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.