A Twitter Hashtag Won't Cost Much, But It's Worth Its Weight in Goal. 3 Keys to an Effective Social Media Presence You and your company can get 'social' even without a full-fledged marketing budget.
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Your startup might be lurching along without much capital, but that doesn't mean you can drop off the grid. Your business needs social media, and, fortunately, you don't have to drain your account to get a big boost from today's hottest platforms. You just have to be strategic without becoming too stingy.
A joint study by Smart Insights and Clutch echoed this reality,quantifying the value of various social media platforms across organizations: 58 percent of B2C companies and 46 percent of B2B companies surveyed considered social media a worthwhile investment in time and money. But, with the number of people active on social media predicted to grow from 2 billion to 2.5 billion in 2018, those percentages are also likely to rise.
From edging out competitors to building loyalists to wooing investors, social media is an increasingly essential component of doing business today. And for an entrepreneur with a shoestring budget, all it takes to navigate this social realm is wholehearted dedication, a strong company culture and a desire to connect to your audience in a genuine way. Here's how:
Mapping out a cheap -- but killer -- social media campaign
Social media is meant to be a more cost-effective way to gain publicity for any new product or service. This benefit is especially potent for startups because of how often they operate with a very limited or nonexistent marketing budget.
Moreover, a social media presence doesn't require outside help (though outside help certainly doesn't hurt if you can afford it!). Even founders who are busy can add a social media plan to their "to-do" lists by understanding how and why they're using it. Or, they can designate other team members as their "social guru team" to manage their channels and their communications, so long as there's a social media policy guideline to follow. Having at least two people on this team with the requisite credentials can help ensure that your company's efforts are coordinated and outreach is backed up by collaboration.
That said, building a social media presence is no different than integrating any new program or system into your business. The effort takes proper planning, particularly with regard to figuring out which social channels are likely to give your company the most bang for its buck.
Entrepreneurs who are initially unsure where to focus their efforts can look to their competitors for guidance. Those businesses and leaders have already done their research, so follow their lead, understanding that their audience is your audience; and hone your strategies by utilizing the best plaforms for your bottom line.
Next? It's your time to go live, but keep in mind these three strategies as you do:
1. Always keep your end goal in mind -- regardless of platform or situation. Be sure to coordinate internally to create a voice and content style that accurately represents your organization and aligns with your other marketing materials. Will you communicate through a formal tone or informal one? Will you create videos to showcase employees or customers? Use unique photos or purchase stock images to drive links?
Spending time outlining your preferred social media interactions and how you envision your company on your chosen platforms can help you maintain your overall goals, even if the objectives shift across the various social platforms. While Facebook is the most-used social site -- 79 percent of U.S. internet users log on, according to Pew Research Center -- it may not be your preferred platform if your company is more B2B-oriented. At the same time, you should be certain that you have the manpower to achieve your vision.
For instance, if you want your Twitter account to serve as a customer service arm, you'll need an employee to monitor that account and react to concerns humanely and in real time. You can use United Airline's 2017 passenger-dragging fiasco as a guide on "What not to do in a crisis situation." Specifically, appearing to be (or being) tone-deaf to a public-relations disaster is the quickest way to lose in the social media game.
2. Engage in actual conversations with your audience. How many nameless, faceless corporations can social media take? If you're simply posting, knock it off and start engaging. Reply and comment to build a community. Otherwise, you'll be viewed as senseless chatter or too robotic.
Take Cisco's creative @WeAreCisco drives, for example. Cisco uses its own employees and their journeys to connect with up-and-coming talent from colleges and even high schools. The company went as far as to pilot a #WeAreCisco hashtag program on Snapchat that's run by Kitten Rainbow Unicorns, a special team devoted to evangelizing Cisco's messages.
Still, keep in mind that the more often you plan to post, the more it will cost, even if you cover everything in-house. After all, time is money, and while consistency is essential to ensure you retain followers' interests, it's much more important to predetermine and then stick to a degree and manner of posting that you can teach your audience to expect. Are you going to be the company offering daily informational updates, weekly announcements or just those occasional quirky tidbits?
3. Never stop evolving, which also means acknowledging when you mess up. Eventually, you may find that your social presence has become a bit rote and complacent. But, as your organization evolves, your social media presence must, too.
Merrill Lynch is a great example of this evolution. The company added GIFs, infographics, real-time newsworthy remarks, polls, and more to its Twitter account, making @MerrillLynch a coveted handle and a company that isn't afraid to push boundaries in an industry tnot known for its quickness to change.
Being willing to evolve, though, inevitably means embracing proactivity and social spontaneity. While this spontaneity may sometimes be right on the money, sometimes it won't be. Thus, if and when you take a wrong step, admit your mistakes and rectify that wrong (however impactful it is) by being human. When McDonald's messed up a Black Friday tweet by not having any content, for instance, the brand roasted itself quickly, even though it knew it would be mocked by competitors, especially Wendy's, with its own snarky Twitter persona.
Overall, entrepreneurs have a lot to balance and often little to work with. But negating social media simply because you don't have the marketing budget that can support a full-fledged program isn't a good strategy. Social media is, by its nature, cost-effective, and entrepreneurs who prioritize their organizations' end goals, act socially and evolve their companies' presence while remaining human, can capitalize on these platforms without breaking their budgets. So, get started posting, because #IfNotNowThenWhen?