Startups: Sense and Social Media

by Mike Hanbery on March 21, 2009

in Facebook,Twitter,seo,small business,social media,social networking,web 2.0,web design

If you’re a small startup with nothing existing in the way of marketing collateral and we meet, it’s quite possibly you’ll hear this–much of it you already know:

Sense

First, get a website. Go buy your domain name right now (See? You knew that).

Next, consult with a designer on your website. In fact, consult with at least three. If you’re a startup who has engaged a marketing consultant/strategist/”swift kicker” and s/he hasn’t offered to do this for you, speak to at least two more marketing…people. It’s good practice to get at least three bids on just about anything, so take the time to comparison shop. While it’s entirely possible that your consultant is recommending a specific vendor for very good reasons, you are completely entitled to know how and why this conclusion was reached for you…unless you’re exactly the same as the last guy. You’re not. What were the other, “next best” options and what are the differentiators?

There are lots of free and low-cost services available on the ‘net that allow you to build your own site. There are also designers that work with these programs that can apply their expertise and pass along the cost savings associated with the simpler program, which may be all you need. If you go with the free stuff, it’s going to look like free stuff. This is to say, your site will look either a) like any number of other sites out there that just used the same template or b) terrible because you are not an expert in website design. Especially if your website is a chief portal and absolutely if it is a point of sale, doing it yourself could prove disastrous. And there’s this whole SEO thing…if you don’t know, ask an expert (see above).

Social Media

Then get yourself a Page, or Public Profile, or whatever they’re calling it this week, on Facebook. Why? My favorite (true) story about talking to a startup prospect who was opening a home security business has me going through the above conversation, nearly verbatim, and then telling him that his business needed a Page and a Group on Facebook. Why both?

The Page

My principal value proposition for putting businesses on Facebook Pages is that, “If you are a business with customers, you’re engaged with social media whether you want to be or not.” Case in point: A prior post of this blog contradicted a BusinessWeek article. I “tagged” the author–figured I’d be open about it–and she responded, including a link to her Twitter page, which of course I dutifully visited. Well, actually it wasn’t “duty,” it was that even if we disagree, I obviously could learn from this person. But when I got there, I found a page full of nothing but complaints about two things: 1) the weather and 2) a vendor. There were lots of re-tweets and @thisandthats complaining about this vendor. So I really couldn’t “follow” her, because I don’t have time for that, but the real point is, her vendor was missing out on the conversation…not present in the first person, only in the third. Thus the clarifying sentence of same value proposition, “If you give your customers a place to talk about you, they might give you the opportunity to participate in the conversation.”

Someone who says it differently (better? Quite possibly.) is Reid Carr in a March 19, 2009, iMedia article, Build a Social Media Plan That Never Sleeps. “The more accessible you are to your customers than your competitors,” Reid says, “the more likely it is that you’re going to be a part of your customers’ lives.” Here’s a link to the very kickin’ article: http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/22398.asp

The Page is the place to overtly “be” your business. Your brand, your value proposition, your customer interface. I think a majority of Social Media wonks would agree with this.

The Group

I may well be outside the majority of said wonks about the use of a Facebook Group…and I hope this sparks some discussion. My take on sustainable, value-adding, effective, “netiquette”-friendly use of the Group for business is to raise awareness of the need that your product or service fills. So, the home security company would lead discussions on, for example, tips that make your home more secure, e.g. always close your garage door, put your lamps on timers. Don’t push your product here, push the need and demonstrate your expertise.

Back to the Prospect

“I’ll never do that Facebook stuff,” he said. “I spent the last two months observing behaviors in my old company, looking for people I might eventually want to recruit, and everywhere I looked I saw Facebook on people’s terminals instead of their work.”

Two things here: First, he’s right, if you’re taking the Which 70′s Child Celebrity Are You? quiz on Facebook in the middle of the workday, you’re a prime and deserving candidate for unemployment. Second, he just told me, in his objection, exactly why he needed to be on Facebook…because whether it’s right, whether we like it or not, that’s where the eyeballs are.

And brother, it doesn’t cost a dime.

And There’s More

Facebook isn’t for absolutely everyone but almost every business should research opportunities for, and think hard about, a social media strategy. Components of this strategy include effective time management, driving traffic among your online vehicles and much more. It’s too much for a single blog so a partner and I are putting it in a kickin’ book you’ll read swiftly and use as a resource forever: Connect and Contribute: Creating a Social Business, coming soon. Real soon.

Now, don’t wait for C&C to get your website professionally done or to get yourself on Facebook. Go ahead and test the waters, experiment. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your mother and you’ll be fine. Then when you have some experience and familiarity with the battlefield, your strategy mapped out and your tactics in place, you’ll be kicking serious swift.

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  • Denver DataMan

    When you go to buy domains domain distributors like GoDaddy will try and sell you more than one domain. If you think people will try and buy your company name it is not a bad idea to try and buy the domains other than .com that are like your domain – however you don’t necessarily want to use them all – this is not good SEO.

    Take the advice of Seth Godin, in Purple Cow, choose a wood that is real but means nothing. This gives you a name people will remember but wont define your niche so close that you can not expand what your company does.

    Your website is the home for your business. All of the other parts funnel into it. Track EVERYTHING on your website. Know where traffic comes from and update the content all the time. If you are not updating your site at least once a week you are leaving SEO chips on the table. If your developer can’t give you an inexpensive way to edit content yourself get a new developer.

    I am not sure I get why businesses need a page and a group. Unless you need privacy there is nothing that a group can do that a page can not do. A page gives you tracking and the best thing about digital marketing is that you can track everything! If you can not track it look for a method you can track is a good mantra.

    I am glad that you are getting people to see that they need a website and not just social networking sites.

  • mikehanbery

    The Group is not for the business, it’s for the need that the business meets, the interest area in which it functions.

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