This post includes extra content from Startup Mixology, my upcoming book on starting up – including how to prepare yourself for the harsh reality and celebrate positive moments along the way. Go here to pre-order the book (due July 8) and subscribe to updates!
I was an early adopter of social media. I tagged, tweeted, checked in, and shared mobile photos from the get-go. I was on Twitter and other new social networks early enough to benefit from leading conversations on the latest technology, startups, and new media trends. Doing so helped me gather tens of thousands of fans and followers (@FrankGruber & @TechCocktail), which I’m extremely fortunate to have.
I’ve seen the boom of social media as obscure products like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Foursquare grew to become large social media platforms used by the masses. The social media tools and landscape continue to evolve, and the hot tool or product today may be a thing of the past tomorrow. There are entire books devoted to the topic of social media, and I advise you to read them; for the context of this post, I want to share a few principles that might be helpful when getting started.
Social media is a way to connect on a different level with your customers. Use it to create that personal connection with people. Why? Because relationships are super important and can be your competitive advantage. Leverage the channels it provides to be genuine and reveal a little more about your company, your brand, and yourself.
Amy Jo Martin is the founder of Digital Royalty, a social media consultancy and education platform. She was one of the early adopters of social media, working with people and brands like Shaquille O’Neal, DoubleTree, and Dwayne Johnson (also known as “The Rock” during his pro-wrestling career). In her book Renegades Write the Rules, she says:
“We all want to be seen and heard by others. We want to be valued for what we can offer others. We all want to belong to a community of others who value what we value – who are, in some important way, like us. What happens when a brand fulfills these wants? People stick around for more.”
Without that intangible, you’re simply competing on performance – and if your performance slips, your users may look elsewhere because they don’t feel real loyalty.
Social media is a two-way conversation that starts with listening and helping. Once you’ve built trust, you earn the right to use social media for the purpose of marketing. Martin explains that you should “deliver value when, where, and how your audience wants it” – and if you don’t know what they value, use social media to find out. She suggests breaking down your followers into categories to better understand them. For example, for The Rock, followers were broken down into specific categories: inspiration, kids/families, female, charitable, action fans, WWE, and sports and fitness. The Rock then knew to tweet about all those different topics.
DITTO is another example of adding value through social media. A designer eyeglass site, DITTO allows you to try on glasses by superimposing them onto your photo, and then share the photo with friends so they can vote between two frames. DITTO helps you create social media content that adds value (helping you choose the right glasses) and spreads their message.
Sometimes the value you add is just connecting like-minded people. Laura Fitton, inbound marketing evangelist at HubSpot, thinks, “It’s really about connecting people and overcoming human isolation. If you can get the person to bond to your brand, that’s great, but you’re going to get more leverage and more staying power if you connect people to each other in the context of your brand.”
Many brands and companies even use social media for customer service, even though it’s not the official support channel. People expect you to respond to complaints and requests via social media, especially Twitter. Do it, and be grateful they took the time to ask.
On social media, you have a group of fans, followers, and customers out there listening. They bring their own various experiences and knowledge, so why not learn from them? When you come up with an idea, share it with them and get feedback. It’s like having an army behind you at all times. If you identify your most engaged followers, you can even reach out to them with specific questions, since they probably care enough to answer. Experiment with social media to figure out which types of content your followers like, and what time of day you should be posting.
One more thing: be sure to track mentions of your company on social media. It’s easy to do by setting up Google so all mentions are sent to your inbox. That’s another opportunity for big learning about what people are thinking and sharing about your brand.
Social media can also be used to build relationships with influencers and potential new customers. AddThis community manager Ifdy Perez follows hashtags on relevant topics and contributes to the conversation when it makes sense. In some tech startup markets, hashtags are a great way to keep track of the pulse of the city. For example, in Washington, DC, you can track the #dctech hashtag; in Las Vegas, #vegastech; and in New York, #nytech.
Some people say social media is free. It’s not: you pay for it with your time and hard work. One of the biggest discussions that will come up in an organization, no matter the size, is how valuable social media is. What’s the return on investment (ROI)? To date, I have yet to hear a comprehensive measurement tool on the ROI of social media. Everyone has their own way of measuring this, but you can certainly collect data around hashtag counts, trending topics, followers, and other engagement stats. You can also look at things like whether your message got amplified or went viral, and what the sentiment of the response was.
Brian McClary, the social and emerging media analyst at Ford, says, “Can I tell you the number of cars we’ve sold based on Facebook ads or anything that we’ve done? I really can’t, but that’s not the right way to measure what’s going on in social media. The proper way to measure it is look and see what people are saying about your brand, look at the way that trends are changing about your brand, how you’re changing people’s perceptions about that, and convert people that might not be the biggest fans of your brand into a fan.” This is excellent advice for all organizations to follow.