Social media marketing and growth hacking for startups

The rise and popularity of social media channels now open a new era for businesses to reach out to their customers in an instant. But it takes one to be savvy in using social media in order to effectively employ it for marketing purposes. Tom Uhlhorn tells us how.


Tom Uhlhorn. Stuck in a world that prioritised speed over strategy and subjective creativity over objective accountability, Tom left the world of agencies and “big budget marketing” to found Tiny, a Customer Experience (CX) agency, reinventing the role of the agency through combining strategy, data, and creativity with modern agile marketing methods.

There are over 3 billion users in the internet and about two-thirds of this number has a social media account. In every minute, millions of posts flood the internet, which are accessed by computers, tablets and smartphones. Brands have no other option but to jump into the fray.

Which leaves us with the question: where are you in the thick of (social media) things?

Social media may be a new space for you and utilizing it in marketing your business can be an alien concept. Sure, you probably have a social media account for your startup, but how are you using social media platforms to your advantage?

WeTeachMe’s Masters Series zeroed-in on giving startups pointers about social media marketing by inviting Tom Uhlhorn of Tiny, a Customer Experience (CX) agency, to give his expert’s advice to startup owners.

The Importance of ROI

“We are in the golden age of communications,” according to Tom, “and social media is uncontrollable.” It is a fact that social media has taken the world by storm and it suddenly fast-tracked our societies in leaps and bounds. However, it’s not because everyone is so into it that you should also join the bandwagon. The reason why you should be looking seriously into social media is because there is great opportunity in there to push your business forward, a vital asset for a startup like yours.

Before you even take a deeper look on social media marketing, there are three things that Tom shared which you should bear in mind in the first place:

  1. Everything you do in marketing you have to approach from a return-on-investment (ROI) perspective;
  2. If you do not understand how your marketing and communications could generate your return-on-investment then go back to the drawing board because you have to clearly define that link between a piece of communication and the return you’re going to get from it;
  3. Look at how social media comes into play in helping you get a return-on-investment.

Although an increase in social media likes and followers can cheer you up a bit, the more important aspect is on how to utilise these factors in generating leads that you can convert into profits. Capital and cashflow are common concerns of startup businesses, which is why there is a need to look into resources, tools and strategies that can give you better returns for the investment you put in.

Your brand and your customers

However, don’t be too hasty to shrug off likes and followers. They are significant, too, because they can give you a glimpse as to who your audience is and what their preferences are, then they help you define your marketing strategy from an informed standpoint.

To illustrate this, let us cite what Tom presented regarding two similar apps that are useful to people who are splitting bills through a tab system. One is Venmo and the other is Kickback. The former focused on the customer’s need of making it easier to transfer money, while the latter focused too much on the brand and its story. These two apps had different ways of looking at the same problem: one understands its customers and knows what they need, the other thought that by “being funny” it was going to be relevant to its target market of students and share houses.

Thus, Tom’s five-point checklist for his CX agency, Tiny, shows how to remove opinion from marketing. You can also test this on your own business.

  1. What is your raison d’etre (reason for existence)?
  2. How does your raison d’etre impact on your customers’ lives?
  3. How can you better align your raison d’etre with your customers?
  4. How can you make your brand broadcast the emotional reaction that your ideal customer will invoke?
  5. How can you growth hack those emotions?

What is your reason for existence? The first one is very essential. For Tom, “If you don’t have a reason for existence, then probably you shouldn’t be in business. When you talk about passion, then that’s what you exist for. It doesn’t have to be easily articulated.”

How does your reason for existence impact on your customers’ lives?  You need to go out and talk to your customers. If you are a startup and you don’t have actual customers yet, then speak to your prospective customers. Do your research. There is a structured way of doing this: you can either hire an agency to do this for you, or you can do this yourself. The first option will take some financial investment, while the second one will cost you time. If you want to do it on your own, find 15 people who fit the bill of your customer (they exist even if they are not your customers yet.) You need to be able to describe who that person is, speak to them how your business manifest into their lives, write down their answers and see how the answers connect with each other.

How can you better align your reason for existence with your customers? Don’t try to hard sell to people. Relate and engage with them. Know their wants and needs. Humanize your brand and connect with people on an emotional level.

How does your brand broadcast the emotional reaction of your ideal customer? Every successful product or company out there right now generates a positive emotional reaction when their customers see them. A brand is the emotions that happen when you connect your company to your customers. For example, a McDonald’s sign invokes different emotions to customers and the company leverage on that.

How can you growth hack those emotions? Promotion. Many marketing agencies miss out on the first four points, but you have to put value on those points.

Understanding Growth Hacking

Wikipedia defines Growth Hacking as a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective and efficient ways to grow a business. Growth hacking is both data-centric and story-focused. Most digital people will look more into the data while most marketing agencies sit around stories. You want to be in the middle.

Data: Funnel and Track

Data is boring, but it is significant. Without data, you just have opinion. Because you are emotionally involved in your business, you need the data in order to make a more informed decision.

