[Editorial notes: Guest article by Pratik Dholakiya, Co-Founder & VP of Marketing at E2M Solutions.]

What does social media have in store for your business? That depends on what you are looking for, really.

Stephanie Chandler of Forbes.com writes that social media does have benefits such as brand recognition, reputation management, mindshare, authority, exposure, and influence. Further, you’d get some of that precious traffic, help engage with customers better, and win customers’ trust. None of that, however, will happen if you take a half-hearted, confused, or “lets-see-what-this-thing-is-made-of” approach. Either you are in it, or you aren’t, here are some cardinal rules to make social media work for startups (applies to any business, though):

Don’t be the Meatball Sundae

Seth Godin in his book Meatball Sundae: How New Marketing Is Transforming The Business World (And How to Thrive In It) makes a few points worth mentioning:

“It’s always been this way: Organizations Match the Medium”

“Entire Industries have been built around effective marketing tools”

“New Marketing favors some approaches over others”

And,

“Some tactics, products, services, organizations, distribution models, and stories work better with new marketing than others do”

Even before you start your business, you’ve some due diligence to do: find out if you risk being the meatball sundae – the odd combination that it is – referring to the mismatch between the kind of business you are in to a medium like social media.

Social Media for Startups
Social Media for Startups

Know and Play

Before you do anything, it helps to know why you do it in the first place. Social media is the anti-thesis to regular advertising: it helps you to create trust, nurture leads until they are ready to buy, and to keep your customers engaged. It also helps you to receive ongoing feedback about your business, brands, and services. It opens up channels of communication with your customers – present and potential – which was hitherto unheard of.  Social media brings down the barriers, keeps business transactions transparent, and forces you to into a new era of business ethics.

There’s no messing around with customers anymore since they have access to a global audience waiting to hear from any of them.

That’s why you need social media: to open up lines of communication, to respond, and to engage.

It’s the old wine in a new bottle. It’s word-of-mouth on super steroids. It can kill you or it can make you succeed.

Stay committed to Social Media as much as you are to your business

Think of social media as a grapevine (led by your organization) that’s just blown up and gargantuan in scale. As a business, you stand to capitalize on the street talk, mushrooming conversations, beguiling questions, and seemingly unrelated mentions on the web.

To make it work for you, commitment over long periods of time is crucial. Starting with social media only to leave it as your startup catches up with demand for your product or taking the mass advertising approach to a commercially-personal medium such as social media is bound to have you running around in circles.

 Lead the tribe

Launching a business, creating a produce, or delivering services is the standard in any business. You are expected to solve problems, anyway. Social media allows you to lead with authority. It’s a medium that gives you everything you need to make change happen. You now have a dual role to play as a business: deliver solutions and bring about a change.  Not delivering on any one of these two requirements gets you disappointment, discouraging results, and lifeless social media properties that you’ll struggle to own.

Scale social media efforts

It’s understandable that you’ll not be able to stretch your wallet much for hiring resources to help you with social media. That’s only as long as you think traditionally. Once you embrace the new way of work, you can scale up and outsource social media efforts. Instead of spending hours of unaccounted time on social media and wondering why your productivity levels plunge into the depths of social abyss, hire contractors off the human cloud. You could train them to represent your company, work on a pay-as-you-go model, hire and fire contractors as you please, and save time and money as you go along.

In return, you’d have more resources to manage the ever-increasing conversations on social media, make more time available to run your business, and reach out to more customers.

 Use Technology

Whether you choose to go at it alone or hire staff or contractors to deal with social media, using technology is inevitable.  Dump too many tweets on Twitter and you’ll suffer follower mass exodus. That also applies to Facebook fan pages, Linked In company pages, and other social media channels you manage.

You’ll need timing and calculated posting frequency to post updates at the right time. Use tools such as HootSuite, Buffer, dlvr.it, Social Oomph, Nimble CRM, and many others to make sure you get your posting frequency right. Further, these tools allow you to plan your social media updates in advance helping you to be more organized and efficient.

Get personal or get out

David will sling goliath.

If you are too big, bloated, showy, and unresponsive, customers get intimidated. Vendors are harassed, and the word will spread (too fast that you care to admit).

When you don’t respond to customers’ comments, ignore requests, forget replying to emails, and think that it’s natural that you get more than a hundred mentions on social media, you are asking for trouble. Personality traits that once meant everything for individuals are now just as important for businesses too.

The key to success in social media is to force your business to act, behave, think, and respond like an individual – as one single unit. Get personal. Thank your followers and fans. Do all that a presentable, active, and an enterprising individual would do.

Figure out your “Squeeze Strategy”

Social media could mean different things to different businesses. For some, it’s all about branding, recall, mindshare, and reputation management. For others, it could just mean traffic. How you make social media work for you is what I’d call “Squeeze Strategy” and you’ll have to figure out your own. You could pitch (keep it subtle, please), sell, market, promote, gain feedback, get inputs, launch contests, spread news, share content, engage with others, and respond.

Your Squeeze Strategy is your responsibility; the media will hold its stead. It will remain as is and it’ll continue to thrive. It will benefit some businesses while it’ll ruin others. Some businesses will profit from it and others will saunter around the aisles of social media wondering what’s to be done.

The rules, however, you aren’t meant to break. How are you going about your social media efforts? What are you getting out of it?

[Image creadit: shutterstock]

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