Building Your Startup’s Social Media Strategy From Scratch

Building Your Startup’s Social Media Strategy From Scratch

Using social media to communicate brand values, not just to sell a product

Social media marketing has only recently begun filtering into academia. During my time in business school and reading marketing textbooks, it was only ever discussed in an abstruse manner — as if professors weren’t confident they knew more about it than the millennial students, a generation which is presumed to be consummate social media experts.

I find this belief to be only partially correct. Millennials are certainly experts of consuming social media, but that doesn’t equate to being experts at crafting social media. I’ve come to find that creating a meaningful brand is a far cry from the mindless consumption that characterizes typical social media perusal.

So when I started as a social media intern at Astro HQ, I had little education or experience to lean on. I was tasked with building the social media presence for the startup’s new product Luna Display that had recently launched on Kickstarter. Startups move fast, so I needed to learn a lot in a short amount of time. And while I would never profess to be an expert on social media marketing, here’s what I’ve learned along my journey:

1. Be creative with your resources 

Most startups do not have the luxury of a large marketing budget. Big ad-campaigns, professional photo shoots, and sleek videos usually aren’t an option. This can make crafting original content really difficult—which is where user-generated content (UGC) comes in. UGC, which is simply content created by consumers or end-users, is an excellent way to build your social media (Instagram in particular).

If consumers are genuinely enthusiastic about your product, they will be thrilled to have the opportunity to be featured on your social media page. The Instagram for our other product, Astropad (@astropadapp), has been built entirely by forming a symbiotic relationship with our customers: they give us great UGC and we give them a platform to show their work. Other great examples of using UGC can be found on (@away), (@kickstarter), and (@themelt).

2. Define your brand values

Perhaps the central tenet to marketing is defining your brand. Without a well-defined brand identity, it’s nearly impossible to build a successful marketing strategy. Before building your social media strategy, you must carefully construct the message you wish to send, and use this as a lens for all content you post. One of the best examples is Patagonia, which has an extremely well-established message of outdoor adventure. Every picture, video, or story they post imparts an adventurous feel.

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment 

Because Luna had just launched, we didn’t have a good baseline on what types of content resonated with customers. Initially, I was hesitant to try anything new because I was scared that it would perform poorly. However, I came to realize that poor performance can be a good thing; it helps to refine your strategy, giving you a better idea of what your followers want to see. Building a successful social media page requires an iterative approach, which is also more formally known as A/B testing — comparing two variants against each other to see which performs better. 

The simplest example of A/B testing is sharing the same piece of content multiple times, each with different captions. This can help to gauge what your audience best responds to: shorter vs. longer captions; more clickbait-ey vs. more sophisticated captions; call-to-action vs. no call-to-action. Through our A/B testing, for both Luna and Astropad, we found that showing the product in use elicits the best engagement.

Toxic Rick 🙃 Made @by_nick with #Astropad and Adobe Illustrator

A post shared by Astropad (@astropadapp) on

4. Forget about traditional marketing

The mission of marketing is to sell a product or service, so the idea of voluntarily limiting promotion seems counterintuitive. However, this underscores the difference between traditional marketing and social media: traditional marketing tells you about the product, while social media marketing tells you what you can do and who you can be by using the product. People don’t follow brands’ social media to be inundated with direct advertisements; they are choosing to follow brands to obtain content curated to their interests. It’s important to be cognizant of this difference, and always be cautious and conservative in the degree of self-promotion in your social media.

Squarespace, a self-service website-building company, exemplifies this idea in their marketing: instead of promoting their product directly, they promote inspiring stories of photographers, bloggers, entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, and basically any person or business that does intriguing work — all of which use the Squarespace platform to help run their business. On Instagram, they routinely post beautiful pictures of everything from nature to restaurant interiors, which have no obvious connection to their brand. Only through the captions is it revealed that these pictures relate to a business that is a Squarespace customer.

In a similarly oblique way, on Twitter and Facebook, the company shares content that only indirectly relates to their product. For example, over the Tribeca Film Festival weekend, Squarespace shared a City Guide of the best places to grab a bite to eat in NYC, with all the restaurants included being Squarespace customers. 

5. Engage with your followers

The integration of UGC into your strategy is perhaps the best opportunity to engage with customers, but it goes much deeper. For most startups, social media is the company’s customer service department. When a customer has a problem with their product, the first place they turn to is social media. For this reason, it is imperative to have an established social media presence for customers to turn to when in need of help. And, of course, it is necessary to ensure all social media accounts are regularly monitored to provide customers with the help they seek.

Aside from support, social media also gives you the opportunity to interact with your customers and show you care. It’s as simple as liking pictures they tag you in, replying to comments, and generally showing that there is a human behind the account. A big part of the allure of startups is that they are not a faceless, monolithic corporation.

6. Patience, patience, patience

It’s important to remember that building a brand takes time. Even if everything is done perfectly, the follower count does not materialize overnight. It can be extraordinarily frustrating to see your follower count increase by only a single user at a time; it may feel like you’re going nowhere. The key is to be patient. As long as the following number is going up, however slowly it may be, then you are not failing. It is not until your follower count completely stagnates that it is time to consider a different approach.

What I’ve come to find is that all of the things I wish I had known coalesce to form a single, overarching idea: the companies with successful social media are not selling a product, but rather, are selling an idea. This concept is nothing new: “don’t sell the steak — sell the sizzle” goes back nearly a century. However, I find that social media capitalizes on this idea in a way traditional marketing rarely does, and for this reason, social media marketing has in many measures surpassed traditional marketing.

Startups can leverage this to achieve extraordinary success; examples such as GoPro, AirBnB, Kickstarter, and Squarespace are a testament to the power of coupling a great offering with social media content that inspires customers to do. So, to craft a successful social media platform for your brand, keeping this lens locked in is crucial.

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