4 No-Budget Online Marketing Tips for Startup Companies

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Effective marketing strategies are crucial to the survival of any business, but for early stage companies with little to no advertising budget, marketing and building brand awareness can be a huge challenge. While everyone knows that social media is a great resource for getting the word out, with so many platforms to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start. Here's the thing — social media is no longer an optional part of brand building. It's the single biggest resource young companies have at their disposal.

One thing I’ve learned through mentoring early stage companies is that one of the toughest challenges facing them is finding an audience of customers who will help them launch their brand. Social media is just a distraction if they aren't using it with a focused strategy to engage with potential customers and build an audience who will invest in them and spread the word. To assist in developing this strategy, I’ve compiled a list of four of my no-budget marketing tips for maximizing your social media marketing: 

1. Identify the Relevant Social Media Platforms

First and foremost, you must become familiar with the various platforms available and which audiences they target. You will reach far more users if you determine how to most effectively utilize each social media site. For instance, if you're offering a B2B product or service, LinkedIn should be your primary focus. But if your target audience includes teenagers, LinkedIn is the worst possible place to post. If your product or service is highly visual, Pinterest and Instagram are the platforms for you. Facebook has a broad wash of engagement, but that can be a drawback or an advantage depending on the width of your target market. 

Consider all these factors as you decide where to focus your time and attention. Once you've chosen the platforms that will have the most impact for your brand, learn the best practices for engaging people on those platforms. You'll be surprised at how different they are (the difference in vocabulary alone is enormous). As a starting point, consider these tips from Wendy Frink at Entrepreneur Magazine, who recently compiled a list of things to keep in mind when using each of the major social networks:

Pinterest: Posts without human faces get repinned 23 percent more.

YouTube: Make sure your file name reflects your clever video title.

Facebook: It’s okay to post after your business closes. Your audience may be more available after business hours.

Twitter: Links shortened with Bit.ly get more retweets. Tweets with images are also more retweetable.

Google+: Use full size images (800 x 600 px) to stand out from the crowd.

Instagram: Use the rule of thirds - Place the subject of the photo in only two-thirds of the screen. It’s visually more appealing.

Vine: Use a tripod to keep videos steady so your audience doesn't feel seasick.

2. Present a Cohesive Message Across all Channels

With so many different platforms and different rules to abide by, it's difficult to stay consistent. It is vital, however, that your brand stays on message across all of its social media platforms. To guarantee consistent branding, ensure that your design and graphics (including colors, fonts, and icons), work in unison across all social media platforms. Don’t be afraid to use the same art on all of your social network sites, changing the size of the image when necessary. This will help you build visual consistency, so your fans will recognize you instantly from one platform to the next.  

3. Differentiate Yourself from the Competition

A profile isn't enough — you need to frequently post valuable content. That could mean sharing information that is useful to your customers, telling emotionally engaging stories about your brand, or posting jokes or quotes that relate to your brand identity. It’s important that the content you provide is memorable, and it’s equally important that your content differentiates you from others in the marketplace. To achieve this you must figure out the true value you bring to the table. What makes your product or service unique? Once you’ve found your unique value statement, be sure to communicate it in a compelling, clear, and concise manner.

4. Leverage Your Existing Customer Base

Because many sites allow customers to leave reviews, comments, or feedback, encourage your customers to post about your products or services, or provide incentives for them to do this. For example, many restaurants will offer a free appetizer to customers if they leave a review on the site. Not only does this encourage feedback, it also encourages repeat business. In addition, it helps your brand reach new eyes because the customer's entire network now has the opportunity to encounter your brand. When an endorsement comes from someone outside of the company, its value is greater and its reach is further.

As Jabez LeBret writes in Forbes Magazine, it’s critical that companies utilize social networking sites effectively. 

“Because of the fast moving (and often public) nature of social media communication, companies are in need of a strong communication strategy. This includes understanding why your company participates on a specific social network, identifying who and where your customers are online, and tailoring an action plan for when things go wrong.” 

If you haven't yet jumped on the social media bandwagon, get to it quickly before you get left behind!

What are your tips for leveraging social media? Tweet us @SparkLabKC!