Guides and best practices for branded social are often written by agencies and influencers
with millions of followers. But things often work differently at the startup level. Whether
you're a social media professional who's learned their craft working with established brands,
or a solopreneur taking the reins for the first time after a little research, you may find the
reality of startup branded social quite different from expectations. The reason why is simple.
You've Got No Social Media Followers
Some people dismiss followers as a vanity metric
. Ignore them. Followers matter, because
they're your brand's unit of mass on social media, and mass has gravity, so the more followers
you have the more gravity you have, and social media gravity brings your brand both more
followers and more engagement. And there are two general reasons why a lack of followers is bad.
1. Nobody Sees Your Posts
"Going viral" is an excellent euphemism for organic social media success because viruses depend
on host organisms for propagation, with organic social working very similarly. If your brand
has no followers, no one sees or shares your posts, so they don't propagate. There's very
little algorithmic carry of organic social media posts outside of your own followers, at least
immediately after posting, which leads to the second reason why a lack of them is bad.
2. No Algorithmic Help
The numbers vary a bit by channel, and by who you ask, but the first two hours (some say 90
minutes) are what matter most to a post getting elevated by the algorithm. But if your brand
lacks a base of reliable followers that engage within that window, that won't happen. And if
it doesn't happen, it's very hard to get your content seen, even among your own followers.
If you only have a small number of followers, let's say 100, without algorithmic help, a post
might be seen by less than half of them. Granted, that first window isn't all there is to it.
I've seen posts that didn't take off immediately acquire a nice long tail, but that initial
window is still what matters most.
So What Does This Mean?
I hope you like sand, because startup social media can be like the Sahara. Unless you're one
of those red hot startups with a rockstar CEO and lots of attention, nothing you've ever
done in your comfy little knowledge worker life can prepare you for the deprivation that
Any engagement you get or followers you pick up through purely organic means will feel like
precious drops of water coming out of a nearly empty canteen on a hot day, which means that
if you're serious about moving the needle through social as a startup, you need to be doing
more than just posting and coasting.
So What Do You Do?
At first, probably beg. Your first followers not acquired via paid ads are likely to either
be your own employees (if you have them) or other people you explicitly ask to follow you
(there's no shame in this since you have little choice). Or perhaps they might come through
job ads (a lot of LinkedIn job ads exist to net followers this way).
Or, if you're lucky, you're getting followers through noise you're making in the real world
(still the most reliable way to get social media followers), though many businesses aren't
piggybacking their physical efforts with digital outreach as much as they should.
QR codes linking to your social accounts are probably the lowest hanging fruit. Having them
on your business cards or displayed at your tradeshow booths and other real-world brand
activations, or on the last slide of your presentations, can all help.
And if you're wondering how many followers you need to start getting some algo boost, I
certainly don't know that (I'd be a rich man if I did). I have some suspicions, but nothing
I'd care to say out loud (we wouldn't want the law getting wise). But I can tell you this.
It's not actually how many followers you have that elevates a post in the algorithm, it's
how many engagements the post gets.
If you have 100 followers who like, click, and share every post you publish within that
aforementioned window, you stand a good chance of making some waves. However, this is really
hard to achieve in reality, even amongst your employees
. You can have 10,000
followers and still not have 100 who engage that regularly. So, don't hold your breath.
What Else Don't They Tell You Going In
If you have customers in multiple countries or territories, being a startup can suck, because
some channels insist you have at least a certain minimum number of followers in a group before
you can organically target it (or any other subgroup of followers they recognize).
LinkedIn, for example, insists
on a minimum of 300 followers (as of the time of this writing)
and accumulating 300 followers in multiple geographies can take a year or more at a startup
without resorting to paid ads or cheap tricks.
And as previously stated, without followers, your post reach and engagement will be very small.
So assuming you're on a channel that allows it, you might need to share your brand's posts in
various groups as well. This might not give a big upfront boost, but I've noticed this sometimes
gives a post legs. However, some groups have rules about sharing branded/promotional content, so
read them before proceeding.
Current social media orthodoxy also says leave the link out of the post and put it in the first
comment if you want maximum reach. But what it fails to mention is that, when you have very
few followers, your reach is already so small that losing a percentage won't matter much. And I
hate seeing brands do this. It looks amateurish, and there are rumors in marketing circles that
social sites have gotten wise to it and taken steps to nullify it.
Another thing you might not have read going in is that when your brand's reach is small, just a
small amount of paid amplification can make a huge difference in getting your stuff seen and
clicked. Starting out, your organic post performance might be less than a hundred unique
impressions and less than ten clicks, so even a modest $100 of paid amplification might up those
impressions 100-fold, and those clicks tenfold or more, if you do it right. So, consider
spending a little money to make money on social media.