The rising popularity of online social networks not only gives individuals a reason to procrastinate from daily chores as, but also provides businesses, both large and small, with a whole new marketing arena. But many small companies and start up businesses may not fully understand the benefits they can get from embracing this new world, citing neither having the time available, or understanding the technology. But these are really just two excuses, as what it really boils down to, is that it’s not a priority. Key priorities of a start up business are production, distribution, and monetization. I.e. making sure the business plan and cash flow are sorted. The issue of marketing is often an afterthought, something to be considered when the business is ready to grow.

A start up new business has to go from zero; where as known brands and existing businesses usually have a well established audience. A new business may well have a product or service in the market, but an audience needs to be fostered and nurtured. Ultimately, many of the tactics and benefits of having a social presence are the same for a start up business and that of a bigger, more established business; they only differ in scale. However, this article aims to highlight some of the key areas that a start up new business should consider in terms of its online presence and social marketing management.

Business Awareness

A new business on the scene is unlikely to be known by many. Social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube give small businesses a big stage on which to shout their name. They provide a massive audience. Having an online social presence in some format or other means a company can build links into their posts and social content, which will in turn drive people to a company website or blog.

Brand Creation

For an established business this heading might read ‘brand awareness’, but for a start up business the nature of social marketing means you can create a brand from scratch with minimal cost, and have a say in how it is perceived by an audience. For example, the platforms you chose to utilize, the nature of your content, and how you present it, will all play a part in creating a brand image or personality.

Impact on Lead Generation and Sales

The biggest concern of any start up is cash flow. Ensuring that there is a steady stream of sales is the only way to keep afloat. This is where effective social marketing management comes into its own. Not only does the social web provide a new, larger audience than traditional marketing areas, but it’s very nature means a business and its potential customers can engage in a two way conversation. This allows for the vendor to listen to the demands of its customers and therefore understand the fit, providing a solution in the form of its product or service. Good sales is all about understanding the need and meeting that need.

Communication Channel and Customer Relationship Management

In a recent survey it was found that one third of global b2b buyers use social media to communicate with their vendors, and 75% expect to use social media in future purchase processes. The immediacy of many of the social platforms and channels is paving the way for a new style of communicating. They allow for a reduction in the amount of time required to manage customer contact. Direct messaging is gaining momentum, and the popularity of email is decreasing. This gives more concise responses and an immediate response to the matter at hand. Time is an extremely valuable resource in any business, but even more so in a start up, where one or two key players are required to do the majority of business tasks.

How to Do it

Social marketing management for a small start up may well only consist of a new account on a platform already familiar to the business owner, serving as an extension of his or hers personal Facebook or Twitter account. This is probably the cheapest, easiest and quickest way of getting started with social networking as there is no requirement to learn new technology. But if this is not sufficient to meet the business requirements, there are consultancies that can either do all the work on the organization’s behalf, or alternatively, provide the relevant training.

A key consideration for a start up business should be whether to manage the social media marketing in-house, or outsource to a specialist, and this will somewhat depend upon the size of the business, the budget available and the nature of the product or service. A specialist social marketer will have a deeper knowledge of the theories of social communication, experience of the social tools and technologies available, and an understanding of which ones are relevant to your business. They are also likely to be able to provide a range of other services from web analytics to content creation to chat room moderation. But a business owner is likely to have a greater passion for the product and more insight into the vision of the brand and goals of the organization. If it is to be done in-house, the business owner should take time to identify the person that shares their passion, and has a good knowledge and understanding of social technologies available. Using a social marketing specialist may well be the answer if they can train on the theory, and practicality, of the social web, and may well end up being a minimal short term cost for a longer term gain.

Pitfalls

Alongside the opportunities that these online platforms bring, there are pitfalls to watch out for. The communication and exchanges between two parties are on public networks, and are often shared, so this is not the right channel for sensitive discussions. The social web is just as susceptible to negative feedback and public criticism, as it is positive. A larger, well established company may be able to fence off any negative incidents before they escalate, and probably have the margins to cope with losing a few customers, but a misguided tweet or misunderstood post can mean the end for a small start up. Use social media with enthusiasm by all means, but with caution also.

Strategy

Unless a business is to be in start up mode forever, then it’s essential to incorporate a plan for social marketing management from day one. If it’s not part of the business strategy, then the business is more likely to end up fire-fighting, being reactionary, missing opportunities and operating over its business capabilities.

Online social marketing enables a start up business to build a community surrounding its product or service before it is launched, and then continue to promote the product as it is developed. Considering the rapid growth and popularity of the online social medium, if a new business does not embrace it from the start, it may have regrets later. At the very least the business will end up playing catch up to the new technologies and new methods of communication.

Social marketing management is a very cost effective way of reaching a large, and relevant, audience. Most of the social networks and platforms are available free of charge, and there are numerous tools to enable business owners to make the most of the technologies available. Many of these tools are also free, or of minimal cost. This cost benefit is especially relevant for a start up as it significantly can reduce the initial advertising expenditure traditionally required to reach its first customers. Online networks provide a start up business with an inexpensive avenue for self promotion, a way to receive market feedback, and customer support.

Social marketing should be part of the overall business strategy of a start up business from day one. A well defined and thought out marketing strategy will provide a wider reach of the initial market, provide product and service feedback – so crucial in those early days – and lay the foundation for future successful growth.