IMHO there are just two types of business that would-be entrepreneurs can launch. The first is the business model that's been around for ages, has an established customer base, price points, business model and points of differentiation. Think of any business where someone learns the ropes and then leaves to set up what they hope will be a better version of the original. Indeed that's usually the model for success - learn from others what works and then strike out on your own knowing what it takes to succeed.
Lessons learnt: no, the power of cat memes was not one of them!
The second type of business is the polar opposite. It's the business launching into a market that the founders believe can be created, or have just seen be born. But as no-one's done it before, there are no rules as to what works and what doesn't. You're literally experimenting and learning as you go along.
All of my entrepreneurial forays have been into this latter type of business, including launching a social media agency before they were mainstream. What I find intriguing about this is that you're always learning and you can't beat yourself up for making mistakes. By definition the right path has to be discovered - and indeed many such businesses fail simply because the finances wouldn't stretch long enough to allow that right path to be eventually uncovered.
While I pride myself on the social media expertise that the team now provide, we've certainly had a learning curve of our own in getting to this point. Back in late 2011 the "right way" to get results on social media was very much something that people were experimenting with rather than were able to state with any certainty. And so it was for us.
With that said, then, here are the things I wish I'd known about social media effectiveness from the outset:
This is a mistake I really kick myself for making, since an earlier business of mine was built on the foundations of having a massive responsive email subscriber list. Yet I was blind-sided when setting up Social-Hire. My thinking was that gaining social media followers was the modern day equivalent of building an email subscriber list. The two were interchangeable, or one was superseding the other. And so for some time we generated a strong and growing audience of readers and prospects, for whom the only means of subscribing to Social-Hire was via our social accounts.
Big mistake. What I know now - and have put to good use on client campaigns - is that social media messages reinforce email marketing messages. Sharing resources, insights, promotions - whatever it is you need to get out in the market - will be far more effectively achieved if you expose your audience to the message across multiple media rather than just one. Sadly by the time I realised this we'd missed out on 18 months of email subscriber growth. Don't make the same mistake!
In our earliest days, my focus was undoubtedly on building our LinkedIn network more than any other. This was essentially because recruiters were flocking there - and having initially focused on serving the recruitment industry I didn't want to miss out in the land grab. The only problem with this was that it ignored the reality. Facebook was then (and is even more today) the social site where our target audience could most cost-effectively be reached. Twitter, meanwhile, was the site where it was easiest to strike up business conversations and forge new relationships fast. Fortunately we realised this fast and re-prioritised to focus instead on building our Twitter networks.
When I see recruiters today who are slow to react to the decline in LinkedIn results that they're seeing, I'm reminded of this mistake. Just because it's the accepted wisdom that businesses in your industry need to be on XYZ social site, that may or may not hold up under closer scrutiny. Never take a decision based on opinions and gut instinct when there's hard data available that could prove or disprove this. Case in point here with these stats from Pew Internet.
Now remind me, which sites are you investing most of your social media $£$£s in right now?!
This one is less something I wish I'd done differently - and more one I'm glad I got the guidance early on that meant I never fell into the trap. I'm talking here about the huge chasm in results that you'll see with a business that prioritises promoting on social media vs. one that focuses on engagement. (My thanks to Andy Headworth for the early words of wisdom here).
In a nutshell, most tangible business results you're likely to see from identifying your ideal prospects and engaging them on social media - rather than using it as a channel to promote your wares to that same audience. There are exceptions of course (Note: Bonus Lesson - no two social media strategies are the same!). But by and large, if you show me a business that's disappointed with the results it's getting on social media I'll almost certainly show you in turn a business that's being overly promotional and not genuinely engaging.
I hope this post has helped you think about your own social media effectiveness and things you've learnt (or could still learn). If you need more input on your social strategy, you're very welcome to book in for a social media consultation with our team and we'll help you to figure out the approach that's right for your budget and circumstances. All the best.