In the last year, Social Media sources (blogs, Digg, Twitter, Facebook, etc) have quickly emerged as the most powerful growth drivers in the startups I’ve helped launch. Despite this, I’d have a hard time writing a ten page book on Social Media Marketing. So on a recent trip to Barnes & Nobel I was surprised to see several thick books on the subject. One contained over 350 pages of social media marketing “wisdom.”
I’m sure there are a few useful nuggets in each of these books, but I doubt it would be worth wading through hundreds of pages to find them.
This will be a very brief blog post explaining how we’ve been able to drive hundreds of thousands of new users through social media in recent startups. OK, here it is: effective customer development… By figuring out who needs your product/service, why they need it, what constitutes a gratifying experience with the product/service and getting more of the right type of people to this gratifying experience (highlighting the right benefits and reducing barriers) social media can become a powerful driver for your business too.
You are probably asking: How can this possibly be an effective Social Media strategy? To understand this, you need to understand why social media is important for startup marketers. The most relevant part of social media is that it includes a person’s network of trusted online contacts. Some of these contacts broadcast their opinions widely through blogs, others a bit more narrowly through twitter and status updates and finally others through facebook wall posts, etc. Social media has given consumers better access to their expanded personal networks and a megaphone to broadcast their opinions and experiences to people who actually care.
So how does this help startups? The best innovations have always come from startups, but we’ve been blocked from the channels that were so critical for established companies. Over time these companies educated the channels and expanded their presence. A little startup had a very hard time competing even if they had a vastly superior product. And the channels were seldom awarded for trying to help the startup, since most startups went out of business anyway.
Today, social networks make it much easier for useful innovative products to spread to the masses (especially when combined with Google Adwords). But for a startup to leverage these social networks, they need to get their innovation into the hands of the right users and ensure they have the right experience. And if they are able to create a clear value proposition, these users will be able to more easily spread the innovation to their networks.
While social media makes it easier to spread useful innovative products, it also empowers vigilante customers that have been wronged. Therefore be very careful trying to game these systems. One of the most common short-term gaming tactics is address book scraping where users are prompted to invite their entire address book to join a service. This is often successful because a small percentage of users inadvertently agree to allow their address book to be scraped when they initially sign up for the service. If one in ten people get their address book scraped and each one has 100+ contacts, growth quickly goes viral. In the short-term the marketer looks brilliant as numbers go through the roof. But many of these (former) customers are now furious and let their network know about it. Eventually these tactics bite the company in the ass.
One of my favorite travel services recently burned my mother with this tactic (after I introduced her to the service). Not only has she expressed her anger to every contact, I will never recommend the service again. And that is after I earlier blogged about the service and verbally recommended it to many. I’d reveal the name, but a good friend is an investor. Was that really worth the short term gain of address book scraping?
Effective social media marketing is really just about good old fashion doing the right thing for your customers. Once you’ve accomplished this, you can use these networks to enhance your relationship with your customers (through a company blog, twitter account, facebook page, etc), but I believe these tactics are minor compared to the approach described above.