Social media is everywhere. Facebook has over 1 billion users. Twitter has exploded to over 500 million registered accounts. 67% of adult Internet users are on social media. It makes sense, therefore, that businesses everywhere are reconsidering marketing strategies and searching for ways to engage this massive potential audience.
Startups are no different. As a startup company, social media represents an extremely cost-effective marketing tool that can be utilized to build connections with your initial target users and customers, to establish relationship with early adopters, and build your brand presence online. But where to start? What platforms should your company be on? What should you be posting and when?
Start With a Strategy
Getting into social media as a startup company can be intimidating, but by beginning with a strategy (and no, “we should be on Facebook” doesn’t count) you can set yourself up for success. Social strategy, no matter the size of a company, has to reflect core business goals. Social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and as such, must be a part of your overall marketing plan rather than separate from it.
If you’re an early stage startup, your first marketing goals often centre on how to best connect with your initial user base. These early adopters are the customers who have the most to gain from your product, and are likely to be the ones to make the transition from fans to customers to brand advocates. The goal is to find these users, connect with them, and build meaningful relationships.
Platform Choices – Be Selective
These days there are more social media platforms to choose from than fish in the sea. Trying to maintain and build a presence on too many networks at once will almost certainly cause you to spread yourself and your resources too thin. Instead, it is better to focus only on the platforms that align with your business goals and where your target audience exists. If your startup is fashion/retail-based, you may, for example, want to use Pinterest as a space to display your brand and products to the appropriate audience.
Alongside what demographics you need to attract, it is equally important to understand the type of content you wish to share. If, as a part of your overall marketing strategy, you want to highlight the great UI and design of your product, you might consider using Instagram or Pinterest to model your design features using engaging photos. Or, if you don’t have enticing visuals and your focus is more on product utility and the problems you intend solve for your users, Facebook and Twitter are more universal choices with many benefits.
Building Your Audience
After determining that you’ve reached the right place to begin interacting with your target audience, what is your next step? Again, social does not exist in a vacuum, and it is vital to ensure that your social presences integrate into all of your marketing plans and materials. Include your social channels in any press releases; keep business cards on hand to display your social information at events, conferences, or when engaging in any guerilla marketing efforts; and put your social information on your website and include it in email distributions. Put simply, make yourself easy to find!
The exact tactics you use to execute audience building may be influenced by where you are in your product life cycle. For example, if you have a Minimum Viable Product (“MVP”) launched, you probably already have an initial user base to reach out to and inform of your fresh social presences. If your product is still forthcoming and you are using social to generate buzz for your launch, then look to reach out to influencers in your industry and initial target customers in order to begin shaping your online identity.
The most important consideration when building your social presence is to make sure you don’t have any audience, but that you have the right audience. “Likes” do matter, but they aren’t the whole story. Your initial community should be made up of the people most likely to adopt your product. By building social into your cross-channel marketing, you will help populate your online community with existing and potential customers.
Engaging With Your Audience
As you start building a social audience you need to give them a reason to stay. Accordingly, you must create value for your community, in a way that is consistent with your content strategy and makes sense within the context of your business objectives. Posting grumpy cat memes may generate engagement on your posts, but it (presumably) will have no ties to your product.
A big part of your content strategy should be product focused. Since your initial audience is made up of consumers with a higher potential to use your product, you will want to highlight the reasons that they should. Determine the problems with the current solutions used by your audience, and understand why your company is an improvement. Depending on your angle, you can highlight the problems you’re solving, design, user experience, or any other key product differentiators.
While product marketing is vital for demonstrating your value proposition, one needs to understand that social media is not a one-way street. “Push” marketing efforts will only go so far, and it is just as important to actively engage your community, and listen to what they have to say. Ask for feedback on your product and discuss it with your audience. Welcome positive sentiment and thank your users for participating to earn their loyalty and foster relationships. Embrace constructive criticism to both earn the respect of your customers and ultimately turn that feedback into a better product. By connecting with your community you can turn fans into customers, and customers into brand evangelists.
Getting into social media can be daunting for a startup. The most important points to remember are:
- Base your social strategy around your greater business objectives
- Identify the best places to interact with your community based on who your customers are, where they are, and how you want to interact with them
- Don’t just build an audience, build the right audience
- Interact with and create value for your community
Social is an ongoing conversation. While the tips offered in this post service as an introduction, they should nevertheless get you on the right track towards constructing a vibrant community that will bring you closer to your customers.
About the Author
Paul is a social media marketer and startup enthusiast based in Toronto, Canada. He likes to traverse both the tech startup and marketing agency worlds (and everything in between). Paul divides his time equally between tech events and Blue Jays games.