As many of our readers know, we believe in eating our own dog food and we are regularly documenting our own strategy implementation process as a startup company to share with our customers and readers.
The following post focuses on our social networking strategy, which is an action item within the strategic element we called Develop/Implement Marketing Strategy.
Social networking is still a relatively new concept for many businesses and falls into two very wide oponions, that of being essential and that of being a waste of time. As a company we had previous experience as individuals using and participating in social networks so we were fairly clear as to what value they would bring to us and how they could improve our business. As you will note we have come down on the side of essential for business.
There are many sources of information on social networking (here is good article from HubSpot) and how to go about it. In our own experience and based on our own research we came to the view that there are 3 primary areas where social networking can be an important part of the business strategy for startup and emerging growth companies:
- Building Community of users and influencers – one of the big challenges for companies is how to gain awareness for your company with a range of people, from users, to partners to influencers. Social networking sites can be great sources of these types of contacts
- Establishing your agenda – for many emerging companies, you went into business to solve a problem or change an entire market. In order to do this you are going to have to find a way to change the norm and in order to change the norm you need to establish your agenda; how you think about things, how you think things can change for the better and all of the ideas that you have to make it happen, in other words your Manifesto
- Interacting with people already in the market and discovering the real contributors – one of the things that the Internet has brought is the ability to find out lots of information. The challenge with using search engines to find information and to connect with people is that it is very rare that a general search is going to display conversations on the 1st page of Google. If you want to know what is live and relevant to your market you need to be where the conversations are happenging and that is in the social networking sites and the tools that aggregate that information. Once you plug into those channels then you can find out what it is people are talking about and what is interesting at the present time to your market. Then and only then can you start to build new customers and begin pushing forward your agenda.
So, we had things pretty clear as far as what our strategy needed to be: build a community of users, establish our agenda and plug into the existing conversation.
We then translated this into several action items:
Seek out relevant business social networks that we could join
- Establish accounts at those sites
- Get involved in the communications process
- Adopt tools to help us manage the interaction with the networks
- As far as Action Item 1 was concerned we focused mostly on business oriented social networks such as Linkedin and Twitter because we already had individual presences there and it made it easy for us to get up and running quickly.
For Linkedin we established a RapidInfluence Company Page and a RapidInfluence Company Group and for the group we invited some people from our personal networks to seed things. As a strategy, having a Linkedin group is important because it provides a communication point for people where you can use both discussions and news submissions to spur conversations on your company’s area of business (create an agenda) it is also a way for people to find out about your product (build users and influencers).
Similarly we established a RapidInfluence Twitter account and we went the extra yard of spending $100 to have a nicer background created. We used several Twitter tools to find people who are speaking about strategy and strategic planning and we then followed those people and in turn many of them followed us.
Once various social networks were establised we had to set up a regular plan of interaction which included:
- Monitoring the conversation – keeping track of what is said and commenting on those conversations is important, if you have something important to say, say it and say it regularly
- Following new people – we regularly search for new people who are speaking about topics we are interested in and we subscribe to their groups and we follow them on Twitter
- Distributing our own content - one of the great things about social networking tools is that they allow for relatively easy distribution of the content that you are creating. This could include blog posts, white papers, news etc. all related to your company. The more people that are following or subscribing to your information the more points of contact you can create
- Distributing other’s content – the other great thing about joining the conversation is that you gain access to other people’s content and since social networks are all about sharing you can easily share relevant content that you discover with your following. Remember this is all about building a presence and supporting your agenda for change. The more information that you can distribute that supports your thoughts (real thoughts not fantasy) the stronger your position becomes.
For us we determined that 1-2 man hours per day was a good amount of time to put into our social networking strategy with a focus initially on gaining new sales leads. When viewed in this manner it was easy for us to say that of course we would spend 1-2 hours per day if not more in the pursuit of new customers.
Along the way, we realised that we needed tools to become efficient. While we checked out a number of tools for managing Twitter in particular (Cotweet, Seesmic) we settled on a product called HootSuite. This product essentially allows us to manage a number of Twitter accounts as well as people and topic searches and it saves us a tremendous amount of time (the other products work quite well also).
The Results - so, a few months into this what has been the result? Well, as you can see by our Web site traffic sources (a key measure for us in generating leads), we are receiving nearly 60% of our traffic from the social network Linkedin followed by Google and then by Twitter. Overall we are fairly pleased with the outcome of this work. We’ve used social networking as both a sales tool and an awareness tool and we have relatively quickly generated traffic to our Web site and Blog.
It is important to note that over time we would expect that the Google traffic percentage will increase but what you have to remember is that when you are a new company with a new Web site it takes a long time to rank effectively for keywords on Google, so the big advantage of the social networks for us has been lead traffic while we build out organic search capabiblities on the major search engines.
What next? – quite simply we will keep with the current strategy, building out the community and distributing our message. Early indications are positive and we are gaining traffic and leads 24/7 using this current strategy. We will constantly monitor and change our tactics and look for a major review in another 6 months.
For now though, we have knocked off another series of action items from our strategic plan!