When is the right time for start-ups to start social media marketing activity?

Right time to start social media marketing

A dilemma that many start-ups face today is the question “When do we start social media marketing outreach? Do we start before the launch of the product or after we are completely ready with our products and service offerings? To answer the question let us consider the analogy of a brick and mortar store. Every entrepreneur knows that in business it is all about location, location and location! Now, if you were to open a store in a mall’s forefront, you might get a modest footfall right on day one. On the other hand, it would be difficult to draw huge customers footfall on day one to a shop located in a corner or for that matter in a small alley on the street.

Similarly, in the virtual world Google can be considered a mall where everyone is trying to get onto the front page results of Google. With hundreds of thousands of websites getting launched each day it isn’t easy and only gets harder. The purpose of social media activities like blogging, developing a community on Facebook, engaging on other social networks is to develop word of mouth reach and visibility: not direct sales or leads as if often presumed. It’s a very organic process which takes a considerable amount of time to drive more awareness, more people talking about you or spreading the word about who you are or what you offer. It’s a brand building exercise, not a sales drive.

That said, for your brick and mortar store would you wait till it has completely opened doors or would you start telling your friends and relatives before that? If you don’t spread the word beforehand and build some excitement for the day you open, who will come to that grand opening and the days that follow? A similar concept applies to start-ups and social media campaigns for outreach. Ideally, you want to get the word out and start building some excitement before you launch so there is some traction as soon as you do go live. At the same time, you may want to hold off on activities like advertising, pay per click campaigns or going all out since you don’t want to spend on these activities until you are actually live. These are sales oriented activities, not brand building or visibility development.

An ideal time to start with social media outreach activities and building initial buzz would be a few (2-3) months in advance to the planned launch of your website/product. Too early and you may end up creating customers with nothing to sell. Too late and you could have a store open with no one that knows about it and a long road ahead to start building that awareness which is slow process in its initial days. Depending on the nature of your start-up, we would say start your outreach and community building activity just ahead of your launch so that you have had enough time to build a little rhythm with those activities so when you do launch, you’re not starting from scratch but looking to move your marketing activities to the next gear.

The Greatest Things Happen When People Meet Other People

toast

I’ve had some incredible things happen in life and I’m sure you have too. If you look into the circumstances of these great things happen you will notice a trend. “They happened when you put yourself out there and met other people”.  You will also notice the more you put yourself out there, the more people you meet, the more paths that get crossed, the more these great things happen.

The greatest things happen when people meet or cross paths with other people. People discover something new, learn, make friends, fall in love, come across opportunities, find their careers, become more prosperous, have children and a whole lot more. And it all happens while connecting with people.

If I didn’t put my resume out there all those years ago and go out to meet companies looking for a job, I wouldn’t have landed my first job and gained the experiences I did. If I didn’t actively meet people, I wouldn’t have closed my first client for Buzzfactory back when we started and wouldn’t have a company. We could go on but I’m convinced you have to put your self out there and meet / connect with people for good things to happen in life or professionally and only wished I knew this earlier because the number of people you connect with has a direct bearing on how many opportunities come your way. Isn’t this what being social is all about?

Social people are more likely to come across more opportunities than those that avoid contact with other people. Those who more people know about and talk about are more likely to land more opportunities than those that fly under the radar. Sit in a room, close the door and live there…not much going to happen for you. Get out, connect, meet people, discuss, talk, publish, share and all of a sudden there are developments happening and more good things coming your way.

When people ask us what’s the value of doing all this blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn, communities and all this ‘social stuff’ you guys do?. The answer lies in the fact all that “The greatest things can happen when people meet, cross paths or connect with other people“. That’s precisely what we work hard towards doing for our clients…meeting, crossing paths or connecting with more people so great things can happen for them.

 

What We Learned About Instant Social Media Success

traffic-spikeIt’s amazing how many “instant” success services you can buy online when it comes to social media success or online marketing. After spending hours each day for several years painstakingly executing on different activities, creating content and managing online campaigns “the slow way”, it’s always fascinating to me when I come across offers online that read:

“10,000 Twitter followers delivered to your account in 24 hours” – $10

“20,000 Facebook fans to your page in 5 days” – $15

“15,000 visitors to your website instantly!”

