Courtesy of Cindy Bates, Vice President, Microsoft U.S. SMB group
There’s an old saying that goes “if you want to catch fish, go where the fish are.” When it comes to your SMB, the “fish,” are your customers and with more than 74 percent of all online adults using social media, it’s likely a good place to catch their attention. From review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, to the opinions and content shared on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, customers are talking about your business on social media. Below, Marty Zwilling, founder and chief executive officer of Startup Professionals, outlines how to get started in social and connect with your customers.
Social media is so pervasive in today’s world that every entrepreneur believes instinctively that they know how to use it for their startup. Many soon find that what you do in a personal context doesn’t necessarily translate to your business, and measuring business value is quite different from measuring personal satisfaction. When it comes to social media for your business, expect a high learning curve, but rest assured it’s not rocket science.
Social media is now one of the key marketing tools, but not the only one, so the challenge is to manage the resource tradeoffs effectively by constantly assessing payback versus cost. Startups should begin by selecting just a few of the vast array of social media offerings out there, and customize based on results.
I agree with my friend Lon Safko, and his classic book “The Social Media Bible,” which asserts your team can be successful at social without the cost of an expensive expert or agency, by following these five basic steps:
- Start with the dominant players. Top social networks are Facebook (1.2 billion users). LinkedIn (300 million), Twitter (288 million) and Pinterest (70 million). Concentrate your efforts on two to three platforms to start. Get to know the five W’s of these – who, what, where, when, and why. Ask yourself where are the influencers in your market, the majority of your target customers, and what type of interaction will be most productive to your business?
- Assess your target customer demographics. Identify your target customer and create customer profiles. If you already have a strong customer base, create a brief survey to help you determine what social media sites they’re using and how to reach them in a targeted way. Add a blog to give yourself a voice, show your expertise, but skip the sales pitch.
- Create an integrated conventional marketing and social media strategy. Social media does not stand alone; it must be integrated into a balanced marketing strategy. Your plan should include a well-designed web site, events, press releases, and search engine marketing (SEM). SEM is the most common form of online marketing, which increases your website visibility on search engine results pages through optimization and advertising.
- Prepare your staff to deliver on social media requirements. Social media is not free – it takes time and skills that you won’t have by default. Ad hoc coverage by team members in their spare time is a recipe for failure. You need executive buy-in, committed budgets, and education for the whole team on objectives and activities.
- Don’t forget the metrics and analytics. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Determine the proper measurement tools and set up the measurement process. Only then can you determine your ROI. Manage your expectations, and analyze every marketing channel. Scour the Internet for data from similar businesses, existing media, and match it with your own customer profiles. Then set your goals for penetration, frequency, and results.
With social media, a key element of success is focus on the message. Never “sell” or push out your message like conventional advertising. The trick is to listen first, add something of value to the conversation, and pull the customers to you because they trust you and want more. According to Lon, the keywords to remember are to be “sincere, authentic, and transparent.”
Startups are in an ideal position to capitalize on the fundamental shift in power to the customer, who now has real control over your brand message. Companies have to communicate, rather than just pontificate. Customers see what their peers are saying in blogs and product reviews, and how you respond to these, and this impacts their buy decision more than any advertisement.
Above all, don’t forget to observe your competition and their social media activity. Learning from their mistakes and building on their best practices can save you time and money.
Finally, remember that it takes time to establish and optimize your social media presence. Use the five steps listed above to start slowly, leverage your time effectively, stay one step ahead of your competitors, and enjoy the success that social media can bring to your startup.
Marty Zwilling is the founder and chief executive officer of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners. Marty is a veteran startup mentor and contributor at publications such as Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and Huffington Post. Check out his blog or contact him directly via email or Twitter.