"Nothing travels faster than light, with the possible exception of bad news, which follows its own rules."
That was Douglas Adams' take, and he died before Facebook was a gleam in Zuckerberg's eye.
His words still ring true today, and whether we love or hate the speed of social media, it's reality. We can ride it or let it ride us.
Twitter, Facebook, and online review sites have drastically magnified the online visibility of every company imaginable. More than likely, a new firm will have far more unpaid, external content online than material they have generated and paid for themselves. Again, it's up to you to take control of that.
What are people saying about you on Twitter? Who's sharing your Facebook page? Any good pics making the rounds on Instagram?
To a great extent, you can control what goes online about you, even if you aren't the one composing the content or paying the bill. Grab onto some basic principles of online reputation management, and make the most of what everybody makes of you.
The first day you do business, you should already be online via every imaginable social media platform. You realize your advertising budget isn't exactly a monster yet, so when you can take advantage of free publicity, you have to do it.
Post regularly, but don't just do the obvious "Come and shop with us" stuff. Everybody says that. Customers today want to do business with companies that provide what they want, with good service, and under shared values.
So if your specialty product is organically produced cotton, don't just take the direct shot. Work around the edges a bit. Talk about environmental degradation in general and the impact of chemical-heavy cotton production. Establish your stand on the issues, and let that be a roundabout way of getting would-be customers' attention.
Share the Sharing
Maybe you're getting some love on social media, or somebody has written a favorable review online somewhere. Pump it up! How beautiful is it to take something that someone else wrote on a site that someone else paid for, then share it to your advantage through yet another platform that costs you nothing? Prowl around. Find the good stuff that's being said about you, and brag on yourself.
But wait. Don't brag on yourself. Get the word out, yes, but again, it pays to be indirect. If @ShirtBuyer has tweeted how comfortable and beautiful your organic cotton shirts are, re-tweet it with a comment that's more "Glad you love our stuff, @ShirtBuyer!" and less "See? We have nice products. Visit us at 418 Main Street." There's a lot to be said with subtlety, and social media provides subtlety that still hits like a boatload of bricks. The best of both worlds.
In the early days of search engines, it was widely used career advice to tell people to Google themselves. (Back then, it still incited laughter.) It was a good way to find out what was known and shown about you.
The same is true today, but it's much easier. Social media is easier to work with when you're checking yourself out, and branding sites are easy enough to navigate. When someone's dropping the boom on you, be prepared to fire back. Generate some positive online word about yourself and, as the cowboys said, head 'em off at the pass. The sooner you know what information is out there--especially when it's inaccurate or incomplete--the sooner you can quell the flames and save yourself.
There are ways to save time and effort in doing that. If distorted, exaggerated, or flat-out fabricated information about your company is making the rounds of customer feedback, you must react. Looking at the benefits of Brand.com reviews show how ferreting out the half-truths and restoring your company's accurate image is crucial.
Check the Stats
Social media and web sites of all kinds offer plenty of information about who's seeing your posts, who's sharing them, and just how far your name is going. That's more than just a status check of your efforts, though. It's also a system of feedback for determining which posts connect with readers and which ones get a collective #meh.
Let's return to the fictitious organic shirt place. If your Facebook post about a new supplier of soy-based ink has lit up the place, consider subsequent posts that emphasize the great sourcing that you do.
Meanwhile, if the advent of tagless shirts at your shop has flopped like a polyester suit, you might want to downplay those aspects of your product.
Social media can largely feel blind, with you launching fabulous (you think) stuff out there, jabbing your shovel in the dark and hoping to hit pay dirt. Use of the metrics they offer can provide much better information about whether your thoughts are interesting or not.
Until the cash starts flying around and you've got the budget for a reputation management firm and a world-class website, you can play it smart and score some great image for your startup by skillfully managing social media.
(Reputation management / shutterstock)