Most startup marketers know that social media is a great way to communicate with customers and potential customers, hear what they’re thinking, and get them more engaged with your brand.
The tricky part is figuring out how to do that.
Arielle Kimbarovsky, marketing and social media strategist for Chicago’s own M1 Finance, has cracked the code. M1’s organic social presence (especially on Twitter) is funny and informative – and gets lots of engagement from the company’s target audience.
So our team sat down with Arielle (virtually) to ask her how she does it.
What follows are her secrets: six tips for how to develop a startup social media strategy that actually works.
Tip 1: Know Your Audience
If you want people to engage with your social media posts, you’ve got to address the right people.
It sounds simple, but it’s a step you can’t overlook if you want to succeed. Your target audience will determine which channels you use, what you post, when you post, what your voice is, and so much more.
For example, if you’re hoping to get the attention of swing shift workers, your posts shouldn’t all go live during regular business hours.
If you’re hoping to reach an older audience, TikTok is probably not your best platform.
And as Arielle mentioned, it’s worth considering whether your audience is even likely to be on social media. If your ideal customers don’t spend much time on social, it’s probably not worth your time to invest in an organic social strategy at all.
Step 1: Know your audience; step 2: target them; step 3: profit
So how can you go about getting to know your audience? Start with these these three things:
- Look at your current performance. Who’s following you? Who’s engaging with your posts? What are your best-performing posts? This will tell you who your current efforts appeal to and what currently works best with your audience.
- Talk to sales, product, and marketing. Arielle noted that social works best when it’s collaborative. If you’re not sure who your posts should appeal to, talk with your colleagues about who their ideal customers are, for what you’re offering now and what’s coming down the pike. Then focus your social efforts on engaging with that group of people.
- Talk to your current customers. If you can run a survey of current customers, do it. Find out why they picked your product or business, what social channels they use, and what topics most interest them. This will provide you with clear guidance about where to focus first.
Tip 2: Know What You Want to Accomplish
Once you know who you're talking to, it’s time to define what you hope to achieve on social.
Arielle emphasized that organic social media strategy should not be about trying to sell. One common misconception, she noted, is that organic social will work like paid ads, where one post leads to conversion.
That’s not necessarily the case.
On the other hand, it is important to tie social efforts to specific business goals. “It’s critical to set numbers that aren’t just vanity metrics, like grow followers by X,” she said.
So what are some reasonable business goals to tie to organic social? Arielle offered a few examples:
- Boosting top-of-funnel awareness, where you’d track reach, mentions, and impressions.
- Raising awareness and helping folks at the consideration stage, where you’d look for clicks and traffic to your website.
- Tracking sentiment, where you might do a sentiment analysis (positive vs. negative mentions) of what people are saying about your brand.
This is good news for anyone trying to make a case for organic social: tying efforts to specific business goals helps illustrate the value of this channel.
For M1, Arielle focuses on current customers. A lot of the company’s followers are already familiar with what M1 has to offer, so she uses M1’s social platforms to educate them and keep them engaged.
Tip 3: Sound Human & Add Value
One of my favorite tips Arielle offered during our conversation was this: If something doesn’t sound like it could come from a human, then it probably doesn’t belong on social media.
Social media posts shouldn’t sound like they come from robots.
Another (related) gem: know what your posts are competing with, attention-wise.
For social media users, these may sound like common sense.
But for startups trying to add social to an already full marketing calendar, it’s easy to lose sight of the wisdom here.
Remember: when your target audience is on social media, they’re scrolling through dozens – if not hundreds – of posts. If what you’re offering isn’t compelling, doesn’t offer real value, or sounds like a corporate drone wrote it, there’s an excellent chance people will scroll right by.
But there are millions of potential ways to sound human and offer valuable content. How can you figure out which one is right for your startup?
Try stealing the strategy Arielle used when she joined M1 in May 2020:
- Analyze your best-performing posts. This will show you what connects most with your audience and can guide your future posts.
- Talk to your current followers. Consider using the poll feature most social platforms offer to ask what your followers are reading, what they want to learn, and anything else that can guide you.
- Stay up to date on current events. These often drive the conversation on social media. Knowing what’s happening in the larger world can help you better position your own content and avoid faux pas.
