Digital Mums Why social media is the best use of your time when starting a business

Why social media is the best use of your time when starting a business

When you're an new business trying to juggle finance, operations, sales, marketing, product development and more, social media can seem like an extravagant add-on and hard to justify spending the time on. But being on social media can actually be one of the best uses of your time when you're in start-up mode. Here's why.

Social media gives you a chance to test things very easily.

Don't underestimate the importance of testing for business success, especially when it comes to marketing. Gone are the days when a twenty page marketing plan would be enough to direct the focus of your business for a year or more. If you want online growth, you need to take an iterative, data-driven approach. And no other medium offers the ability to get in front of your target audience and iterate like social media.

Want to test headlines for a sales page? You can put out a few small-scale social media ads to reach thousands of people for an a fraction of the price for AdWords.

Not sure which blog headline is the most engaging for your audience? Try a few variations on as tweets to see which one gets the most click-throughs and engagement.

For a small businesses just starting out, finding your voice and figuring out what messaging works better can be the difference between making sales and not. Social media gives you direct access to your target audience so you can run small-scale tests.

Social media lets you do market research quickly and cheaply.

Before we invested any time building and developing Digital Mums as a business we first had to validate the idea. People were saying it made sense, but we needed more than arm-rubbing from the people we knew before investing significant time into it.

We designed a simple survey to find out whether our target audience actually wanted what we had to offer and, more importantly, would they actually pay for it! We didn't have an email list and we didn't have direct access to significant numbers of mothers. So instead we turned to social media to get it in front of them.

With an advertising spend of around £50, we used Twitter and Facebook's targeted advertising features to get our survey in front of the right people. Using this survey, we were able to validate the idea and get priceless feedback that directly informed the development of our product.

If you have an extremely targeted, large email list then you can use that instead. If, like us when we started out, you don't, a small spend on social media advertising can go a long way to validate your idea and determine exactly how you should design and develop it.

Social media allows you to build a community before you have one.

Most new businesses work this way:

  1. Come up with idea for new business or product
  2. Develop the business / product
  3. Build a website
  4. Start trying to monetise
  5. Look to social media as a sales channel to try and sell it

By the time they start building their community, they've already invested a lot of time and money into what they're doing. And that's when they get desperate. Why isn't anybody buying? How can we generate sales quickly and cheaply? And often, this is when they start to look to social media as a 'free' marketing channel.

But desperation leads to a desire for quick results, which leads to silly decisions like buy followers or spamming people to buy their stuff. Their social media strategy fails and then they accuse of it 'not working.'

Well that's because they don't get how social media works. Social media is about its users. And users don't care about what you're selling (yet). What they do care about is being entertained, connecting with other people and learning things valuable to them. The more you appear like a desperate salesman, the less successful you're going to be using social media.

Here's the ideal sequence you should follow:

  1. Come up with idea for new business or product
  2. Start building a community around it, on social media or via email
  3. Develop the business / product
  4. Build a website (to be fair, this can be interchanged with number 3 as long as it's very simple)
  5. Start trying to monetise

Before we had any product to speak of, we started building an audience on social media. When it was ready to be prototyped, we already had the beginnings of a community, which made it easier to recruit people to join our pilot. By the time we actually started selling anything, we already had an audience that was interested in what we had to offer.

One of the most successful examples of this is Product Hunt. Their founder Ryan Hoover stated a very simple newsletter among his personal acquaintances in the Bay Area, where he curated cool products for them. Then he began building a community through his email list and on social media. Then he started developing the product itself (in this case the product was a website and actually a community as well).

Using his community's advice, feedback and even direct help, he iterated and made his product better and better. Improving it meant more people wanted to use it, to the point where they've now received $7 million worth of investment - and they still haven't monetised, because they're still focused on building an amazing community and adding massive value to them.

Obviously Product Hunt is an extreme example. But the concepts they used to build their community are universally applicable.

If you use it wisely, social media is an amazing, cost-effective medium for testing ideas, doing market research and building a community. When you're a new business trying to find your way, you can save a lot of wasted time, effort and money further down the line by using it effectively when you're starting up.

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