Social Media for Startups

Northeastern University student Jennie White, IDEA’s Director of Social Media, former Staff Writer at BostInno and marketing coop at where, Inc., has found immense value in the outlets offered by today’s popular social media tools. After doing some research of my own, I sat down with her to discuss how student entrepreneurs can effectively use these websites as a means of promoting their budding businesses.  

Why is social media particularly important to new businesses?

As a relatively new business, you want exposure. You want to show investors and everybody else that you have a strong following and interest in your product. You want people to talk about your product and spread that word so that you have a large community. Investors want to see a dedicated following.

How can student entrepreneurs use social media to build their business?New businesses should stick with Twitter and Facebook. Take it one at a time to see how much time you can devote to each. I think that starting out on Twitter is your best bet because Facebook requires a deeper level of engagement. Twitter allows you to have a conversation with large audiences and spread your message faster. The number one thing to keep in mind is to be personable and share interesting things that you find, not just things related to your business.

How do you suggest startups use different social media outlets?

Twitter: You’ll most likely need to build a community on Twitter. A conversation doesn’t happen right away, however, so you need to be patient. I would suggest using Twitter to give a behind-the-scenes look at what your company is doing. Post pictures of your team having lunch, or various updates on what you’re doing. People love to see human interaction, and Twitter is the most appropriate outlet for that sort of thing. Most importantly, tweet as though you are talking to your friends.

Facebook: Facebook is super valuable for student entrepreneurs because of the extremely large networks that individuals have already built since Facebook was created. Use your existing connections on Facebook rather than solely trying to gain new audiences.  Create a fan page, link events, and share pages in order to get “likes”. Frequency matters on Facebook—you need to be careful not to post too much or else people will “unlike” your page. Facebook is valuable because you can have pictures, conversations, and see all of the interactions in one place.

LinkedIn: I think that everyone should have a LinkedIn account. Its main value is meeting the right people. You can use your connections within the layers of LinkedIn to make new connections. The site also allows you to see trends and who other people are connected with. I think using LinkedIn is the best way to build your personal community. Be your own face on LinkedIn, not the face of your business or brand.

Pinterest: Pinterest is not for all new businesses; it depends on your product. This social media site is perfect for someone marketing a tangible product, like IDEA venture Lily and Ivy.

Blogs: Blogs can be a great tool for promoting your business, but only if properly maintained. You should be posting at least once a week; otherwise it just looks silly and careless. You should only create a blog if you have the time to dedicate to it.

How do you know what to say?

You can talk about anything—start off by simply tweeting about a TV program you have found interesting. ASK QUESTIONS.

Follow Jennie on Twitter @jenniewhite and at @IDEANEU

Start a conversation by asking random questions, and then you can ask deeper questions. Over time, the topic goes viral. It is perfectly okay to tweet about things that aren’t related to your business or field. In fact, I think your conversations should be 50% promotion and 50% other content. You can talk about fun things; just keep it PG. You want to be personable and relatable.  As a student entrepreneur you should promote other startups, show support, and in turn grab from their communities. As for opinion statements, I say go ahead. They get reactions and get people talking.

How personal should you get on your business account?

This is really a grey area. My first rule is absolutely no foul language. Don’t call out customers and avoid argumentative tones. Use your best judgment.

How can social media potentially harm your business?

First – if you have both personal and business accounts, make sure you are always aware of which one you are using. Be very careful not to mix the two up, especially when it’s the weekend and you’re out with your friends. Second – make sure your team is all on the same page. You need to have a discussion with whoever is representing your company regarding your social media plan to ensure that you all share the same values. Mixed messaging can cause confusion.

Finally, what are some general tips and strategies for effectively utilizing social media?

  • Talk to your audience as though you are speaking to your friends. Don’t be who you think you should be. Just have fun and let your personality shine through.
  • Schedule time out of your day to maintain your social media accounts. People don’t like inconsistency. Also, too many platforms are difficult to maintain and can dilute your message. Be sure to select those that are right for you and your business.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed by social media. If it becomes too overwhelming, ask for help. We are a culture of instant gratification and therefore tend to get discouraged when things don’t happen right away. Know that it takes time and will pay off.
  • If you make mistakes, you recover from them and it shows that you’re a real person. Don’t be a robot on social media. Just be you.

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