- Make a habit of reading up on social media trends. Social platforms and the way people use them are constantly changing. In addition to using these platforms regularly yourself, be sure you’re actively seeking out information about what’s new.
Arielle’s research led to the finding that M1 users wanted educational content to continuously improve their money management skills.
Today, she delivers on that by…
- Promoting the M1 blog, which gives tips for financial well-being.
- Sharing relevant news stories.
- Starting conversations and threads where followers can share insights.
The results are impressive: since Arielle started, M1’s Twitter engagement is up 288 percent and its LinkedIn engagement is up 70 percent.
While those numbers certainly aren’t guaranteed, they can provide a useful case study for anyone trying to make the case for greater investment in social. And as you’ll see in the next tip, you may need to do that.
Tip 4: Be Consistent
This is maybe the most important tip and also the hardest one to follow for busy startup marketing teams: be consistent with your social presence.
Hard as it is, though, Arielle noted that it’s a crucial, non-negotiable part of any successful social media strategy.
The problem for most startups is that they don’t have the bandwidth to be consistent. After all, your audience could be on social media at literally any time of the day or night.
And because of the nature of this channel, users expect near-instant reactions and responses when they post, tag, or comment.
That’s just not doable if your “social media person” is also responsible for maintaining a handful of other marketing channels.
So what can startups do? There are two possible routes:
- Hire someone to handle social media full time or nearly full time. This is the only way it’s possible to dedicate the necessary time and energy to engaging with target audience members, creating and posting new content, analyzing performance, and adjusting strategy as necessary.
- Adjust your expectations. Remember that knowing what you want to achieve is an essential part of succeeding with organic social. If your current team doesn’t have the bandwidth to meet those goals, it’s time to adjust them – or bite the bullet and expand the team.
These may be hard truths to hear, but keep in mind that organic social isn’t a great strategy for every business. If you can drive enough new business through a channel where you have more experience – say, SEO or SEM – then that will probably be more efficient for your team. In that case, it may be okay to skip organic social for now.
But if there’s a vibrant, active community of your potential customers on social media, it may be worthwhile to invest in engaging with them.
Tip 5: Experiment and Improve Constantly
When Arielle analyzed which of M1’s posts had historically performed best, she used those findings as a jumping-off point for her organic social strategy.
But the key to her success has been experimenting from there.
For example, she discovered that M1 users love seeing their portfolio performance graphs turned into artwork.
M1's request for "value over time" graphs
Not sure what to try? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Run polls: Ask your followers what they think of product features, potential content topics, or anything else related to your business. The key is to tie poll subjects to your business and / or your brand.
- Start a challenge: Again, this can be directly related to the product or service you sell or more brand focused, as long as it provides valuable information about your audience.
- Encourage people to share their own content: The possibilities are endless here, but when in doubt, request pet pictures.
- Pay attention to your competitors and brands you admire. Social evolves fast, so paying attention to what other people and brands are doing is key to staying relevant. And remember: good artists borrow; great artists steal.
There’s no right or wrong way to experiment, but Arielle emphasized the importance of paying close attention to the numbers. The key to improving over time: first identify what’s working and what’s not; then abandon what’s not and try to incrementally improve on what is.
Repeat that forever, and you’ll see strong results.
Tip 6: Join Existing Conversations
Arielle noted that growing engagement on social can have an exciting snowball effect for startups. One way to trigger that snowball effect is to reply to relevant accounts that already have large followings.
She’s had the most success on Twitter, but notes that it can work on Instagram, too.
Steal this tactic:
- Look at the influencers your target audience follows.
- Follow them.
- When they post something that’s relevant to your brand, add to the conversation.
This lets your startup get in more people’s feeds without being overly promotional.
Final Thought: Organic Social Media Is a Long-Term Play
We don’t engage in in-person socializing expecting to make new best friends overnight, and startups shouldn’t expect immediate, stunning results in the short term from organic social, either.
Arielle emphasized that this channel is about building a name for your brand and getting people excited to talk about your product or service with friends and family when the topic comes up.
If organic social makes sense for your startup, be prepared to be patient. If you are – and if you apply Arielle’s other tips – chances are good that you’ll find a rewarding new way to engage your customer base.
Want to talk to Arielle yourself? Connect with her on Twitter @ariellekimbar!