“Get 30 high PR links to your website”

& more…

The Instant Social Media Success Experiment

instant social media successSo we decided to run a little test to see

1) Can people actually deliver this? &

2) How well does it work?

We actually went ahead and purchased these likes, fans, views and links for some test accounts, paid for the “orders”, sat back and waited for things to start happening. Soon enough, our first question would be answered. Can people actually deliver this? – The answer is YES!

Instant Twitter Followers

The Twitter followers started coming in the hundreds every minute. With every refresh of the the page, the followers would shoot up and within an hour or so, there were tens of thousands of Twitter followers. I’ve been on Twitter several years and this has never happened to my account. It was astounding!

But then…

We checked a few profiles and noticed they all look real. Real bios, interests, a hand full of people they are following but not a single tweet. Once we checked another 100 or so followers, it was very evident these were all all fake profiles. Designed to look real to those who check a follower or two but they are fake accounts through which no one was really tweeting. That also meant we would never get retweeted, no one would like or share anything from our account if we did tweet through it and the real value of having all those fake followers? – Not much! In fact, things did get more interesting. Over the next week the followers in that account dropped by a few thousand. Then a few thousand more followers disappeared and finally in a few weeks, they were all gone. This was Twitter removing “fake accounts” and “inactive accounts”. It was just $5 but it’s clear you get what you pay for with instant Twitter followers at least.

Instant Facebook Fans

Facebook fans are not the easiest to earn so when we heard you can buy tens of thousands of them for a few bucks, we were thrilled to try it and see if this was true. Even with Facebook ads, a like comes at a price which isn’t a steal and here someone claims you can get thousands for a virtually nothing. was it possible? Yes! The likes kept coming in as we watched the test page’s like count start ticking and before we knew it, we had a page with about 10,000 Facebook likes.

But then…

We checked some of the profiles. At first glance they seemed like real people, with real profile pictures, complete bios, an active wall and even had pictures of their family and pets on their timeline. However, the more you see, the more you start noticing similarities between people that just can not be co-incidence! It was starting to look like we had a page full of …fake profiles or people that didn’t care about being a fan on the page. We then started posting updates and it was no surprise any more….there were no reactions. No likes, no comments, no shares…nothing. It was pointless.

Instant Website Traffic

This could have been a real jewel if it would actually work since getting organic traffic to any website is one of the biggest challenges around. 15,000 visitors for a few dollars would be incredible. True to their word, they did deliver 15,000 visitors to the website and a 1000 more just for good measure. It was quite exciting to look at our Google Analytics statistics with a huge spike on the page.

But then…

Looking further at the analytics it got a bit hazy because the average time spent on the site by each visitor was very tiny and exactly the same. Co-incidence? I don’t think so. Also the visitors didn’t show up as search traffic, they were not referral visitors coming to our page from some other site…they showed as direct visitors. 15,000 of them all in one day. These didn’t behave like real people, because they were not real people. The result of this was the bounce rate went up, time spent on site dropped drastically. It was a disaster!

Conclusion & Learnings

The links had a similar story and were simply comments placed on some random sites that have no relation to the site being linked to and would have no value in improving search. In fact, they could even harm the page rank and damage one’s chances of doing well in searches. We learned that “technically” most of these service providers to deliver what they say they will deliver. They can actually get you instant likes, fans, hits, links, YouTube views, app downloads and anything else you can possibly want that can be translated into social media success. However we also learned they don’t work. These shortcuts and instantly delivered results to your social media channels offer no real value, no real engagement and really… no real success in achieving any objectives except a spike in numbers. It was alright for an experiment just to see how this is done but was a complete waste of time and money even if was a small amount of both. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is and this is exactly what we took away from this little test. We learned content, conversation, regular publishing and real engagement with a focus on execution is still the best route to social media success. Even if it is the slower route!

 

Spend On Buying Ad Spaces Or Invest In Building Your Own Digital Assets

online publicationMarketing is the lifeblood for growth. If you need to grow, you need to reach out to more prospective customers and the quickest way to do this is advertising.

Identify your target audience

Identify where you can find these people

Get in front of them by purchasing their attention in the form of an advertisement

On offline media you search for spaces for print ads, magazines, television, hoardings wherever the right audiences gather and online it’s much the same with display advertisements, search marketing, banner space purchases and more. You find the right space that reaches the right audiences and you pay for it. The next month, you find the right space, that reaches the right audiences and you pay for it…again!

