By Mark Coddington
It’s hardly groundbreaking to say that a successful social media presence is essential for any startup launch nowadays. But that importance is magnified when you’re starting from scratch, building an app in just three and a half months for a class project. You have no Silicon Valley bigshots lending you their publicity and cred. You have no connections in the tech press. You have no money for traditional marketing tactics.
So social media isn’t just a way people will find out about your app, it’s the way.
As our three-month social media campaign builds to this weekend’s Demo Day (RSVP here!), we have a few lessons learned from trial and error for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation – or just anyone building a social media campaign from scratch:
1) Don’t be afraid to shamelessly self-promote
I know, I know. Is there anything to social media but shameless self promotion? That’s exactly what a social media campaign is, of course. But that’s still been a tough lesson for me to learn. As a ink-in-the-blood former newspaper reporter with a proper disdain for all things public relations, I have a pretty healthy distaste for self-promotion, even when it’s something that deserves to be promoted or celebrated. There’s no one core reason for it – it just feels unseemly, a bit tacky, to blow your own horn.
But that won’t fly in a campaign like this. You have to come at it with the attitude that you have an amazing product (or will have one once it’s ready), and once people use it, they’ll thank you for having told them. Sure, striking the right tone is crucial – you don’t want to seem too over-eager – but you’re focusing on one thing: making sure people know about the app that you’re putting all this hard work into.
2) Feature people outside your team
It’s easy to feature the people on your team – posting photos and profiles of them, giving people a better sense of who’s behind your product. And that’s a key part of a social media campaign – people are much more likely to download your app if they feel they know the people behind it.
But it’s important to go beyond that and find ways to feature people outside your team as well. This can be a crucial strategy to get beyond your own personal networks of friends and family; they’re a good starting point, but if your app is going to take off, it’s going to have to reach well beyond that. Through our WeatherVain Kings and Queens series, we were able to get people talking about our app who might never otherwise have heard of it, simply because they saw their friends tagged or mentioned in a WeatherVain post.
3) Coordinated campaigns = consistent product
With three people running our social media presence across Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest – all of whom had full class schedules, jobs, and busy lives – posting consistently high-quality material was sometimes a challenge. Heck, sometimes just posting consistently was a challenge. Creating several running series, such as Transformation Tuesdays and our Countdown to Demo Day, were a way of creating consistency by orienting our posts around a planned, regular schedule and getting around creative funks by giving ourselves ready-made and adaptable ideas. These kinds of series can give you a reason to build some much-needed routine and structure into your posting patterns.
4) Interaction: Tough but necessary
Just like self-promotion, interacting with people you’ve never met online may feel uncomfortable, but it’s something you’ve got to bite the bullet and try to do anyway. Add to that the difficulty of interacting as a brand (which people are people are much less eager to engage with than a person), and interacting on social media can be a real challenge at times, especially without coming off like a creeper.
But it can be done. On Twitter, we found that retweeting other people’s tweets about subjects relevant to our app (weather and fashion) with a fun comment added to it was a casual and engaging way of breaking the ice. On Facebook, interaction can be a bit more difficult, but we experienced some success by focusing on people, especially those outside our group, rather than our product. People are much more likely to comment on a post that’s about a friend of theirs than some brand they’ve never heard of.
5) Don’t take reach for granted
We all love looking at those follower and like numbers, but we also need to remember that the actual number of people seeing our posts are often smaller than that, sometimes significantly so. (This is especially a problem with Facebook’s limited display of brand pages in News Feeds and Twitter’s constantly flooding river of tweets.) Always be pushing to increase the number of people who are seeing your posts – just because they’re out there doesn’t mean people are seeing them.
One simple way to do this is to be mindful of the best times to post things. There’s all kinds of data on this, some of it conflicting, but you ultimately have to do some of your own experimentation and find out what works best for you. Also, on Twitter, don’t be afraid to post things more than once (though probably not more than twice) – this is something we didn’t do but should have. On Facebook, tagging people is the key to gaining higher reach. Though not every tagged post took off, we noticed tagged posts got as much as 8 to 10 times as much reach as untagged ones.
6) Creativity covers over a multitude of sins
We had a particular difficulty in that we could tweet about the development process, but we didn’t have a product to actually show off for most of the semester – it was just a promise, off in the future. That made it difficult to give followers a vivid sense of what WeatherVain was, without saying the same things over and over. If we were to do it over again, we would’ve produced and promoted a few more mockups and sneak peeks to whet people’s appetites.
But the lack of a concrete, finished product forced us to be more creative in describing it and drawing attention to it, which was ultimately more beneficial for us. We went through some missteps and some ruts, but we found creative ways to get people to think about our app, even though it wasn’t yet available, when they think about weather and fashion. And we had a ton of fun doing it, too!
Until next time,