Let’s stipulate that a startup is whatever you want it to be. There is no widely accepted definition of a startup in terms of size, age or speciality — although tech firms are heavy contenders for the title.
The elusive nature of a startup recalls Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s description of pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Entrepreneurs who carry the load and venture capitalists seeking return on investment know startups when they see them, as well as challenges that await no matter the nature of these generally small to medium-sized enterprises.
Possibly the least considered challenge and influence — yet having a great impact on startup success — is social media. Mordecai Holtz, co-founder and chief digital media strategist of Blue Thread Marketing, believes that being active socially online has great potential for ROI, especially when the greatest investment is time, not money.
“Social is the ultimate icebreaker,” Holtz said. “Startups want and need a consumer base, network of thought leaders and access to potential investors .
“Many investors and thought leaders will check startups’ social proof before interacting,” he said. “If a competitor is getting attention based on content, start using it. If not, that’s an instant advantage.”
This puts a premium on business owners wielding digital expertise. Indeed, digital skills can be a great asset to today’s entrepreneur who can fully use them to great benefit. This is where entrepreneur and Google digital skills lead trainer Ciru Edith excels.
“A digital entrepreneur creates a business whose model or framework leverages on the internet,” Edith said during an Africa Tweet Chat. “This means creating digital products and services that business owners market and distribute online. A digital entrepreneur focuses exclusively on online or web commerce. It can be the strategy of getting clients or customers, designing and offering products or services, and generating revenue or reducing cost.
“The digital entrepreneurs come up with ideas or skills that can help other people who want to be entrepreneurs but don’t know how to start,” she said.
Much like an action film hero, these entrepreneurs need to have a very particular set of skills. For Edith, that means having the knowhow to create opportunities for others. Her prime examples of this are Uber, Facebook, Alibaba, Airbnb and Skype. She urged discretion because “the platforms we use contribute greatly to how our ideas succeed.
“Social media helps you grow market share,” Edith said. “You can choose to try organic social media or paid social media where you pay for views, clicks or actions.”
These are her digital essentials for startups:
- Understand the available channels.
- Know digital marketing basics.
- Understand clients’ demographics.
- Be time-cautious because digital is evolving.
This will help entrepreneurs use social media to their advantage.
“We have to do digital skill trainings for small and medium-sized businesses to give them the basics on what is required when doing digital marketing,” Edith said, adding that startup owners can readily learn new skills for a digital world.
“Social media is one of the platforms everyone is taking advantage of,” she said. “It helps reach new audiences, create new opportunities, target specific clients and develop new networks. When you have an online presence, your content is the king. Make trust your queen to ensure you win customer loyalty and a good reputation.”
These are the keys for Edith’s content focus: inform, educate, advise and entertain.
“People love entertainment and something that is well illustrated and described,” she said.
Self-confidence and positivity are the startup owner’s greatest selling points. Sales are an emotional act, and people buy you.
“The art of knowing your brand, protecting your brand and making people talk positively about your brand is what digital entrepreneurs should focus on,” Edith said. “Our brands speak louder. Understanding our clients’ demographics and micro-moments also helps entrepreneurs know where and when is best to engage them.”
Much like the startup owner’s overall business, digital versatility will not magically appear. Begin with doing one thing well, or as Edith says, “It is always advisable for brands to start with one platform, test it, then try the others.
“Digital skill is mainly the way entrepreneurs present themselves in digital platforms, the language they use and how keenly they choose their keywords,” she said. “There are Google tools like the Keyword planner that can help you choose the best keywords for your content to be easily indexed.”
Startup owners who downplay the need for an integrated social media strategy will be left by the wayside.
“Digital presence is becoming a necessity for entrepreneurs in every industry,” Edith said. “Video being watched on YouTube is leading, and I am very sure everyone will want to consume something after they’ve seen how it works.”
One of the pervasive technologies — apparent to those reading this on their phones — is mobile. Edith said that most people access the internet through their phones. The number of apps downloaded from phones rose by a double percentage from the prior year. She advised entrepreneurs to create responsive websites and apps.
“The internet has taken control,” Edith said. “It’s up to entrepreneurs to take advantage of the online platforms and keep their products up to date. I always advise entrepreneurs to take advantage of time and always be very flexible and ready to adapt new changes.”
She noted that content marketing helps brands create awareness, generate traffic and increase sales. Brand personalization gives an added boost.
“This works really well when doing email marketing, retargeting and remarketing,” Edith said. “It leads to conversion and great engagements.
”If you’re a digital entrepreneur, create content specifically for your target audience,” she said. “That will help you win your niche, reduce costs and maximize profits. Having a budget, plan and strategy are all that is needed.”
Even though they might focus on their small corner of the world, startup owners must remember their digital reputation spreads far and wide, whether they want it to or not.
“When employing digital skills as an entrepreneur, you must know you’re dealing with 4 billion people in the world,” Edith said. “Always sieve this population to fit who you target by being specific. Start small, then you expand with time.
”Our niche helps us reach our target audience,” she said. “That’s the content and the engagement we get. The awareness and conversion we experience tells us if we’ve met our target.”
That’s a guideline that applies to any type of business of any size and any type, particularly entrepreneurs mastering the art of the startup.
Jim Katzaman is a writer at datadriveninvestor.com and a manager at Largo Financial Services. A writer by trade, he gathers the majority of his story content from Twitter chats. This has led him to publish about a wide range of topics such as social media, marketing, sexual harassment, workplace trends, productivity and financial management. Medium.com has named him a top writer in social media.