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5 Tips on How to Leverage Social Media for Your Startup

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Back in the early 90s, the idea of social media held meaning only to geeks like myself, who were chained to our computers and “socialized” over Usenet. Today, however, starting a blog or leaving an opinion on someone’s Facebook wall is as common a way to express how you feel as slapping a bumper sticker on the back of your car – and far easier. And todaty the mainstream is engaged: social media has exploded in such a way that every age-demographic and niche, both average citizens and big businesses, are participating by sharing content, sharing opinions, insights and experiences on blogs, in chat rooms through social networks, and so much more.

But let’s get to brass tacks. Can social media actually do anything for your company? Can social media improve your company’s image or sell your product – especially when you’re, let’s say, running a start-up with no marketing or PR budget? I was in just that position not too long along ago, and I can tell you the answer is absolutely ‘Yes.’

When we launched my company, BuzzLogic at the DEMO conference back in September 2006, we used our connections with influential bloggers and opinion leaders to generate awareness around our product and the problems we are helping others to solve. The results were pretty amazing. Sure we had people talking, but more important than that, we had the right people talking. Three months later we closed our Series A round of funding.

So how can you leverage social media to achieve your goals? There are some tried and true methods for this – but make no mistake, it does involve work. Starting corporate and personal blogs is a great first step in testing the social media waters. Here are a few pointers for newbies (or best practices for those with active or, ahem, “inactive” blogs):

1. Be real. I’ve seen it time and time again; executives start blogging because it’s trendy. Blogs are not a “if you build it they will come” proposition. If you’re going to blog, take the time to think about the unique insight you can bring to the market. What jobs have you held in the past that bring bearing on your viewpoint today? What companies have you worked for? Who are you hanging out with in the community that surrounds your business? What broader issues surround the company or project you are trying to get off the ground? Start out picking a few key themes and watch how they are discussed within blogs and mainstream media, then write up your reactions. Don’t be afraid to be bold – there is nothing worse than a milquetoast corporate blog.

2. Watch and learn: Figure out who already has mastered the art of blogging. You probably already know who they are. What are their secrets to success? How often do they blog? How are their blogs organized? Who do they go to for information? What’s their writing style? Most of all, don’t over think what is already working for folks you respect. In social media, simple is good!

3. Assess your network. As an entrepreneur or a founder, your own network might hold the influential spark than can start a fire. Vet your ideas and thoughts with this group. What parties or events do they regular attend that attract other influential people you want to meet? Our CEO Rob Crumpler was introduced to me this way. Ditto for many others on the BuzzLogic team.

4. Share the love. Bloggers love it when someone demonstrates they’ve read their blog by linking back. Similarly, comment on relevant posts of bloggers you admire – or those who are influential on the topics you care about. Trackback other bloggers within your post and reference or compliment whatever point was made. Start a blogroll and feature all of the bloggers you follow.

5. Keep an eye on the conversation. As important as getting involved is, monitoring the blogosphere for what people are saying about you is just as important. Buzz, both good and bad, now moves faster than ever and you need to be plugged into it to maintain visibility and be effective at adding value with solid content. Because at the end of the day, an informed opinion, unique insight and compelling content are what it’s all about.

Todd Parsons is the founder of BuzzLogic which uses novel software applications and data to determine who the real “influencers” in social media are, so that startups and other players in the new media ecosystem—businesses, online publishers and the individuals creating influential content themselves—reap greater rewards.

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