For startups looking to gain a foothold in a new market while working with relatively small budgets, the use of social media is now less of a unique marketing tool and more of a priority. Sites like Twitter and Pinterest have become vital parts of lead-generation, customer-service and brand-awareness strategies for new businesses, but few entrepreneurs understand how to maximize social media. No matter what stage your new business is in, growing a social media audience is vital. In addition, the more people you connect with through social media, both organically and through advertising, the more successful your business launch and sales will be.
Kristelle Siarza, CEO of Siarza Social Digital of Albuquerque, N.M., offers this advice on how startups can use social media most effectively:
1. Get your overall marketing strategy down first.
That strategy will determine the goals and objectives of each of your social media efforts. It also helps you identify your voice, your visuals and the type of tactics you’ll be using.
“It’s your playbook — your game plan,” Siarza says. “A solid marketing strategy helps you see the ‘big picture’ for your social media.” Only when you know what you want to communicate through social media, she notes, can you develop a business, communications and content strategy for the various social media platforms. “If you fall into the trap of not developing that overall strategy, you run the risk of losing consistency. And those who do not know how to be consistent have a much greater risk of failing in their message.”
2. Have a library of creative images and videos on hand.
This can be difficult for startups because not many new businesses have a library of graphics, videos or artwork ready. Still, startups can develop creative content inexpensively by utilizing free tools like Facebook’s video and slideshow offerings. Also, many photo-editing and video-creation apps are offered for free or at low cost, making developing visuals a breeze. Splice, for instance, an app created by GoPro, allows users to splice together different video clips from their smartphone to create a moving collage, which can be uploaded easily. “We encourage everyone we work with to create Photoshop collages, brand boards and visuals like that,” Siarza says.
There are also many ways to develop content from existing sources. For example, startups can pull information and stories from their “about” and blog pages, incorporating visuals to spice up the message.
“You really need to have a visual library, especially if a concept is just coming to life,” Siarza says. “Deploy videos that explain your vision and products or that position the company as a thought leader.”
Hiring a graphic designer or a videographer to develop content can also be worth the investment, Siarza says. “The main thing is to express your thoughts with visuals, and make sure the imagery that you use reflects the industry that you’re in.” Lumosity, for example, posts photos and short write-ups about “brain training,” and their posts get lots of shares and comments.
3. Identify your focus area.
Startups should identify and focus on specific social media channels.
“Managing social media can be overwhelming at first. You have to start testing and deciding which social channel will get you the best return in terms of impressions, engagements and potential leads,” Siarza says. “If Facebook doesn’t seem to be your best channel in the beginning, Pinterest may be a better choice. Identify the social media channel you’d like to focus on, so you can dedicate more resources to it.”
After choosing a social media platform, research where the target audience is interacting. Look into social media demographics that are data-driven to ensure that your strategy and the demographics line up. Tools like Sprout Social provide analysis of current followers, listing data like gender, age and location to help business owners decide which social channels are worth maintaining. In addition, the Pew Research Center also analyzes the key demographics for a number of social media platforms.
4. To raise brand awareness, invest in advertising.
Many startups don’t get a lot of organic “looks” or brand recognition. For such companies, Siarza says, it’s important to focus on advertising to gain impressions.
“When you place advertising in social media, focus on behaviors and interests instead of demographics because behaviors and interests will turn up similar audiences that might like your products or services. For example, if you’re a wedding-planning startup looking to reach prospective brides,” she says, “your interests are going to be wedding and bridal publications or even the behavior of getting engaged.”
To establish brand recognition, Siarza advises, choose well-established platforms with a large following, as opposed to new or niche social media sites. Taking advantage of paid promotion on social media is effective in both raising awareness and improving reach. Facebook’s advertising platform has shown an impressive return on investment and has a solid reputation for working well. Companies seeking to improve lead generation may turn to LinkedIn for B2B connections because of discussion groups and its use of advanced filters, but Twitter and Facebook are also effective and come with a lower cost.
5. Think of social media as “customer service.”
“My biggest piece of advice is to use social media as your customer service employee,” Siarza says. “Southwest Airlines utilizes social media best when it comes to customer service. They actually place their social media manager in the control room (that handles delays and flight information).” Siarza says Southwest’s strategy “dramatically improves” relationships with consumers, allowing for quick answers when travelers or potential travelers are frustrated. She notes that even telecommunications giant Comcast has invested $1 billion on customer service, “and that includes investments in social media.”
For new businesses that don’t have the resources to hire someone dedicated exclusively to customer service, social media can be very important for answering frequently asked questions and taking customers’ orders. Automation may be an easy way to respond to customers online, but no one likes dealing with a bot; plus, an automatic response comes off as insincere. Companies that are dedicated to good customer service should respond to everyone and should monitor all mentions. Whether the mention is positive or negative, the business should always respond in a timely manner.
“If your company is afraid to use social media,” Siarza says, “that tells me that you are afraid to be transparent, and that you need to reorganize your goals.”
To learn more about social media and how to use social media to promote and grow your business, visit Siarza.com.