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Startups: You Don’t Always Need to Hire a Social Media Expert
I’ve been under heat lately for refusing to work with some startups, so I think this deserves a blog post.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: social networking has completely changed how brands interact with people. Media is not only consumed by the masses, but is produced by them as well. This isn’t something you haven’t heard before, but it’s important to always keep it in mind.
I’m not going to talk about why startups should utilize social media and all that other basic stuff; I could write a book about that, but that would be silly, because a) I don’t have time to write a book, and b) other people have written them.
Instead, I’ll focus more on the bottom line aspect of finding out what their purposes and agendas for using social media are, which is a prerequisite before even thinking of hiring a “social media expert.” (This is starting to sound like I’m trashing my own profession, but keep reading.)
Above all else, the startup’s product or service should always be the number one priority. If you’re going to market a bad product that hides behind a smokescreen of flowery words and flashy ads, it might sell for a while until people start to experience how crappy it is. One thing to keep in mind is that other startups are using social media as well, so if you screw your shot, chances are people will just move on and talk about the next big thing (UnThink, ring any bells?)
Since I’ve chosen social media marketing as a career, let me be the first to tell you: there is no such thing as a ‘social media expert’. If you’re looking to hire someone to help you with a social or digital marketing strategy, walk away from the self-proclaimed ‘experts’, which is a blog post to come. That being said, the goal for startups is simple: making money. Twitter followers, Facebook likes – they’re all well and good, but unless you’re able to convert them into cash in the end, they’re pretty pointless. They are simply opportunities to connect and engage with people – a medium to get a message across.
All efforts to interact with customers and get that message across boils down to delivering an experience that will make them want to use your product, and have your brand name on top of their minds as something that provides a benefit, so startups really need to be focusing on their product before they take Twitter followers as a means to measure their success.
Here’s my take on startups and hiring social media ‘experts:’
- Focus on your product/service: Get your product and experience right, first and foremost. If you invest in marketing before what you have to offer the market is nailed, you’ll just accelerate your failure as more people find out that you suck. Again, smokescreen of pretty, flashy words aren’t going to save you. Make your product/service awesome, and you’re social media will reflect that eventually.
- Get your sh*t together: One of biggest challenges is hiring the right team and keeping the right team, startups are hard, and people will come and go quickly. I know that getting your message out there is definitely a big concern for all startups, and that’s why going to a social media person seems like the best of ideas at first, but the only right message would be one that lets the brand look unified and has it buttoned-up. You can’t communicate it if you’re not exactly that internally.
- Democratize your social media: At the startup stage, social media can’t and shouldn’t be100% of one person’s job; it should be 1% of 100 peoples’ jobs . Split and share responsibility for social media channels throughout your team; you’ll discover that your smallest efforts will yield big results that way. Especially if that “Get your sh*t together” point has been secured.
- Hire someone social-media savvy, but not just for social media: If you do decide that you need someone to work solely on the social media, make it part of a more general role – communications, marketing, etc… Don’t stuff the square block into the round peg. As a startup, you’re going to need everyone to lend a hand in everything else going on.
- The exception goes to online startups: Companies based online by their nature are going to focus on social media, it’s just part of the online as a whole. But the online startups are the ones that should focus on this last take the most:
- Be weary of flashy smiles: If you DO decide to outsource your social media efforts, CHOSE WHO YOU WORK WITH WISELY. To stress that point, it’s in capital letters, bold, and has been underlined. Hire someone who gets how social media fits into a broader approach and will help you strategize your digital efforts accordingly. Don’t outsource to people who tell you a Facebook page will solve all your problems and rake in the bacon for you, because this results in failure of social media campaigns for the all companies, not just startups.
To be clear: I am NOT trashing what I do for a living; I’m a social and digital media strategist, and the above are issues that should be considered for any social media strategy. I’m not trying to be discouraging to startups, either.
I’m 100% for the current shift towards social innovation, and chose a career based on this shift and the crazy idea that I wanted to be involved in the startup world.
The problem is, 99% of social media people won’t tell startups that social media is really focused on the importance of people and how their product/service works for them. My role is to develop and execute strategies on how to build and maintain online relationships and cultures -recognizing and appreciating your online peeps. I always encourage startups to answer questions like: What is our culture? How are we rewarding? How are we communicating to people that we value them? What are the little things we do in between and how do we let them know they are the most important thing and are the biggest assets? If startups can’t answer that yet, then I just can’t take over their social media for them. Maybe if I’m honest, they’ll find me when they really do need me.
Does Social Media Marketing Success Demand Talent Over Technology?
Guys, I’m tired. I’ve been writing social media news releases day and night, and getting social media channels ready for ‘official releases,’ and it’s just been really tiring. The worst part is, people keep asking “Can’t you just let some new website or application do this for you?”
No. No I can’t. Nor can any [good] social media marketer.
Although these websites and applications may make my job much simpler, they simply don’t take away the work: writing/collecting compelling content and personalized channels. The SM marketer does that work. A blog, for example, is just a platform and structure. 90% of a social marketer’s time should be spent writing amazing content. Content is king.
So that brings me back to the original question: does social media marketing success demand talent, or does it demand technology?
I’m pretty sure humanity trumps technology.
Too many people in this space get stuck behind the technology barrier (been there. HTML for Dummies would have kept me stuck there, too, if I had bothered to open that book).
They spend all their budgets on building the perfect web application, the best Facebook App, and on graphic design and architecture, leaving very little if anything on the best writers and the best marketers. Don’t get stuck in that trap.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to downplay the importance of technology, but companies are neglecting to hire and train people based on their ability to write and their ability to connect and engage people; focusing on if they can create a twitter tab for the Facebook page is not that important. Hiring people who care more about personal and human relationships, rather than the technical coding and ‘whatchymacallits’ won’t guarantee a successful campaign. And on that note, having a twitter channel doesn’t make you an influencer, nor does being able to set up a blog put you in Technorati’s Top 100. I have 200 followers on twitter, but at least I know they are listening, and if just one person reads this blog post and learns from it, I’m happy.
At the end of the day, all these web applications are top-notch, but they just make it easier — almost effortless — to do your job as a social marketer, to be honest I wouldn’t mind marrying a programmer right now. But they do not do your job for you and they often make many people in the industry lazier, more careless, and less concise. They tend to be enablers, enabling bad grammar, poor spelling, and just good enough editing. People should always write as though going to press and being printed on paper instead of just assuming you can always edit it later. Yes, I Mean U GuYs who tYpe LyK Dis in a stealth-marketing attempt to sway the young into buying something they absolutely do not need (it’s ok to show a little sassiness in my own blog, isn’t it?)
Your social media presence, digital PR strategy, and social media marketing campaigns are only as good as your writers, marketers, PR professionals, community managers, designers, and creatives (the artisans) and not on the technologies (which are the tools). When I was being taught Mass Media and Communication atAUB, I was reminded every day that all the things I was learning in class, even though it would possibly become out-dated and old school the next day in this technologically fast-paced world, are still relevant because human nature is human nature and people are people (I majored in Sociology, by the way) and technological platforms are ephemeral and fleeting.
Learn the tools, try to figure out how to work through them, or marry an expert in that field if you want to constantly be obsessed (hint, hint), but it’s definitely more efficient to leave the obsession behind and leave the spotlight on what matters the most - people.
The picture, by the way, was an infographic that the Ideaz Factory designer and I made, but I had to hide a lot of the text. It’s still relevant though,so I hope it helps you understand what I’m trying to say (you can see a higher-resolution version here)