Six questions startups should ask before entering the social media rabbit hole
I recently met a Bristol business owner overwhelmed by the number of social media channels their firm uses to communicate.
“Too many small firms believe they must use every social platform out there to be visible”
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, plus the company’s website, were all actively churning out content, but the net effect wasn’t exciting, and more importantly, wasn’t doing what it was meant to – letting prospects know this dynamic, competent, thinking, company could take on any project thrown at them.
Too many small firms believe they must use every social platform out there to be visible, when the reality is they should use those that best suit their goals and employees’ skills set. I’ve seen companies with a good Twitter presence replicate Tweets word for word on Instagram or Facebook (BTW it doesn’t work) because they think all social platforms are the same. I’ve also seen companies get on Twitter because they think they should, or firms bringing in a myriad of freelancers to work on separate channels, with little or no central coordination, or strategy.
After a few months slogging the content across cyberspace, social media becomes a chore, too time-intensive, and more than a little dull.
Knowing what resources to put where strategically is always going to be tough, but there are some key questions start-ups should ask themselves before disappearing down the social media rabbit hole.
1. What do I want to achieve?
It is critical to get your head around what exactly the point of communicating socially really is. Most companies are busy with the day-to-day business of turning a profit on great products or services. If you want to stray beyond the website as a communication tool, it’s a good idea to understand what you want to get out of it first.
For example, are there rival firms you feel you need to keep up with, do you want to win more business locally, regionally or nationally, or is it about networking and making business connections? Or is it about supporting product sales? This will dictate which social channels you choose and which communities you engage with.
2. Who is my audience?
A tricky one this, because what you think is your slam dunk audience (potential customers) might not actually be the priority if you want to create a name for your company as a game-changer inside your industry. I once sat with an MD who, after an hour, had whittled down his four social media channels down to just one, LinkedIn. The relief was palpable.
3. How much time has the team got realistically?
Most startups face a cliff face of pain trying to get and retain customers during the first five years. If your team is flat out delivering, is it really feasible to ask them to create blogs, craft Tweets and respond to Facebook posts, on top of the day job? If this is something you feel really must happen in house, then incentivising social media activity can be a way forward. However, it will not encourage everybody to perform, and the work still has to be meaningfully and strategically directed.
Companies with a highly numeric, technically-minded, workforce can also find it difficult to nurture in-house writers, with the upshot that one or two people end up doing it all, which can feel oppressive for those tasked with turning out sparkling copy week after week. Consider getting in an experienced writer to provide workshops or to take on the bulk of the work, if you really want to pursue this option long-term.
4. What does progress look like?
Because of the time investment, it’s critical the company sets social media goals that translate into tangible targets, and that these are reviewed on a quarterly, if not monthly basis. Some platforms will be quicker to take off than others. For example, Twitter can take around three months to see any real difference in Follower numbers, and any long-term Twitter strategy should first look to build up a strong following, which can take up to a year if curated organically.
5. What does the every-day look like?
Every Tweet or post should have a strategic purpose, that relates back to a common-sense strategy, and have well-thought-through topics, with appropriate hashtags or links to get you noticed by key communities.
Tweets/posts should be planned (i.e written down, in the way they will appear, with links and images already sourced) on a weekly basis to capitalise on news and trends, and should be signed off by somebody that has responsibility for, i.e who cares about, the company’s brand. Incredibly basic, but you would be surprised by the number of companies that don’t do this… and then wonder why they run out of things to say.
6. How do we want to come across?
Some companies have lots to say, but too many writers saying it – that’s where a good tone of voice and content guide can help steer employees away from the banal, and the utterly unsayable. Having a good balance between entertaining/informative/serious content is a good goal, as is keeping away from politics (unless that is your business) plus embarrassing posts drafted during a team night out.
Creating solid social media strategies involves hard-thinking and is not unlike a business plan, in that it needs to be smart, realistic, and possible. But, above all else, it needs to be interesting. If your social feeds don’t reflect the unique kind of company you are, and its aspirations, winning friends and influencing people will remain an uphill struggle.