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.

Why The Social Media Marketing Hat Is One Size Too Large For Startup Founders

Yes, the startup founder and founding teams are in the best position to handle their social media outreach and online marketing. However, whether they have the time and the bandwidth to do justice to an additional role as social media marketer is another question entirely. Statistics say that Facebook has over 800+ million users, Twitter over 100+ million and LinkedIn over 140+ million members. Question is ..are you a part of these social platforms? If you are (assuming you are not living in the stone
age), then:-

Do you have a consistent daily outreach, content plan and interaction across the social web? Or is it sporadic where you spend half an hour on Twitter one day and the next time you check your Twitter feed, a week has passed by. Or you have 3 blog posts go out one week and the next one follows two months from then?

Let’s say you are a Start-up and have a product or service ready and going. How would you market it? Let’s talk online. You have a website and you want to drive traffic and ultimately have a successful conversion rate. Bottom line is SALES. Social Media has become priority when it comes to marketing, getting the word out and driving more traction for your start-up and brand (at least it should be).
That means, it needs a dedicated long term invested effort regardless of whether it’s done by you, a colleague, other founding members, a dedicated employee or a third party agency.

Here’s a typical 8 hour day for someone that’s part of building a startup (not that such a thing exists):

  • Check emails
  • Respond to emails
  • Meet with coding team and go over what needs to be done
  • Interview time with a new candidate
  • Put together some design plans
  • Another candidate interview
  • Quick lunch
  • Go place an order for the new chairs needed
  • Create 2 proposals for partnership inquiries
  • Review some of the product development work
  • Check emails and answer them
  • Meet with a potential investor
  • Day is over!

Here’s the typical 8 hour day for a dedicated social media marketer-

  • Check Facebook, comments, updates, replies and statistics
  • Come up with a creative and action provoking Facebook update
  • Check Twitter account, reply to @Tweets, search related tweets, respond to them, greet followers, retweet them, engage with some of them directly and trigger conversations
  • Research facts and structure for a great blog post that can connect with people putting thoughts and ideas together.
  • Then draft the blog post, review, edit, optimize for keywords, add tags, links where applicable,format, add images with alt tags, proof read and publish (easily 2 hours from start to finish)
  • Start promoting the post, sharing to the Facebook page, LinkedIn Updates, Twitter. Use social bookmarking accounts to submit the post to. Re-share to communities and groups.
  • Reply to comments, track for relevant links, posts ,analyze results and traffic
  • Work on creating other interesting content like images that can be shared, polls, videos and original content that could be shared drive interest
  • Reply again to comments, address issues or brand related discussions, post updates, reach out to new followers. Work towards growing all social accounts.
  • Day is over!

The startup founders and employees life is a hectic one that implies you need to wear many hats. Social media outreach can be one of them and it’s possible to squeeze in a few minutes or even an hour into the busy schedule but execute on a consistent and dedicated social media marketing plan?

One must understand that regularly posting content and managing social media accounts is time consuming. And being a Start-up means you already have a lot on your plate. Of course, you can be Superman and manage it all, making Google your accomplice. Or probably have other employees multi-task and contribute some of their time. This is perhaps the best way to go about it if there are budget constraints and hiring a full time employee is out of the question. However, when the time comes to put together and execute on a social media marketing plan not just on the side but as a priority to build a more structured engagement..hire, delegate or engage a dedicated resource / agency that can work on it exclusively without the effort being a burden or relying on your own time because when it comes to this stage, it’s a hat that’s just too large to fit in with the rest.

Online Buzz Marketing Vs Sales For Start-up Businesses

The eternal question on the minds of start-up owners and early stage business managers looking for the right business development strategy to take their businesses to the next level. “Spend time and resources online through social media marketing or on direct sales?“. The answers and the decision making is not as easy as it may seem which is perhaps why many struggle with this decision. At an established business which is already very well known among it’s target audiences and has a steady base of customers which it’s only looking to grow, the answer would be simpler. Focus more on marketing. Let sales take care of closing.

In an early stage business the situation is very different. There isn’t a steady base of customers you can already rely on and the challenge isn’t really growing it, the challenge is to create that customer base. Social media marketing or online marketing is really about engaging people through conversation, content and building a brand through which audiences will start recognizing you through and eventually, approaching you. It’s inbound and pull based but it’s not instant and needs time to develop. Time is something in short supply in the early stages and closing customers is a priority. This should mean…. focusing completely on sales will help you go after targeted set of prospects and close customers slow and steady to build the revenue stream. However, there is a conflict in this strategy.

Given a hypothetical situation where you employee a 3 person sales team using email and telephone campaigns to pursue and close new customers, the progress over a few months is likely to appear like the blue line above. There will be a more or less steady line with some good months, some bad ones but the only way to increase sales in future is to increase the size of the sales team and invest more into sales. Great way to start business development but no long term benefits for growth.

It’s like hunting for your food. The more you need, the more hunters you need and it’s not a sustainable strategy.

Given the same situation where you employ a team of 3 for social media marketing and outreach, you are likely to see something similar to the red line. You may not see much progress over the first few months but as the ecosystem of content and buzz around your business grows, you’ll find an increasing flow of prospects towards your site which with time can be closed as customers. The process starts slow but consistently grows with the same amount of work put in every month. This means, though in the short run it may seem slow, in the long run you can grow your customer base without increasing your investment in the process. Not a great start but great future benefits perfect for high growth.

It’s like farming for your food. You cultivate a customer base by sowing content. It’s highly sustainable in the long run. As the content and buzz around your business increases each month, so does your business development.

Ideally you need both. Some amount of direct sales to kick start the customer base since you can’t completely rely on social media marketing to reap immediate results. At the same time, you need to start your social media and content marketing campaigns as early as possible so that in the later stages you don’t find yourself in a situation where your business development growth has just flat-lined because you were not thinking long term.

Our advice is start cultivating your social content farm as early as you possibly can. It’s sustainable, will grow and provide you more in time through a steady process than the hunting strategy which is effective but will make you work just as hard for every customer you intend to close and eventually, won’t work towards scaling your business. Hope that helps!