Avoiding Vanity Metrics in Your Social Media Strategy
Social media is one of the most useful marketing and brand building tools for marketplace startups. Many brands, however, struggle to come up with effective strategies to build credibility and engage their followers. Getting it right the first time can be hard, especially for online marketplace owners who aren’t privy to the ins and outs of social media algorithms.
That’s why we brought in Adam Flinter, Director of Digital and Creative at Golden Equator Consulting, who is a much sought-after digital strategy consultant. Adam has almost two decades of experience in digital media and has co-founded and advised many tech startups — one of the being Stash Global, a “next generation commerce platform” which enables merchants to sell goods and services using social networks and other non-transactional sites.
He offers us expert insights into the future of social media marketing, as well as practical advice on how to improve your marketing strategy and to avoid common pitfalls encountered by startup founders. And in case you were wondering if buying social media followers is a good idea, read on to see what Adam has to say about that:
Arcadier: You’re known to many as a social media guru. How did you develop your interest and knowledge in social media as a channel for marketing and brand building? How do you perceive its importance today?
Adam: I don’t consider myself a guru. I think the term is loaded and does no-one any favours. I’m just someone with enough experience to have made enough mistakes to learn from.
My interest in social media came directly as a result of my previous roles in journalism, where I ended up growing digital media teams for newspaper businesses. The impact and flexibility of storytelling and information gathering across so many different mediums appealed to me and I kind of grew into it from there. You quickly realize that building engagement uses similar strategies on all sides of the fence.
Today, social media is a vital tool for consumer purchasing. Think about it. When you go on holiday, you use TripAdvisor, you look at peer-to-peer platforms when choosing food and then stalk on Instagram. Quite a lot of your purchasing activities are based around social media.
Arcadier: Each social media platform has its own strengths and weaknesses. Which ones are best for early marketplace startups to generate traffic and buzz with the least marketing budget? Which would bring the most engagement and the most conversions?
Adam: The simple and unglamorous answer is “it depends”. The smart thing to do is to research and find which platform fits best. For example, an Asian business focused on a Twitter marketing strategy is more likely to struggle than an American one. A business with a 40+ year old target audience isn’t going to go far on Snapchat. The only ubiquitous platform is still Facebook.
Arcadier: How can a marketplace startup grow their social media following? Any tips for getting the first 2,000 followers on major social networks?
Adam: I know it’s starting to sound a bit repetitive, but the number one tip is simply: do your research. Find out where your audience is going to be, find out what is likely to motivate them, and build a strategy around that. Build your strategy around creating content they will consume. Then build a paid strategy to help grow numbers (think about how much money you’d need to spend to attract a certain audience size).
In the early stages, don’t go all out for engagement. Build credibility and then the engagement will come. Nothing looks worse than launching with a bang and then getting no interaction. Why would someone be motivated to interact with a brand they know nothing about?
Arcadier: Which analytics tools do you recommend for early marketplace startups? How should one approach/analyze the metrics that determine social media marketing success?
Adam: I actually don’t recommend spending money on analytics tools in the early stages of the life cycle. If you use free tools like Google Analytics then you can still follow the consumer journey and get insights from there.
You also never know what direction your business will go. What if you invest in an analytics app and your business ends up being totally mobile web or desktop focused? As you grow and as your business evolves, you can think about paid tools and how they best fit your business model.
Arcadier: What is your opinion on buying social media followers (eg. from websites like profollowers.com) to help grow one’s business?
Adam: I would never recommend it. Numbers on their own are vanity metric and they mean nothing to anyone other than the person who had their KPI set as pure numbers.
How to buy friends and influence no one. Photo credit: Marketing Mojo.
Arcadier: Over the years, what are some trends you’ve observed in social media marketing? What can we expect in the near future?
Adam: Like any new medium, the way we approach marketing on it has changed as the platform matures. For example, the goal used to entirely be based around the number of fans a Facebook page could get. Then it became about reach, then as Facebook cut its organic reach, it became about ROI. That’s become the tough bit for marketers. Given that so many businesses look at marketing as a revenue generating centre instead of a cost centre with an upside, how do you demonstrate real returns on a spend?
But the next big trend – real social commerce – is going to be able to deliver that. With so many platforms looking at how they can keep people on their platform for the purchase, it’s going to be an extremely interesting few years, and finally some respite for brands who are being asked to find big budgets for social strategies.
Facebook and Twitter’s “buy” button. Photo credit: Retention Science.
Arcadier: You’ve worked with many startups over the course of your career. What are some common pitfalls that many startup founders encounter? How do you tackle/avoid them?
Adam: There are three major ones that I can think of that cause more pain than is necessary, but which are also quite difficult to avoid.
Getting too emotionally involved with the business. It’s an extremely common mistake to make, so always have a brain trust on hand to give you objective advice. It’s hard to step back and be honest when you put your life into something, so always make sure you have a real sounding board.
Employing personalities instead of roles. Again, a common issue is creating something and then wanting people you get along with to share in the journey. The reality is your business will evolve rapidly and you need to employ based on need (and skills), not on friendship and ideal scenarios. If your friends fit the role, then it’s a match made in heaven. If not, you’re going to end up having difficult conversations down the road and you’re going to be filling gaps.
Scaling too quickly. Run as fast as you need to. There is no need to become a unicorn in 12 months because you have some traction. So plot your growth path in a realistic way. Ambitious is fine. Crazy isn’t.
Arcadier: For a marketplace that’s just starting out, what growth hacking strategies can be implemented with minimal resources?
Adam: The most important thing is to focus on the early stages on the supply side. You need merchants, suppliers, people to sell things or there is no point. Getting people to visit your marketplace is by far and away the easiest part of it (which is different from getting them to transact). That involves a lot of hard work and a lot of door knocking. If you have investors, this is where their value should kick-in. Because they’re high up the food chain, they can introduce and facilitate conversations that will make life much easier.
Arcadier: How has your experience as a journalist/editor helped you take your career to the next level, from founding your own marketing & communications firms to consulting?
Adam: My career path is pretty odd and I wouldn’t suggest it as a conventional way of doing things. But being a journalist and editor helped me hone a sense of curiosity, instilled the discipline to always ask questions (even of myself) and helped me become a better communicator.
Obviously it also helps to see how budgets work, how PR works, how big picture conversations and strategies happen and – of course - to network too. Each step of my career has just seemed a natural progression. Hopping to different industries and verticals wasn’t as big an issue as I’d thought it would be. A lot of skill sets are transferable.
Arcadier: What are some lessons or words of wisdom that have motivated you and helped you through tough times in your career?
Adam: Admit to your mistakes and learn from them. Always ask questions and always be open to being questioned. Finally, always have perspective. There are billions of people who wish they had your “problems”.