December 14, 2009

Social media & startups: It’s a different ballgame

The social media disclaimer start-ups should know

socialmediaposttagcloudJoanna LordI get asked a lot: “How do I make money off social media?” Uhmm, well, you use the magic wand of online web awesomeness, obviously. Or maybe not. We have all read a million articles pointing us toward tools we should be using, things we should be considering, and the best practices we shouldn’t ignore. We get it: Social media is valuable. I think by now we all understand the importance of social media as a visibility engine and viral message maker. It can be used to enable conversations, announce information, put out fires, and so on.

It can do a lot. But it has limits. Ohhh buzz kill.

The reality of a start-up culture

Having lived in both Los Angeles and now Seattle, I have been surrounded with start-ups. In fact, it was a huge push for my location decisions in general. Start-ups face unique challenges, especially right now. No surprise there.

Start-ups also have a ton of options. They really are entering with a clean slate most of the time and, often, a huge number of resources. They have investors, boards, friends, family, old colleagues, old networks, etc., all pushing for them and offering a helping hand. So when it comes to deciding where they want to invest their energy and call in those favors, it can get tricky.

Becoming overly invested in so many different places (i.e., partnerships, communities, commitments, etc.) can be detrimental to the growth of a start up. From experience I can say that I have seen start-ups jump on this lovely, brightly-colored social media bandwagon and regret the time they lost in doing so. A lot of the experienced consultants out there would say it all comes down to the approach you take, and I agree to a degree. I think start-ups should see social media in a different light than larger companies or established corporations.

Bigger company = more resources

Larger companies can afford to test longer, they can drop more resources into gaining insight into which communities would be best to infiltrate and how much time they invest in those conversations. In a sense, larger companies can afford to be less lean. It’s not a great approach, but as we all navigate this fairly young space, it is a practical one. Larger companies can take a blogger or content editor and ask them to dance in the social media space a bit before deciding to hire a full-time strategist. They can also take the time to interview a few agencies and see what they offer and at what price. The process can take longer but with that it can eventually reap some serious rewards if implemented correctly.

Start-ups have very few resources available that are expendable, especially when it comes to tech resources and the number of hours in a day. Start-ups should look at social media and not just jump in asking “how can it help us?” but instead ask, “do I need it right now?” I think sometimes start-ups can be blinded by the latest hot thing and forget to prioritize as needed.

For example, let’s say a start-up gets their blog up and running. What would be more beneficial: to jump on a number of sites, build out profiles, and start engaging, or get some quality content created first?  Exactly. You need the content first to drive them back to. Similarly, let’s say you persuade your CEO to get on a few of these sites and start engaging. Should his/her first goal be to pimp out your brand and services via social media, or should he focus on making sure your company is well represented on the Web? What are your organic listings for the company? Have you signed up with sites like KnowEm and collected all of your real estate out there?

My point is, when it comes to start-ups, don’t jump the gun with every new option out there. Too often the excitement of a new initiative’s potential can drive us off track. Instead, it’s important to really lay down a concrete foundation for a start-up’s brand, public face, and network. Only after you start seeing organic success from these efforts would I ever suggest putting in tech time, brainstorming time, and PR time into a social media plan.

Returning to center in 2010

I think we will see a lot more of this “return-to-center” when it comes to social media marketing in 2010. Now that the flashiness is wearing off and we all agree it’s a tool that is here to stay, I think companies will demonstrate more restraint in its use. At least I hope so. In the ongoing debate of “does social media fit every company?,” I fall on the side of yes, but I fall there with a disclaimer. I believe that at certain times, when used in certain ways, it can be very effective. In my opinion, start-ups particularly should take note of that disclaimer.

What do you guys think? With social media as a free resource should it find its way into a start-ups bag of tricks? Or do you think with it still being somewhat difficult to keep up with and quantify, should it be something they tackle later in the process of growth? I’d love to hear where you come down on this.Joanna Lord is a social marketing consultant and founder of YourJobStop, the job resources board. See her business profile, contact Joanna or leave a comment below.

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  • Excellent Post, Joanna.

    I hope Seattle is treating you well. I believe that Start-Ups, in particular need to embrace social media as it is a free resource and relatively easy to measure ROI. There are many low-cost tools available to monitor conversations in the social media sphere. I look at conversations going on in social media as a no cost or low cost way to interact with someone that is either like-minded or looking for products/services that you specialize in. There is an opportunity cost associated with NOT interacting with certain social media conversations. If marketers do not react or join relevant conversations in social media, then their prospects will react, add value as a trusted advisor and potentially gain a new customer at some point in the future.

    My $.02.

    Best,

    RB

  • I too believe start-ups should embrace social media because it's free, but that shouldn't be the only reason. They should have already come up with one or more really good reasons to jump in and then, with any other marketing medium, do their due diligence before jumping in. Are their customers/target audience using social media and, if so, where are they? How will they use each social media medium (Twitter, Facebook, blog, etc.) to best reach and engage those folks? And yes, I definitely agree with you that content must come first – people aren't going to flock to follow or fan a company if they don't have something valuable to bring to the conversation.

    I was just with a start-up that uses social media, and we put together a lengthy plan beforehand outlining our goals, what channels we would use and how, and how ROI would be measured. I can definitely say from experience that it's worth the time and effort putting together such a plan if you want to see real and positive results.

  • I too believe start-ups should embrace social media because it's free, but that shouldn't be the only reason. They should have already come up with one or more really good reasons to jump in and then, with any other marketing medium, do their due diligence before jumping in. Are their customers/target audience using social media and, if so, where are they? How will they use each social media medium (Twitter, Facebook, blog, etc.) to best reach and engage those folks? And yes, I definitely agree with you that content must come first – people aren't going to flock to follow or fan a company if they don't have something valuable to bring to the conversation.

    I was just with a start-up that uses social media, and we put together a lengthy plan beforehand outlining our goals, what channels we would use and how, and how ROI would be measured. I can definitely say from experience that it's worth the time and effort putting together such a plan if you want to see real and positive results.