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This article was published on June 12, 2011

Do startups need to hire social media experts?

Do startups need to hire social media experts?

Social networking has completely changed how brands interact with people. In this day and age, media is not only consumed by the masses, but is produced by them as well.

Yes, this won’t be anything you haven’t heard before; all of this is probably in the back of your head, possibly forgotten, or simply undervalued.

I’m not going to talk about why startups should utilize social media and all that other basic stuff. Instead, I’ll focus more on the bottom line aspect of finding out what their purposes and agendas for using social media are, which is a prerequisite before even thinking of hiring a “social media expert.”

First and foremost, let me tell you that the product is still the number one priority. If you’re going to market a bad product that hides behind a smokescreen of flowery words and flashy ads, it might sell for a while until people start to experience how crappy it is. One thing to keep in mind is that other startups are using social media as well so if you screw your shot, chances are people will just move on and talk about the next big thing.

Peter Shankman recently wrote a very interesting article titled “Why I Will Never, Ever Hire A “Social Media Expert,” and I have to say a lot of his points are agreeable.

This definitive statement pretty much sums it all up:

It’s about generating revenue through solid marketing and stellar customer service, just like it’s been since the beginning of time.

What is your agenda and your purpose?

Let us begin by defining these two terms. Firstly agenda, which is the end result you want to create for yourself; then purpose, which is how you want your customers to experience you.

Given Shankman’s statement, startups using social media have to stick to one agenda and one only: making money. Twitter followers, Facebook likes – they’re all well and good, but unless you’re able to convert them into cash in the end, it becomes pointless. They are simply opportunities to connect and engage with people – a medium to get a message across.

Tammy Fennell, CEO of social media marketing dashboard MarketMeSuite shares:

Social media is more than just a facet of a business, it’s part of the whole “customer relations” package. People need to have an organized strategy for social media, and definitely tools to help them implement this strategy, but they must never let it be disjointed from the main marketing strategy of the business. I’m all for the “holistic” approach to marketing and branding.

When it comes to purpose, it’s all about delivering customer satisfaction – it’s that simple. All efforts to interact with customers boils down to delivering an experience that will make them want to use your product, and have your brand name on top of their minds as something that provides a benefit.

If you decide to outsource a social media expert, it is critically important that they are aligned with YOUR agenda and purpose in mind, not anyone else’s. You can set KPIs that can more or less quantify your company’s social media presence (followers, likes, mentions, Klout scores) but unless it yields conversions, take it with a grain of salt.

Who will establish a relationship with the customers?

Having the perfect end goal in mind, there’s only one thing to remember with any social media strategy: establish a connection with your customers. Get to know how you could improve your product and serve them better, but never resort to deception.

Rather than simply counting customers as a +1 to your fan or follower count that can easily be gained or lost, treat them like an asset. Every connection is an opportunity to sell and if you’re just too focused on increasing the numbers, then you’re not concentrating on your agenda and purpose.

Here’s the bottom line as Shankman puts it: “Customers will run away in droves, because they can. They can go wherever they want now – it doesn’t matter how loyal they were in the past. Lie to them and get caught, and say goodbye.”

Tip: taking care of customers is a lot easier than winning them back.

Trust is something that cannot be quantified in terms of money but it’s probably the most valuable currency when it comes to the most effective marketing tool there is: personal recommendation via word of mouth. Here’s the thing about trust though – it’s hard to earn but easy to lose.

Like any other relationship, a startup’s relationship with its customers takes time. Do you have the time to answer queries, create informative blog posts, ask questions – and everything else needed to gain that trust? Are you really willing to entrust your relationship with your very first customers to a third-party?

Is your current strategy creating results?

One of the worst mistakes that startups can make is to automate everything. Automating in itself is not a bad thing, if it creates results, why not? It only becomes bad when they start thinking that it’s the only way to go when using social media to advertise.

Einstein described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and the same applies to social media strategies – and spam didn’t even exist back in his day. When something doesn’t work, just stop and try doing it differently.

If you’re getting more fans/followers but are not getting the results you want, try another method. Don’t settle for a mass-produced social media strategy.

Can you automate certain actions? Sure! But you always have to make sure that you are out there in the trenches engaging as a real person, with real people.

Hiring a social media expert won’t make your problems magically disappear, it just gets passed on to someone else. Actually, rather than thinking of it as a problem, you’re simply depriving yourself of the opportunity to learn, which I think has so much value when trying to understand customers better.

Is it worth your money?

On hiring a “social media expert,” it really depends on how well a startup has established itself. If you are just trying to figure things out and are likely to pivot, then it might not work out so well.

Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, shares that his partner Joel Gascoigne taught him how integral Social Media is for a startup.

You should try not to put it aside and assign it to one person. Keeping everyone in your team in touch with your users changes how you look at your own product and how you move forward. So, our strategy is, that no matter if you are a developer, designer or community manager, everyone gets involved and helps out on the Twitter account or blog.

Engaging with social media could end up being very time-consuming, especially if you’ve want to get exposure, but it’s all part of the process. If you’re still “too busy” developing the product, maybe it’s best to focus on that first before entering social media in the first place.

Unless your startup already has well-defined roles, a clear-cut outline on how to proceed with execution, and of course the budget, you should stay away from the idea of hiring in for social media.

While it’s not entirely a bad idea, it might wiser for startups to perfect their product and focus on delivering the best user experience given the budget, before spending on marketing – even more so on hiring a “social media expert.”