Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

Social Media is a Boon to Startups Who Do It Right

If your startup can’t be bothered with social media, or has no plan to take advantage of it, then you are definitely at risk these days. But simply jumping in is not enough. Before you start spending money and time being a user, you need to understand how it can help you and your business. Using it randomly or incorrectly is a waste of your precious time.

Sherrie Madia and Paul Borgese have addressed the positives of this challenge in their book, “The Social Media Survival Guide,” on “everything you need to know to grow your business exponentially with social media.” They also identify clearly the five key social media mistakes that I often see, along the following lines:

1. Diving in without a strategic plan. Don’t start podcasting, blogging, tweeting, “friending” on Facebook, and posting YouTube videos until you know what your messages are, who will manage them, who your audience is, and how they and you are going to benefit from the content and relationship.

2. Not having a social media policy. Your social media policy needs to outline how team members behave in the online universe during and outside of work. It should include education on style preferences and confidentiality. All messaging coming from employees should be aligned with your company’s values and brand.

3. Failing to tailor the plan to your target audience. Hone in on sites, tools, and applications your target audience is using. Is your audience out walking in the park without technology or are they technology lovers who never parted with their BlackBerry or iPhone? Research your target market to find out who they are and how to reach them.

4. Producing weak, unfocused, or unhelpful content. The same messaging rules that apply to classic public relations and branding apply to social media. Create strong, smart, well-thought-out content. Don’t waste their time with self-serving promotion. Give them something they can use – tips, incentives, new ideas, fun, and inspiration.

5. Allowing your social media efforts to stagnate. Gone are the days when companies could put up a website that sat on the screen like an electronic business card. Social media is about maintaining a dynamic conversation between you and your customers. Done right, it’s not a one-off campaign by a handful of staff; it’s a long-term commitment.

To avoid these mistakes and create compelling and relevant content, you need to focus your startup on the following initiatives:

• Develop a social media plan that targets audience and your business objectives.
• Combine social media seamlessly within your traditional marketing plan.
• Use social media to engage customers in new ways and sharpen your brand.
• Find the right people to staff your campaign and curate its content and evolution.
• Manage your “e-putation” and avoid the most common mistakes of social media novices.
• Measure the effectiveness of your efforts and expenditures – as well as competitors.
• Turn your social media efforts into profit, rather than just another expense.

According to the “Small Business Marketing Forecast 2011” from Ad-ology, social media will be the biggest budget gainer among small businesses in 2011, with 39.4% of respondents saying they will spend more. Lead generation continues to be the biggest benefit of social networking for U.S. small businesses. Other popular benefits were keeping up with the industry, monitoring online conversations, and finding vendors/suppliers.

Many companies believe that getting involved in social media is easy. They mistakenly assume that anyone who uses Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter for personal networking can do it for business. But personal versus business use requires two dramatically different skill sets. I recommend that you “test the waters” before you jump, but setting on the sidelines won’t get you there. Use the many resources available, like the Internet and this book, but now is the time to start.

Written by Martin Zwilling

user Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO,
Startup Professionals

Martin is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. He is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners.

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