Social media has become an integral part of the marketing mix for new companies. Startups are employing these valuable channels to promote themselves, receive market feedback, interact with key industry players, and offer relatively inexpensive customer support to beta testers and other early adopters of their technologies.
Yet despite these benefits, many startups aren’t allocating the resources necessary to support social media initiatives until after the product is released, their first customers are established, and they begin seeing revenue. As with all marketing activities, social media should be regarded as an investment that will generate profit. And just like launching a new product, social media requires a runway to set up the strategy and channels and develop the audience and content to succeed.
We’ve written about the importance of getting marketing involved early the in development stage of a new product. In a previous post, product management specialist Peter Hanscke wrote, “There is always a great deal of interaction between engineering and product management, but, sadly, marketing is left out.” It is only when all the critical bugs are fixed and the product is released that marketing gets the product information thrown over the wall with the unrealistic expectation that it will create an immediate revenue miracle. And then everyone wonders why the news release, the collateral, the web site, and so forth are so late in coming.
The same is true for social media activities. It takes time to develop content and build an audience. Like launching a new product, this time frame varies depending on the receptiveness of the market and the complexity of the task. When social media activities are aligned with the development of a product, a wealth of activities can be carried out that support the goals of both teams and thus the business as a whole. The social media managers have time to build a community before the product is launched, sharpen the story so that it resonates with the target audience, and promote the product as it is developed to a relevant audience, while the development team receives valuable feedback from the community that can help them identify the pain points of their target market and hone the features of their minimum viable product.
On launch day, having an established community anticipating your news can be invaluable for promotion, garnering media attention and gauging the responsiveness of your target audience for your new product.
According to a Mashable survey, 85 percent of marketers think customer insight is the best potential advantage of using social media, but only six percent of businesses use social media to receive feedback on a consistent basis. Twitter is especially valuable, with 32 percent of channel conversations falling under the category of customer feedback. The same article said that more than a third of messages posted on social networks provide businesses with information about how customers perceive them. The article’s author, Joshua March, advises businesses to ask their customers and prospects what they think about a new product, what features they want and what could be improved. As mentioned, this feedback can be used to provide the best minimum viable product when these activities are carried out via social media before you launch.
From a media-attention standpoint, more than 50 percent of people turn to social media to receive breaking news, and the 24-hour news cycle is forcing journalists to turn to social media to uncover new stories and sources. Investing time beforehand to reach out to relevant journalists and influential industry players before your launch will increase the chances of them picking up and sharing the story on launch day.
From a lead-generation standpoint, social media maintains a top slot as one of the least expensive lead-generation channels and, as of 2011, 62 percent of businesses say social media has become the most important channel for lead generation. Reaching out to prospective customers and using engaging stories shared via social media to lead them through the development of your product as it happens will attract and grow fans and whet their appetites for the finished product once it is launched.
What do you think? What other benefits can startups receive from building social media communities before they launch?