Marketing spend is a perpetual ongoing kind of spend that continues as long as you need to reach communities that others have built. 

The key words here being – that others have built. 

Since you don’t own the community and the media / property (whether it’s a magazine, website, billboard) where these audiences gather, you have to keep paying as long as you want to reach out to them. One of the biggest game changers, social media, blogging, web content and online publishing have brought about is giving nearly anybody the opportunity to “build their own communities or digital media properties on the web so that they can own those communities”. With the right expertise, investment in time, resources and determination to deliver great content, you can actually publish and develop your own digital assets, build audiences based on your target areas and eventually keep those audiences rather than have to pay each time you need to reach out to them.

A baking products brand could spend $2500 per month a month renting a 300×300 banner space on a cooking and baking blog that receives 50,000 visitors and approximately 150,000 pageviews each month. The banner could result in some amount of awareness, about 200 clicks and a small percentage of sales that can be attributed to the banner. The next month they would have to shell out another $2500 and the month after to sustain the same results. Alternatively, they could invest in developing a cooking & baking blog of their own. For the first several months, they may have very little traffic and it would take time to even reach the first 1000 visitors. However with time and a consistent daily effort, they could develop a blog which also has 50,000 unique visitors a month and 150,000 pageviews. Another six months later they could have 100,000 visitors and keep increasing their reach. The initial investment may be higher but as time goes, the costs don’t increase but the benefits do since you own that community, all the space around it and it works as a marketing asset to your business. You reap the rewards long after!

With time a lot of businesses have woken up to the fact that building your own online media assets, communities, publications and web properties is a viable option to constantly relying on third party sites to reach your audiences. We’ve actively helped build some of these for our own clients and seen the long term advantages of owning your digital assets as opposed to shelling out marketing budgets month after month renting space on other’s online properties. While media buying and advertising remain the quickest way to seeing results, if you have some time and the will to invest in developing your own web assets, we’d say go for it! There’s no better time to start…than now!

 

Why I Cringe When I Hear The Term SMO or Social Media Optimization

social media optimization

SMO or “Social Media Optimization”

It’s widely used by social media service providers, professionals and often thrown around in conversations like “Hey you should consider social media optimization services for your website if you want traffic or results!”. Personally, I despise the term for the simple reason it implies in some way you can manipulate certain social media channels and “technically” adjust them to your website or brands benefit.

Social Media “Optimization”. I cringe when I hear the word since it seems to suggest a technical way to “optimize” or manipulate social media to your benefit. Clearly this SMO phrase caught on from the term Search Engine Optimization which in itself I have no qualms about. Search engines have been based on algorithms or an arithmetic logic which takes into consideration a number of technical factors. A website CAN technically be “optimized” for search engines by manipulating content, keywords, titles, descriptions and other elements. Ranking well in search engines and driving traffic through adjusting for better ranking results IS all about “optimization”.

Social Media however, is not purely about technical adjustments, manipulating social networks or sites for traffic. It’s not about optimization. It’s about communication, content, conversation, engagement & human interaction. You can use tricks, tools and technical manipulation to increase numbers of Facebook Likes, Traffic Stats, Get Followers, Increase Comments and show numerical increases in metrics (believe me: a number of “professional service providers” do!) but you can’t bank on technical manipulation to deliver real value via social media. THAT is done through “connecting with people”, engaging people, drawing them through the content you publish, interacting with them and bringing out a personality that audiences can identify with.

You can add a Facebook page, YouTube Channel, Twitter account and LinkedIn page for a brand or website but that isn’t going to help if there isn’t a compelling interaction across those channels and a strong enough lure to interest people. Simply creating RSS feeds, bookmarking accounts, accounts on every site doesn’t tap into the long term benefits of people actually connecting with your brand or what you do and as much as the SMO term is marketed as a technical service….it’s really not some purely technical process where someone can be hired to “optimize” your website for social media, leave and you’re all set. It’s a communication and content driven service which is ongoing in nature and focused on “people” and your website or brands interactions with them in the digital world just as you would network, communicate and interact with people in the physical world.