There are various methods to acquire customers: advertisements, word-of-mouth, public relations, to name a few. From these methods of acquisition, you must have ways to generate inquiries or leads. This could be through your website’s landing page, a chat bot, or phone call. Then, from the leads or inquiries, you convert them to sign-ups or sales.

You can measure data every step of the way and look at ratio from acquisition to lead generation and from lead generation to conversion. Here are simple tools available on how you can track acquisition.

  • Google Analytics Event/Goal Tracking
  • Google AdWords Remarketing
  • Facebook Pixel Tracking
  • LinkedIn Pixel Tracking
  • AdWords Conversion Tracking
  • Unbounce Landing Pages
  • Spreadsheets!

When you can track and measure every step of the funnel, you can easily identify your “path of least resistance” and “low hanging fruit”.

Path of Least Resistance: scale this!

Out of all your social media posts, which ones generate the highest click-throughs? These are your best performing assets and, obviously, they are the ones you want to scale. Why do you think it got the most number of click-throughs?

Apply to your Low Hanging Fruit

If you have an asset that has a 2% click through rate, and you have another asset that has a 9% click through rate, then you will be able to identify what’s working in the 9% click through, whether it’s a messaging or content, and apply it to your 2%. It will be much easier to double that conversion.

Remember: sample size is important! Calculate your sample size to ensure that you are aware of how quantifiable your results are. How representative of your total market is the size of the audience that has seen the ad or visited the website? A 5% margin of error is ideal.

Story: Get it Straight and Iterate it

Growth hacking is not just about data, it is about your story. While data is important, you still need to really have a good story, and you really need to understand how to connect with your customers. To achieve this, you have to absorb your story as well. This is where content marketing comes in.

Iterate on your story every week, until your data stops getting better. There are a hundred ways to tell a story and you can say it better each time. For example, if you have an ad in Facebook, you usually put a call to action of “buy now”. Changing that variable to “purchase now” or “start your free trial today”, you will have a reliable understanding which variable converts better, week by week. Then, over the years, your story will become so compelling because you understand how your customers react to it.

You gain more understanding of your customers’ social media behaviours through Click and Collect.

  • Click: engagement, audience building, share & referral, subscribe, lead inquiry, sale, cross-promotion;
  • Collect: audience profiling, customer insights, tracking, partnership potential, behavioural data

Make your customers click on your posts, engage with them and build your audience. Out of that, collect their profile and insights, then analyse your customers better through how they behave in social media.

Social Media Channels you can use

Just by searching the internet, you will find several social media channels available. New ones come up every year and millions of new users sign up each day. At this age, an internet user has more than one social media account because each channel is used in various ways. To know more about these channels, Tom describes them as follows:

  • Facebook is the town centre of your online community. Not everything happens there, but everything that happens is talked about there, most often after the fact.
  • Instagram is your daily journal. Like all journals, there are big things in your life and there are small things in your life. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which ones to record. Collectively, however, the small and the big can tell an engaging tale.
  • Twitter is a medium that is best used for the purpose of discussion of ideas and agenda. It is very much a platform of the half-finished idea, and is a great tool for unleashing the beginnings of a thought for the purpose of either influencing other or being influenced in return.
  • LinkedIn is a blogging platform that enables you to target your content at hyper-specific target audiences.
  • Blogging is a way to build influence, and 80% of the work is in the promotion and distribution, not the writing.

Master these channels and choose which ones are appropriate for your brand. Then, make sure that you fill it with content that will pique the interest of your audience. Come up with a rule book on what to post for each channel and how often you should post.

How to create content

You will find the various methods on how you can come up with content for your social media channels.

  • Outsource: Fiverr is your friend
  • Create your own content: Buy tech equipment from China and DIY videos and photos
  • Write & interview: Articles are incredibly easy to write, and if you can, interviewing influential individuals who are related to your industry will drastically improve an articles’ chances of being read and shared.
  • Optimise for SEO: If your content isn’t optimised for SEO, find someone who can help you create a solid SEO strategy that you can use as your framework.
  • Collaborate: There are other companies and individuals around the world who will be willing to work with you on shared content assets. Find them and speak to them.
  • Don’t advertise: If it looks like an ad, chuck it in the bin. There is too much great content online for an advertisement to survive.

When you create your story, funnel it to efficiently get click-throughs, generate leads and convert to sign-ups. “Success” in social media is when your audience converts, even if it means lower engagement. Again, it goes back to ROI.

Taking your business further

With all these tools, you are ready to map out your plan and draw means of successfully using social media in marketing your brand. For your next steps, do the following:

  1. Understand your vision and your customers.
  2. Based on your vision, come up with your strategy and stay true to your strategy. (Strategy is about getting from A to Z.)
  3. Sell your vision to your customers in such a way that you can really be agile with your tactics (Tactics are the methods: you can jump directly from A to Z, or you can go through the alphabet, or you can go through every third letter.)

Now, pick the best social media channels for you, then go and growth hack your business. Your customers are waiting and they’re just a click away.

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