Social Comms For Start-Ups — The Myths And Realities

This is a guest post by Lloyd Gofton, managing Director or Liberate Media.

Engaging with your target audience through social media is one of those actions often pushed to the bottom of the pile for start-ups, or even worse, it is assumed that social communications will be covered by the knowledge of existing team members. Unfortunately that rarely turns out to be the case.

If you haven’t developed a plan for social, you may be leaving the communication of your product, conversations with your customers/potential customers, and potential investors, to chance.

Let’s start by clearing up a few misconceptions about what social communications are. Brand communications in a social environment should be focused on customer need. This need is not motivated by being a fan or friend of your organisation but by deriving value from the customer’s engagement with the organisation.

Before you decide that you don’t have time, perhaps ask yourself what you are making time for. The Harvard Business Review Analytics Services survey of 2,100 organisations recently discovered (PDF) that 79% are currently using social media channels. They also asked them what they saw as the benefits of social media. Here are the top five results:

The major benefits of Social Media
1. Increased awareness of the organisation
2. Increased traffic to website
3. Greater favourable perceptions of the brand
4. Able to monitor conversations about the organisation
5. Increase in new business

So assuming you’re ready to invest some time, what are the options for start-ups? In an ideal world the social campaign would be run by an individual or group of individuals in the organisation that has passion for the product, knowledge of the theories of social communication, and experience of the social tools that will be relevant to your business.

Given an ideal world does not exist for Start-Ups, focus on identifying the person or team that has the passion for your product, and ultimately the person that is willing to listen and talk to your community. They can very quickly build the other skills required.

Remember, social communications means engaging person-to-person. It’s not about the technology; it’s about the person using it and the conversation. So as a Start-Up your team’s closeness to the product should give you an advantage.

The learning and planning element is where you should consider applying budget. Training on the theory and practicality of the social web will be a short-term cost for a longer-term gain. It’s very important at this early stage to learn from many case study examples of success and failure because if/when something goes wrong, blaming a member of the team is not a plausible excuse.

As a rule of thumb, you need to allocate resource relevant to your digital footprint and potential customer base. Consider:

• a training budget to get your people up to speed
• developing a communications plan with the help of someone with experience
• developing social guidelines, which should cover who communicates on your behalf, how they communicate, the tone and objectives. This doesn’t need to be a long document; one page is more than enough.

Here are a few examples.

You will also need to consider the tools that will help you to communicate – not just social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, Pinterest but also the social media monitoring tools that will allow you to identify your community and connection points as well as track conversations within the community.

These social media tools come in a range of shapes and sizes; some cover a wide range of elements, others a small part; some are paid for and others are free. You are likely to need to use a paid platform such as Radian6, Brandwatch, Engage Sciences and UberVU mixed in with other free or low-cost tools to get a full picture.

When you have these elements in place, you need to start building your campaign. As with any area of social media, or any conversation, the best place to start is by listening. Start-ups should only engage and add value when they have listened to and understood the problems, challenges and issues that customers and the wider community are experiencing.

When you have the platform, processes and people in place to listen, you need to feed this infrastructure with actionable data such as what your community is saying and how this helps you. This is the fuel that drives the social campaign and the quality of the data fuel will relate directly to the effectiveness of the social communications process.

Engagement should be relevant and useful, and not always in the form of a simple text-based response. Content can be used to engage and convey a key part of your offering. So don’t just think of engagement as a response. Think of it as an opportunity to build a conversation.

In summary, these are the key points that Start-Ups should take into consideration when thinking about a social communications plan:

• Don’t assume it is being taken care of or leave it in the hands of the uninitiated – you will regret it. • Select the best individual on the grounds of product passion and social skills and get them trained and give them a reasonable budget
• Bring in the right tools to streamline the job at hand and develop social guidelines. Share these across the company, as others may be communicating about or behalf of the company as well
• Get involved, experiment and don’t be afraid to make mistakes that you will learn from. Measure your objectives, define calls to action and evolve your campaign based on the outcomes.