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This article was published on September 22, 2010

10 Tips For Entrepreneurs And Start Ups Looking To Embrace Social Media

10 Tips For Entrepreneurs And Start Ups Looking To Embrace Social Media
Niall Harbison
Story by

Niall Harbison

Niall is a social media advocate and co-founder of digital marketing agency Simply Zesty. He helps small brands get their message out to the Niall is a social media advocate and co-founder of digital marketing agency Simply Zesty. He helps small brands get their message out to the world and engage with their customers using the free tools available to them.

I’ve been involved in a couple of start ups over the last couple of years and in both, due to having very limited marketing budgets, social media has been the main form of our marketing activities. This is the same for nearly all starts ups these days, social media is often the first port of call as it is cheap (often seen as free), accessible and fairly easy for founders and small teams to embrace. It’s a fairly logical step to start promoting your start up through social media because most entrepreneurs will have a decent personal network anyway so getting the message out to them is a next logical step. I wanted to share 10 of the top tips that I have picked up about using social media for start up businesses…

You Have Incredible Freedom

Many large organizations are crippled these days because getting one Facebook update, a tweet or blog post has to pass through several departments before getting sign off from legal. The beauty of being a start up is that you don’t face these challenges. Whatever you feel like saying you can pretty much just say, You can give people sneak access to products, share interesting facts about your company, do short videos or talk to your customers in the way you see fit. As a start up you have the incredible luxury of being able to push your message out and engage in the way you see fit with very few limitations. Embrace that freedom and share useful information that big competitors can’t.

It Won’t Be A 3 Month Quick Win

I’d always urge start ups to take a long term view on social media. Chances are you won’t get much out of it in the first 3 months. Nobody will read your blog, your Facebook page will have a few friends and family as fans and it’ll feel as if you are talking to yourself on Twitter. Building a network takes a lot of time. It’s only after a year or two of networking online and building relationships that you start to see the real value. Most start ups and businesses jump in to social media thinking it will solve all their problems only to be disappointed by the results and leave. The one piece of advice I would have here is to really stick at it because it will work in the long run but it takes time and patience.

Social Media Won’t Help Your Traffic That Much

Too many start ups I see use social media purely as a function to drive traffic to their website. Special offers, discount deals, pointing to blog posts with awards or just coming in with the hard sell will never get you anywhere. You need to find an angle. I love small start ups that share stats for example or give me a glimpse behind the scenes of what they are building. I like to know about the personalities behind the company. I won’t click on a Facebook update where you try to sell me something but if you show me a picture of you and the team drinking beers after a hard week chances are I might interact with that content. For all the talk of social search and Twitter driving traffic it is still very much about search engines if it is traffic you are after, chances are 70-80% of your traffic will come through search engines with tiny amounts coming through social media.

Ask Yourself Will It Actually Drive Sales?

Business is fairly straight forward…you need to bring more money in than you have going out. If you are going to be spending money or time on social media then you need to ask yourself the hard question of is it actually going to lead to sales. This may seem confusing given that I say not to come across with the hard sell in the last point but at the same time you can’t be doing social media for the good of your health. If you have set out to market yourself using social media then you need to set some goals. Will the fact that you provide outstanding customer service via Twitter keep your customers loyal and mean they keep coming back to you? Can you give away lots of information that is useful to your customers via a blog so as they keep coming back and eventually buy your premium services or products. I’d have very clear established goals as to what you want to achieve from your social media activity as a start up and I would plan for them over a long period of time.

Don’t Get In To Thinking Social Media Is Work

I cringe at the amount of time I see some people involved in startups on Twitter every day. I was guilty of it myself in the early days but it’s important to remember that twitter is not work. Sure you can use it in some of the ways above to get a little bit of leverage for your business but sitting on there all day reading links and talking to people is not actually working. I know it sounds very obvious but too many people lose sight of that and get caught up in social media. It is as it’s name suggests a very social activity and can drag you in but I really see no need for most start ups to be checking Twitter more than a couple of times a day.Just like the pot about your friends and family above there can be a lot of backslapping on Twitter and false praise around you start up so make sure not to get dragged in while having your ego inflated while actually forgetting about the important part of running your business and increasing sales.

Compliment With Traditional Marketing

Social media is great because it doesn’t cost much more than your time. Having said that I don’t think it can service all your marketing needs. I’ve seen a lot of start ups be scared to invest money in traditional marketing. When I say traditional marketing it could be print ads, TV, direct marketing, mail shots, radio etc etc. It can seem daunting to spend a few thousand on marketing out of an already small budget and many instead focus on trying to get free PR or using free tools but I’d urge start ups to spend a little more on traditional marketing as well. The biggest most successful businesses in the world all have huge marketing budgets, Their products don’t sell themselves so how would your start up start selling immediately without a little marketing. There are a huge amount of start ups that have failed even though they have had spectacular products simply because they have not been able to get the word out and market them correctly.

Your Friends Are not Your Customers

I’ve fallen in to this trap way too many times. People I know through the online world or friends and family will tell me they love my product or would use it all the time as I hand them out freebies and sit back and lap up their praise. This is false praise. Of course they love what you are doing, they don’t want to hurt your feelings and the chances are they really want you to succeed, Would those same people buy from you? If they can buy from you now have they ever done so? Probably not. Your friends and family are simply not your target audience so don’t get sucked in to taking what they say too seriously. On the flip side they could be your biggest salesperson or advocate ever so make sure they are armed with the right information about your product or service should they be talking to a potential customer of yours.

Help Other People, It Really Works

It is very easy to get caught up in your own world when you are in a start up. Nothing matters apart from that next release, hiring that next person or getting that payment in to pay the wages and you can lose track of what is happening in the real world around you. Out of everything I have ever done that has been effective it is always helping others that has worked best. Go out of your way to do something that will help another person and the chances are it will come back to you 10 times over. It feels alien when you don’t have enough hours in the day to be helping others but building up a strong network of people who you have helped and who would do the same in return is priceless.

Platforms Come And Go But Blogs Are Forever

Remember Myspace? Bebo? The list goes on. Nothing is more sure than there will be a new platform poke it’s head up soon that everybody runs off and starts using. It’s a cycle and people spend huge amounts of time on platforms that are not their own. I am a huge fan of investing that time instead on your own blog or website. The content you create on your own website will be there forever. It will always add value to your business and be there as a resource to be found. By all means build social features around that blog and engage with those social platforms in that way but for me the blog should always be king. It’s your own platform that doesn’t change, you have few restrictions and you are pretty much free to do what you see fit with it.

Use Social Media To Shape Your Brand

Building a brand from scratch is tough, It’s very different to building a business and usually takes a lot of time, effort and money. With social media you have a unique position to build a brand from scratch and shape your business to appear much bigger than it actually is. All you really need is a logo and some good copy to make you start sounding professional and looking like a big business. Add in a couple of professional looking videos and a slick company blog and you have a platform to create a brand far bigger than your company actually is. Think of the likes of Coca Cola, Guinness and Levi’s. They are all brands and the reason you buy in to those products is because you have grown to love and adore the brand. Social media affords you the opportunity to compete with bigger companies on a level playing field and really put your start up on the map.

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