“It’s only 140 characters—how hard could it be?”
“Bwahahaha,” says the experienced social media manager.
Building a strong social media presence and an effective social media strategy takes patience, trial and error, and—most notably—time. When you’re just starting out, time is your most precious commodity; after all, you need to be focused on building your product, finding users, establishing yourself in the market.
But fundamental to this endeavor is building your brand. To skimp on developing a cohesive, sustainable and impactful social media strategy will do you more harm than good in the long run. Here are our top-8 strategies to help you develop a social media strategy that will propel your brand forward, without cutting into your budget or your time (too much).
1) Have your social media strategy in place before launch! Spend some time thinking through your business goals and target audience. How do you want to engage that audience to help you attain your business goals? What sort of social media personality you want to put out there? Your strategy and goals will certainly evolve over time, but it’s important to commit to a starting point from which to iterate.
2) Determine which social networks are right for your startup – before launch! Know who your users are and which platforms they’re using. Are your users big on Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Pinterest? Consider which social network matches your target audience (think gender, age, income level, etc), and whether your industry has a strong presence on that network. Another thing to think about is how you want to communicate: Text-based posts are great for LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, while image-based communication is best for Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. YouTube, Vimeo and Vine are the way to go if you’re leaning toward video content.
We recommend starting with just two networks at first; small startups will likely not have the bandwidth to successfully execute across across too many streams.
3) Define your brand identity across social networks. Are you going for a straightforward, business-oriented, no-nonsense approach? Or is it a more playful, casual vibe that you’re after? Not every post needs to follow the same formula, but you should aim for consistency among them. Building on your decisions in #2, it’s important to note that your brand identity may vary slightly across social networks–you may take on a more business-y tone on LinkedIn, as well as a more relaxed feel on Twitter. Think about your audience on each channel and what kind of posts they value. You will hone your identity over time as you get to know your audience more and engage with the community.
4) Select a basic social media management app. In the beginning, we recommend using a straightforward tool like Hootsuite, Buffer or TweetDeck—the top-3 tools used by Stacklist startups—that will minimize touchpoints across your networks and allow you to schedule posts in advance. “Hootsuite’s dashboard is simple, it’s easy to assign teams to it, it’s not too expensive and everyone has access,” says Pashmina Lalchandani, owner of Flow Simple. These tools will also give you some baseline analytics to track your success and reach. Some founders, like Manoj Ranaweera of UnifiedVU, tell us it’s just as easy to post directly to the social networks themselves, but if you’re looking to maximize efficiency here, choosing one of these low-budget tools is in your best interest.
These simple social media apps do have a bit of a shelf life, however; According to Jason Saltzman, Founder of AlleyNYC, “Hootsuite is a great tool to use in the beginning, but as you’re scaling, you need to interact with more mobile marketing campaigns and get more analytics.” His enterprise tool of choice? Pardot.
5) Monitor your brand’s presence. You may also consider a social media monitoring tool that helps you effortlessly track mentions of your startup or keywords across the web. Hootsuite and Sprout Social both do this to a certain extent (and at no cost), while tools like Mention offer a more robust platform. According to Guillaume Cabane, Head of Growth Marketing at Mention, “Companies should be using a social media monitoring tool from the very beginning. You need to have your alerts done before the big launch happens so that you can capitalize on that early attention.” Close monitoring of your success through mentions, keywords and baseline analytics will enable you to tweak your social media tactics for optimal results.
6) Establish human connections. Use your social media presence to show your personality and convey your passion for your company’s mission. Drive conversations with users, thought leaders or influencers in the industry, and remember: Be polite! If someone reaches out to you on social media, respond. Through these connections, you will build a network of brand ambassadors who can help promote your business to their network, as well.
7) Develop an internal social media discipline. The first weeks post-launch will be hectic, to put it lightly. No matter how much advance prep you do on your social media strategy, it’s likely that your initial weeks on the social media front will consist of ad hoc posts as you try to promote your brand, highlight press mentions and engage with your target audience. Once over that initial hump, it’s important to establish a routine: Know your peak posting times (and schedule those in advance with a social media management tool), and set aside 10 minutes a few times per day to check on your activity and join in the conversation. A word of warning: It’s very easy to get sucked into the black hole of social media, emerging hours later only to realize that you’ve missed a two conference calls and a lunch date. With a set routine in place, you can guarantee yourself some quality social media engagement, without the crushing blow of valuable time lost.
8) Watch those numbers. As part of your social media discipline, schedule 30 minutes once or twice each week to drill down on your social media metrics. Important metrics to prioritize in the early days include volume, engagement, click-thrus and reach. Incorporating these numbers into your social media strategy will help you hone your brand identity, maximize engagement and broaden your visibility.
A strong social media presence is essential, especially for early-stage startups looking to build their brand and user base. Accomplishing that feat doesn’t have to be all-consuming, however. With a few low-budget tools and best practices, you will be well on your way to finding your voice and making it heard!