Enterprise tech startups generally don’t elicit a wellspring of fervent fandom. On the spectrum of technology awareness, let’s just say that folks are not lining up overnight in front of Oracle stores to eagerly buy the latest database release. On that front, don’t expect to see EMC open any holiday pop-up stores, Infor to do any Super Bowl ads or SAP to launch a new line of perfumes and colognes. Enterprise tech simply does not register for most people and that’s just fine.
However, does that mean that enterprise tech companies should ignore social media? I’m not talking about building out an “enterprise social network” that is internal to a company. I will save that topic for another time. I’m referring to using social media as an outlet for your company to engage your customers, partners, industry peers and potential customers. In other words, social media is every bit as relevant a channel into and out of your company as a marketer, sales rep, technical support agent or corporate executive. In that light, ignoring social media would mean missing out on an enormous opportunity. And it’s not about the follower count. It’s much more important than that.
I see many enterprise tech startups failing to leverage the power of social media. More established firms like a Salesforce or Citrix can dedicate resources to managing their social media channels. They also have thousands of customers, a brand to maintain and billions in cash at their disposal. They have to be active on social media, even if it is to peddle their bland pabulum of corporatism that pervades and infuses their content with zero creativity or personality. That is what most enterprise tech startups have as their “inspiration.” So it’s not surprising that startups go no further than setting up various social media accounts that will wither and die from disuse.
How can social media benefit your enterprise tech startup? There are three specific ways:
- Credibility Building. It is hard to get anyone to take an early stage startup seriously or to even notice it. Social media can at least help establish a startup as not just an ongoing concern but, more importantly, as a source of expertise. By creating originally generated, industry relevant content, sharing useful industry commentary and engaging in conversations on pertinent industry topics, a startup can become known as a thought leader over time. While the term “thought leader” does get bandied about like a cheap date, people do gravitate to people and companies that have a deep focus and bring insights into their particular field.
- Relationship Building. Social media can exponentially expand one’s own limited network. The loose nature of social media allows one to easily find and connect to relevant people and companies, which establish the types of connections that can open up opportunities and propel startup growth. This is not to say that you can close a big deal because of a tweet, but it can move you closer to finding a deal. The same can be said for finding talent, building partnerships or engaging with investors. Working the network can yield surprising benefits, but there has to be a network in place for those benefits to materialize.
- Knowledge Building. In the past, it was difficult to gather feedback, to get a sense of what the market wants or to get the pulse of customers. One of the core values of social media is the ability to easily and quickly engage a wider audience. Another value of social media is the ability to see what peers, competitors and the industry overall are doing. In a sense, social media is one of the best channels to listen into real-time industry chatter and to discover trending topics. There are few better research tools out there today.
I realize that much of this sounds like common knowledge. There are no great revelations in what I’m recommending. I hear startups push back saying, “We know, we know,” whenever I mention the above points. However, knowing and doing are not the same. If you realize that your enterprise tech startup can benefit from building a social media strategy and presence, then it’s time to put that into practice.
Then there are plenty of naysayers. Many say that when you’re in startup mode, social media is merely an unnecessary distraction. And there is some truth there. When you’re still groping around for product-market fit, struggling to close your first customer deals and flailing under the duress of implementations, the need to tweet doesn’t seem like such a high priority. It makes sense to spend your precious resources on what’s most important and do that well, rather than adding more stuff to the list that wouldn’t be done well at all.
Once an enterprise tech startup has those first customers and a product worth a damn, social media takes on a more strategic importance. It is more than merely a marketing fount. It’s the living voice and personality of the company that typically does not come across on static pages of the company’s website. From that perspective, it is not hard to see how social media can impact sales, business development, customer service, recruiting and fund raising. Social media is part of the long tail strategy for startup growth.
This article was originally published on Strong Opinions, a blog by Birch Ventures for the NYC tech startup community.