This article was published on December 4, 2013

How to create a sustainable social media strategy for your startup

How to create a sustainable social media strategy for your startup
Luke Chitwood
Story by

Luke Chitwood

Impassioned Educator. Proud coffee drinker since age 1. Beginner husband. Aspiring chef. Writing many places, most frequently at jlukechitwo Impassioned Educator. Proud coffee drinker since age 1. Beginner husband. Aspiring chef. Writing many places, most frequently at Twitter: @jlukechitwood.

This post is brought to you by Simply Measured.
Simply Measured

If you’re running a startup, working for one, or just considering turning an idea into a company, calling your work life “busy” is a severe understatement. Along with building a product and a company, you need to build social momentum and buzz. Even a side project or personal branding ventures can resemble a full time job.

Here are five essential, efficient ways to eliminate guesswork and make your startup a success on social media. Each concept features examples of startups (some now fully grown and exited companies) that made these strategies work for them.

1. Identify the audience
top keywords

Startup Example: Zappos

Strategy Adopted: Leveraging Social Media Analytics

On social media, you can pinpoint an audience in real-time. Research your solution, sector, industry and competition. Metrics on keywords, follower profiles and competitors all help define your target listener.

Find where people discuss what you do – and voice the problems you solve. Starting out, you can’t hit every network and outlet full-force. Locate your core customers, and prioritize your efforts to reach them where they are.

Initially, your staff (even if that’s just you and a co-founder) will be your greatest asset in locating and connecting with your audience. Before you can afford staff dedicated to social media, spread the duties around.

Zappos has found great success by keeping social media responsibilities horizontal and flexible. Zappos assumes everyone in the company is on social media and trusts them to participate in growing the brand.

2. Prioritize social networks


Startup Example: Cloudera

Strategy Adopted: Blogger Outreach

As a startup, you’re working with limited resources and a lean business model. You’re not going to be able to blanket the entire Internet with your message – nor should you want to.

Once you have identified your audience, locating them is the next step. Maybe you identified your target audience and conversation through Twitter research, but discover a handful of forums or blogs that attract essential influencers. Building your brand presence on specialized outlets holds immense value for your business – especially in early stages. Choose at least a network or two that match your business’ current scale in addition to starting aspirational presences on obvious services like Facebook and Twitter.

Regardless of the social networks you identify as worthy of prioritizing, longer-form blogs likely generate much of the content your audience eventually shares. Blogger outreach services streamline connecting with the blogs driving the conversation you’re joining.

Back in 2009, Cloudera placed news of its Distribution for Hadoop launch in tech blogs and reputable news sources, and reached 1.5 million people in 24 hours as a result. Now, the startup and its software solutions are both household names. Targeting the content creators that feed your audience’s social networks positions your startup as a conversation starter instead of just a capable participant.

3. Product and culture             

Startup Example: Coin

Strategy Adopted: Referral-loop

To some extent, you’re going to have to navigate this particular balance for your own brand and company. Any brand wants to promote a culture and an experience to some extent, but in early stage-startups, an innovative product drives reputation. Particularly in the beta/pre-launch phase, the goal is to generate excitement for the product to-come.

The process is especially tricky before you’re ready to distribute your final product, but teaser videos, downloadable PDFs and other digital content provide options for social sharing long before a product’s ship date.

Coin is a startup currently generating a great deal of pre-launch buzz. Its product announcement and teaser video have been shared heavily in anticipation of the product’s release. With an innovative product in the consumer payment space, the company had viral-ready content. Its social media and editorial advertising strategy clearly put the product first.

An advance purchase garners a 50 percent discount off the planned price of $100, encouraging investment long in advance of the summer 2014 launch date. Coin is actively courting its early adopters (via a referral-link loop with further discount incentive) and quickly acting on feedback following its launch-date announcement.

A steep discount may not fit with your business plan and current financial state, but make sure you find some way to compensate your initial believers. Their approval is the most important – and most tenuous – social capital.

Think of this as a marketing expense; these early adopters are the most valuable members of your social marketing team. Take good care of them, and organic, viral sharing may welcome your product to the marketplace. Ignore these pioneering risk-takers, and say goodbye to social channels of conversion.

4. Target influencers
most popular klout topics

Startup Example: Sprout It

Strategy Adopted: Connecting with Middle Influencers

Aside from treating your biggest fans well, it’s beneficial to gain fans with dedicated followings themselves. Here, your strategy centers on finding the most popular topics, the influencers on those issues, and what content they’re engaging with. Then, you can tactfully insert yourself into the conversation.

You can install a simple Chrome plugin to see Klout influence scores on Twitter user profiles, but you’re going to want some sort of social media analytics service to provide more meaningful, layered information.

On your hunt for influencers, focus on “middle-influencers” relevant to your target audience. Even if you got Justin Bieber to tweet about your new software solution for Android, a negligible portion of his followers are software developers; the potential reach from 47 million pairs of eyeballs will be wasted, and you’ll find yourself either in the wrong conversation or entirely unheard. Connecting with @AndroidDev or @TalkAndroid and the active, passionate members of your ideal audience will serve your needs infinitely better.

Case in point: the little gardening app upstart Sprout It shows up on multiple lists of top influencer marketing campaigns for 2013 for its Backyard Takeover competition. With a grand prize valued at less than $2,500, this effort was pure efficiency. Sprout It connected with the most influential of its ideal customers, and organic sharing took the message to its broader target audience.

5. Competitor analysis

Startup Example: Upworthy

Strategy Adopted: Social Content Optimisation

Your initial survey of your startup’s audience and industry undoubtedly highlighted some of your competition. Whether or not products and solutions are directly analogous to yours, you can learn valuable lessons from your competition. They will have undergone some of the same research and strategizing you’re investing in, and you might as well benefit from their legwork.

You don’t want to simply copy any particular strategy, but you can benefit from knowing the networks and types of content/messages already engaging your desired audience.

Less than two years old, Upworthy takes competitor analysis to heart. Its social-internet veteran founders started the company explicitly to compete with mindless, saccharine drivel for share-of-voice on the Internet. Taking the formula that makes cat videos and bratty grade-schoolers viral gold, Upworthy matches snappy (sticky) headlines with engaging descriptions just leading enough to inspire a click on its visual/video content.

I could recommend that you watch an anti-trafficking video, or tell you that when I figured out what this girl was doing, I felt sick to my stomach. Which one are you clicking?

Always remember

Even as you direct resources to forming and executing a social media strategy for your startup, you’re investing in your business plan at-large. The startups mentioned here didn’t have success alongside their activity on social media – the two elements were inextricably related.

Your business’ success depends on a similar feedback loop. The audience, influencer and competitor research inherent to your social media strategy also benefit other aspects of your marketing and positioning efforts.

Understanding your product and promoting it effectively are by no means new ideas, but they are now decidedly social endeavors. A coherent social media strategy helps ensure product launches and other milestones are noticed and spread with excitement. Avoid uncertain murmurs or – worse – silence surrounding your startup.

Image credit: Sergey Peterman/Shutterstock

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.