You’re either social. Or you’re not. You can wear a nicer shirt (optimize your appearance) hoping people will like you better but eventually its about your personality, the way you interact with others and what you say that determines how people take to you.

The Dynamics Of Social Media Marketing Change Faster Than Mindsets

Change Is The Only Constant In The Social Web – Embrace It Or Die Trying

Change Or Die - The Dynamics Of The Social WebIt’s unfortunate, but it’s true. If you’re one to keep up with the every changing world of the web and marketing online you’ll probably know what I’m talking about. Social media and digital marketing has made major strides from being a sideline “fad” that some businesses dabbled with 6-8 years ago into a more mainstream focus area for a lot of brands and businesses today that are looking at it more seriously. In India, we’re still considerably in the early stages of leveraging online channels for marketing and despite some really great examples of success stories, the bulk of businesses and professionals have a long way to go on the maturity curve in terms of really understanding how it works to really use these channels correctly.

One of the biggest challenges – expectations & mindsets don’t change at the pace online marketing trends and technology changes at!

About 3 years ago, we managed to build a lot of traffic for an online retail brand and the core of the social media marketing effort was a blog with a highly organized publishing and editorial schedule. Some of the posts we did went viral on Digg, the SEO was effective, there were traffic spikes from StumbleUpon and traffic build up happened in a matter of a few months. 3 years on in 2013, Digg is barely one of the top social media channels, Google has changed it’s algorithm a number of times and virtually none of the strategies that worked back then, work to that effect today!

The introduction of Googles Panda and Penguin updates virtually turned the science of SEO on it’s head ensuring mass link-building tricks,  directory submissions and other short cuts to quick traffic are methods of the past. Not only do they not work, you can actually be punished or blacklisted for over-optimizing or indulging in SEO techniques to quickly boost results. Having a Facebook page with 1000 fans back in the day actually meant anything you posted had a reach of 1000 fans which is no longer true. Facebook has consistently restrained the actual reach of updates on brand or fan pages over the years to encourage paid promotions and it’s currently as low as 8-12%.  That means out of your 1000 fans, only 80-120 will actually see an update on your page and you need to pay Facebook if you’d like to extend that reach. Getting Google+ +1’s never meant anything back then but have an influence on what you do now.

Bottom line – The dynamics of the web and what works in terms of marketing something have changed drastically in a very sort span of time.

More importantly, they continue to change, every month, every week and everyday. What worked a few months ago very well, will not work for you now. However, most people have not or will not accept that fact since mindsets don’t change as quickly. As a result expectations of what should be done, how to go about things and what is realistically possible are badly skewed since they based not on current dynamics but past routes others have used to build their web presence. You often find a marketing head or business owner demand instant search traffic, 100’s of links to their website in a month, 1000’s of Facebook fans organically in days, a high Page Ranking in a matter of weeks and requests for “SEO magic” that web marketing unicorn stories are made of. To them, their demands seem perfectly rational since there are real live cases of so many that have used those methods to deliver returns. They cling on to expectations based on what worked then and not what might work now. These are unfounded expectations which won’t see the light of day like believing a one time search optimization effort will instantly lead to success or publishing a blog or having a Facebook page will instantly have people visiting it or liking their page just because there are a lot of people on the web.

All said and done, just because the dynamics of the web keep changing, it doesn’t mean nothing works either. It simply means one needs to be able to change course with these changes, constantly adapting and ensuring expectations align with times.

Those that are open to experimenting, trying different things and adapt with every passing week will eventually stay on top the ever-changing web.

Fun With Connections – Visualizing Social Media Relationships

In a day and age when everyone wants to be on every other social and networking platform that sprouts, its hard to not have people overlap in different spheres. Its quite possible that your husbands best friend’s girl friend is a childhood friend of your boss who now stays in the same neighborhood as you!

Visualising such information is a tough task, but there are always such commonalities among people you know and there exist bridges between groups of people that you did not know were there.

Just stumbled upon one such interesting tool map which creates a map of your LinkedIn contacts. I was pleasantly surprised to see how the many different people I know come together on a professional networking scene. Friends and contacts from various walks of life come together here and are many times inter related to form interesting connections.

Have some fun with the LinkedIn InMaps and create your own too!

 

Fun with Connection - LinkedIn InMap
Fun with Connection – LinkedIn InMap