a sex toy business.
“Apart from the fact that sex sells, the paramount reason I started selling sex toys was that I had friends and acquaintances going through tough times in their sex lives, both married and single, female and male, especially in terms of experiencing orgasms and having pleasurable and satisfying sex,” Moses explained, “so I decided to provide a solution.”
But Facebook, with strict policies guiding adult businesses and services, apparently does not share his sentiment.
On its advertising policy page, Facebook (which also owns Instagram) states with emphasis that, “adverts must not promote the sale or use of adult products or services, unless they promote family planning and contraception.”
It goes further to demand that, “adverts for contraceptives must focus on the contraceptive features of the product and not on sexual pleasure or sexual enhancement, and must be targeted to people aged 18 years or older.”
Moses, like many other sex toy vendors, had anticipated — and prepared for — some challenges due to the nature of the business. From common ones like building trust with customers to more peculiar ones like navigating the cultural stigma surrounding sex in Nigeria. However, the hurdle they met on Facebook meant they had to get creative in order to survive.
For Moses, whose business, Vine Desirez, now has over 8,000 followers on Instagram, that meant taking advantage of regular feed posts, which are slightly less regulated than sponsored posts.
Many times a day, he churns out a mix of original and curated posts that are either humorous, satirical, or educational, directly advertising his products and sharing customer reviews sparingly. Over time this strategy has endeared him to his audience and driven occasional engagement, resulting in product enquiries and eventually, sales.
“Some people actually followed us for up to a year before buying a product,” Moses told me via a phone call. “Also, most times, when people comment on our posts to make enquiries about the products, they eventually buy [them].”
To increase sales, Moses had to find a way to engage more people because occasional product enquiries and sales don’t cut it for a business.
Nigerians have a reputation for shaming over sexual matters, causing many people to shy away from engaging sex-related content on social media. This is despite being one of the three leading countries in most porn views on the go in Africa.
“In Nigeria, we openly criticise sex matters but we do stuff behind closed doors,” Moses said jocularly.
But with recent sex-positive movements seeking to change cultural attitudes around sexuality, some Nigerians are gradually opening up to sexual exploration on social media.
“Some people don’t follow us but they send us DMs to order our products, others create new accounts just to send us a DM,” he added.
Noticing that most people wanted to engage more privately, Moses made sure to display his WhatsApp number on his Instagram bio — a move which he says has boosted his sales. He confirms that 80% of his transactions happen on WhatsApp.
With these customers now on his WhatsApp list, he takes advantage of the app’s Status and Broadcast features to remarket to them.
“Through my WhatsApp status, I have been able to convert people who just came to make an enquiry and also have my customers coming back,” he said.
To further leverage on community building, Moses set up a Telegram channel which, at the time of this report, had nearly 500 subscribers. On the channel, he shares tips, polls, photos, and (sometimes explicit) videos — often getting over 700 views — to educate members on how to improve their sex lives.
However, the social media terrain is still rough for some vendors, especially those new to the business. “I tried advertising on social media but because of the restriction on my business category the adverts were banned,” explains Funmi, who started her sex toy business, Noveltiesbyfy, in June.
“I started with an Instagram page, intended for running ads initially, but had to put that aside and kept making regular posts; I recently opened a Facebook page to do the same.” However, she admitted that sales are a little low. “I get more people making enquiries than purchases.”
While Moses seems to have it all figured out, the reality is far from that. Nonetheless, with a mix of different strategies, both online and offline, and a keen optimism, Moses is in it for the long haul.
“I have given myself no choice but to succeed in this business so I don’t see these challenges as things that will make business difficult,” he said. “With social media, you don’t need a physical store to make sales as long you can make people trust your brand, you are good to go.”
I write about media, technology and internet culture. Reach me on Twitter @okikesam