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The social media approach that nobody wants to hear

Every so often I have someone ask me how to go about building up a social media presence for a new startup. They are usually interested in how to acquire social media’s usual suspects:

-Facebook likes

-Retweets

-guest post on influential blogs

-comments on their own blog

-inbound links from social sites like discussion forums (yes, building links for SEO and otherwise should be a standard goal within a social media strategy)

Their plan was to begin building out content on a daily basis, so what they wanted was a sound approach for acquiring that aforementioned social currency to help build out their brand awareness and generate sales conversions for their business. Essentially, what they wanted to know was what to do after each new piece of content was created.

They were surprised by the answer I gave them. Maybe even disappointed.

Basically, what I told them is that they need to do a whole bunch of things, before they could really hope to get any of that aforementioned social currency. In fact, I told them that they would likely have to do a lot of things weeks, months, maybe even years in advance before being able to reap the rewards of social media traction.

This is a difficult concept for traditional marketers to understand, because they grew up with media formats that delivered immediate exposure and where easily measured. You produce a TV ad and then pay for a specific number of runs in a specific number of time slots reaching a particular size audience. You produce an online display ad and then pay for a specific number of impressions in a specific time range on specific websites (or Google’s search results). So on, and so forth.

Instant exposure and a quick turnaround.

Unfortunately, the more organic online channels like SEO and social media aren’t that cut and dry (unless you buy paid links or display ads on Facebook, but I digress). And that annoys and frustrates the traditional marketer. But back to my answer for this startup.

What I told that they needed to do, before being able to collect the social media currency they coveted:

  • Build a website that is conversion friendly and sticky (e.g. is intuitive and makes it easy for users to interact with it and share with friends)
  • Begin engaging within relevant Facebook groups & posting on relevant Facebook pages (not with promotional messaging, but instead with content that adds value to the community)
  • Begin following relevant Twitter users and retweet the content of said Twitter users
  • Begin commenting on influential blogs and forums (not with promotional messaging, but with content that adds value to the community)
  • Begin linking to said blogs and forums from within their own site’s content
  • Begin attending industry events and mingling with influential peers (don’t just promote yourself or your brand. Add value to the conversation)
  • Begin to gradually connecting with these influencers via email and other online  communication channels (not to promote yourself, but to genuinely connect and add value to their efforts)
  • If they have a substantial email database, start thinking about innovative ways to encourage email subscribers to engage with your social profiles and social content (some of your subscribers might be influencers)
  • Think about the proportion of your perspective consumers that prefer to consume contact via mobile devices (including tablets) and then figure out what you’re going to do to accommodate them (some of your niche’s influencers might prefer mobile formats)

All of these steps are needed in order to build enough social karma (yes, I said karma) to facilitate things like guest posting opportunities, retweets, likes, etc. And mind you, sometimes, taking these steps won’t result in anything. Some influencers are part of impenetrable cliques or simply horde their social media mentions for other major influencers (not exactly the spirit of social media in my opinion, but it happens).

Moreover, if your content/product/service isn’t remarkable, you’ll struggle to get social currency no matter how many good deeds you perform for the community.

Most people don’t want to hear this. They want social media engagement to be immediate, and frankly, they don’t want to believe that you have to invest so much in advance and then hope that the effort gets repaid at some point in the future. But you know what? It’s worked for me. It’s worked for clients I’ve worked with. It’s worked for colleagues I know in our industry.

And it will work for your brand if you plan for it and if the executives at your company have the fortitude of mind to stick things out and deal with little to no ROI in the early stages of effort (which could be up to a year in some cases). And unlike more traditional marketing channels, which provide little or no marketing equity, this approach to social media will typically pay dividends into perpetuity.

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