Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Social media and startup companies

Yes social media is cool, it is effective and a great means to engage customers and drive sales. However, it sure requires dedicated resources and manpower. Is it feasible for a startup company with minimum resources? So, it made me wander into the internet to find a convincing answer to this question.

The first article I read was by Ken Yeung (2009) on "Helping Startups Understand Promotion & Survival Using Social Media". One interesting mention was of Clara Shih (author of The Facebook Era)'s insight into changes in promotional activities with the introduction of Web2.0. In the early telephone promotion years, interaction between a business and clients was on a 1:1 basis. With Web1.0, i.e. static websites, the paradigm shifted to 1:Many and with the development of Web2.0, the interaction of business:customer has become Many:Many. Another reinforcing statement extracted from this article was that "you don’t have to work with big agencies to promote your brand ... it’s all about networking, going to events, showing the benefits of your product in the ecosystem through partnering with influencers and others".

Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Analyst) points out three things that startups need to follow to succeed in incorporating social media into their marketing strategies:

1. "Be specific in what problem you’re solving"
2. "Crowdsource your support"
3. "Be a part of the dialogue happening online"

According to blogger Jeremy Toeman, for startups to reach out to big bloggers like TechCrunch or Mashable, building trust by engaging with comments and conversations with them is vital. The unanimous outcome of this meeting was that "(product) positioning is more important than exclusivity when dealing with bloggers". The bottom line for startups - "Define a specific problem" and build a customer experience in the first 30 seconds of customers first trying out the product.

Now that said and done, I came across a blog by Joanna Lord, which was pretty much in the same lines I was having my thoughts directed. She talks about the less resources, pressure from friends, boards and investors and the apprehension of over-investment. It is fundamental that she pointed out the fact that social media adoption is experimental and adopted by many big companies in a trial by error fashion - expending time and resources till a match is hit which is capable of generating enough returns. This method is almost an impossible dream for startups.

Furthermore, she rightly mentions that startups first need to have content where the "attracted" customers can get back to, and that "it is important to really lay down a concrete foundation for a start-up’s brand, pub­lic face, and network"; only after successfully materialising these efforts should startups devote resources into developing and executing a social media plan.

However, few interesting comments gave me convincing answers to the question I raised in the first place -  startups in particular should use social media as it is freely available and the ROI is relatively easy to measure. 
However, there should be more reason to using social media than just because its free. Investigation about the target audience - if they use social media and which platform (Facebook, Twitter, etc) ?

The conclusion i draw from this discussion is that content is important to lock the fans and followers, but with a suitably devised social media plan and a well-defined way to measure ROI, social media is worth a try for start-ups.

Further curiosity led me to another question if platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be used to launch new products/services by startups! Check out my next post for answers.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Social Media Marketing Isn't just Facebook and Twitter

As rightly written by Heidi Cohen on, social media usage has been rampant, however the returns are not as expected for many of the lot. Twitter and Facebook are not the only channels to social media marketing and it is not free and not something companies can perform in their leisure. It involves much ado and needs dedicated resources if these platforms are to be exploited to advantage.

According to the EngagementDB study, spread and usage of social media channels is not sufficient, but engagement with the customers is important. The dual dimensions of spread of channels and depth of engagement determines the success of social media initiatives and can be related to financial returns. The study reveals direct correlation between depth of engagement and financial returns. In their study, Starbucks, Dell, eBay and Google are among the top brands with high end-user engagement.

On similar grounds, Heidi presents numerous ways to make social media marketing effective or to increase the level of engagement with customers/potential customers to create lead generation.

It is not enough to attract customers' attention using SEO, UGCs and presence on many social platforms. That was the easy part - the next series of steps are to keep them engaged and interested. Heidi suggests inclusion of options like "likes", social sharing, comments, reviews and RSS feeds on product information pages.

Including customer touch-points is also very crucial - arranging FAQs section on websites and dedicated human resources to revert to customer queries are very important: this makes it clear that efficient social media marketing does not come free and involves resources. It is important to keep interacting with interested prospects as purchasing process is long and you want to be on the top of their mind. Tracking of source of sales can also be achieved by using promotional codes.

Above all it is important to make the "story" memorable to be worthy of being remembered ad shared.