Sometimes the hardest part of starting a new company isn’t creating the product or service itself; it’s communicating what it is, what it does, and why people should care about it.
Many startups struggle with brand identity and marketing their product or service, which is just one reason why they often fail. It’s not due to lack of good ideas or hard work, it’s because of lack of awareness in the marketplace.
Social media can be one of the most cost-effective means of increasing brand awareness for your startup. But don’t be fooled – social media is NOT free advertising. (More on this later.)
If you asked me back in 2009 or 2010, I would have said differently, but the landscape has changed. Back then, very few companies were leveraging a social media strategy, and there were far fewer cat videos and political rants popping up in people’s feeds. Now, Facebook is saturated with all kinds of content, and for a company to get noticed and build brand awareness they need to be a lot more strategic.
Many B2C startups struggle with the same question: “How do we get more Facebook/Twitter/Instagram followers and fans?” Here’s a quick step-by-step guide for startups to build a social strategy that will increase your brand awareness and help grow your startup.
1. Secure Handles
Before you do anything else, reserve social media handles for your startup. This crucial step is often overlooked but it will be crucial to social brand awareness and success down the road.
When it comes to securing social handles, consistency and simplicity are key. If your company’s name is “Jitter’s Cafe” the ideal social handle would be @jitterscafe across all social platforms, and for Facebook, the unique URL would be Facebook.com/jitterscafe. Keep in mind that apostrophes, commas, and quotes will not work in a social handle on twitter or Instagram.
Also, it’s important to keep the handle as close to the real business name as possible. Make it simple, not something that consumers need to guess. For example, if possible avoid handles like @jitterscafeofficial, @jitterscafeHQ, @jitters_cafe, @jitterscafe1, etc.
It’s also important to try to secure the same handle across all social platforms. Putting @jitterscafe on your company materials (rather than several different handles/platforms) will streamline your marketing efforts, and it will be easier to promote your social channels and cultivate engagement by asking consumers to remember just one succinct handle.
Once you have your social handles secured, you can keep them dormant or inactive until you develop a strong content strategy. Meanwhile, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your brand name is secured across all of your social channels.
2. Build a Content Strategy
Before launching posts on your company’s social media accounts, it’s wise to first build a content strategy and distribution calendar. Without that, many startups will quickly find themselves either too busy to post, bereft of ideas and content, and/or missing out on opportunities to capitalize on trending topics/events that are relevant to your brand.
You want your content to be intentional, consistent and engaging, not random and haphazard.
I often hear small businesses and startups say they don’t know what to post on social media. The best way to create a basic content strategy is to establish a weekly or biweekly routine.
For example, “Pro Tip Tuesday” could be your weekly tips that offer free advice or insight about your industry, providing your customers with something of value on a regular basis. The end of the week could be “Fun Friday,” where you share an entertaining photo or video showing off your company culture or give props to valued customers.
Consider creating a mix of content that hits these notes:
- Aspects of your business. Is your service or product available at a new location? Is a new iteration of your product/service dropping soon? Create some buzz by sharing the details, along with any breaking news about new clients or partnerships, media coverage, company milestones, or perspectives on your industry a la “Pro Tip Tuesday.”
- Company culture. Like “Fun Friday,” this content gives your followers insight into your company: what makes your culture special, and at the same time what makes it relatable. Share highlights of the staff ping pong tournament. Is your team super into Game of Thrones? Share your thoughts on the latest plot twist, or post a Top Ten list of the staff’s favorite characters/episodes. Weigh in on a fun trending topic, like whether that dress was really blue and black or was it white and gold?
- Sharing/retweeting content that conveys your company values and resonates with your brand. Not all of your content has to be originated by you or specific to your company. Give props to a local hero or happening. (“This is why we love [insert community/event/name here].”) Encourage your followers to check out a cool volunteer opportunity with a nonprofit. Champion a local band, museum or sports team. This kind of content can strengthen your brand’s ties to your community and to your followers.
These are just a few examples of how to create/curate content that goes beyond just talking about your product or service. Once you’ve mapped out your ideas and put several weeks’ worth onto a calendar so you can establish a regular tempo for publishing it, you’re ready to go live.
3. Go Live!
Set your accounts to active and begin posting on a regular basis, per your content calendar. This can seem like the most FUN part of the process, but it’s important to remember that a successful social media strategy isn’t just about what you post – it’s about interacting with your followers when they engage. It’s like building a relationship: nurture it and it will flourish.
Another critical aspect of going live is gaining as much organic traffic as possible by strongly encouraging your employees, friends and family members to follow the social accounts and interact with the content by liking/commenting/sharing/retweeting the content. Also ask them to encourage their friends and family members to do the same. The more organic fan growth and engagement you can attract early on, the more credibility your brand will gain, which leads to picking up new followers AKA potential customers.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned that social media is no longer free. Facebook especially has become so saturated with with content that it is crucial to break out of the clutter and be original. But original and unique content is only effective if people actually see it.
Part of your social strategy should include boosting content (on Facebook), which essentially means paying to place it in the news feeds of people who do not yet follow your page. Even a small budget for a small startup can make a big different in social media growth and engagement. Some large companies boost every post for a few thousand dollars, while startups might spend that in an entire month, or year.
Regardless of your company’s size, keep in mind that social media is an extremely cost effective platform compared to traditional advertising, and it provides significantly more user data than does a billboard, magazine ad or even a TV commercial. That data can help you hone your strategy for attracting new customers and keeping current clients engaged.
Most startups have a limited marketing budget, but instead of spending hundreds of dollars on swag each month, allocate those funds toward boosting content on Facebook or expanding your reach on Instagram. You will likely see much better engagement and fan growth at a more rapid pace than if you opt not to put resources behind a social media advertising budget.
Stickers, t-shirts, and key chains emblazoned with your startup logo can be cool, but if you really care about growing your business – especially if you want it to eventually be acquired or have an IPO – focus on the most cost-effective methods with the highest return on your investment.
5. Rinse and Repeat
Now that you’ve created an effective social media strategy, a publishing schedule, valuable content, and understand the ROI of boosting that content, don’t go dark. It’s absolutely critical to continue creating compelling content and share it on a regular basis. The moment your social media presence becomes sporadic or – shudder – disappears for a while, your engagement will begin to drop and you’ll lose momentum. Stay consistent, and don’t be afraid to experiment with new content ideas or new ways to share things.