A Series on Social Media & the Entrepreneur: #1 — A Crash Course

By Kaitlyn Setter, Business Development Intern, MSU Hatch & Spartan Innovations

I can see it now…

Fresh-out-the-gate, bright-eyed, and determined to change the world while making money doing it — you just launched a startup or want to become an entrepreneur.

But guess what?

A business isn’t a business without customers and you’ve just started. So, odds are, your customer base and general awareness are low. However, before you get discouraged, I’ve got great news.

There is a tool that, if utilized correctly, will help you gain loads of customers while simultaneously boosting your startup’s exposure. It’s simple, cheap, engaging, and you probably use it every day. Heck, you probably even found this blog because of it.

That’s right, it’s a little thing called social media.

There are 7.6 billion people on this wonderful planet, and social media is used actively by 2.8 billion. By those numbers, social media has penetrated 37% of the global population — that’s a ginormous number. In turn, you’ve got the ability to reach over one-third of the world’s population using a tool that is mostly free of cost. What other marketing tool can lay this claim?

Now, before you start jumping for joy, you can’t simply willy-nilly your way through social media and expect success. There are hundreds of channels present around the globe: some only available in certain countries or regions, some with very niche user bases, and some that’ll offer zero benefit to your startup. But I’m here to breakdown the basics of the seven most relevant channels for you and your startup.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t need any help with social media,” or, “Social media won’t be able to grow my business.” But what kind of entrepreneur would you be if you said no to some free help? So, whether you were thinking these thoughts or not, I invite you to keep reading.

Welcome to the first installment of my social media blog series.

1. Facebook (1.9 billion unique monthly users)

The behemoth.

It’s a social networking site. It’s an events calendar. It’s a collaborative space. It’s a marketplace. I could go on and on; the possible nouns you can use to describe Facebook, the dominant social media platform across demographics, are seemingly endless.

However, as powerful as Facebook is, it’s steadily becoming lost on the younger generation; I’m talking Generation Z, those born after 1994. Now, I’m not saying Gen Z isn’t using Facebook, only that they use it less than other generations and opt for the channels their mom isn’t on.

Should Your Startup Use Facebook?

If you have a public facing business, meaning the growth of your startup depends on a vast amount of consumers knowing about your brand, my answer is yes. Facebook is the largest social channel for a reason and having a presence on it grants you credibility. Most importantly, the majority of people like it and are familiar with it, making it the best place to reach Millennials and those who have the big bucks to spend, like Gen X.

2. YouTube (1 billion unique monthly users)

With 2 million video views a minute, YouTube reaches more 18-49-year-olds than any U.S. TV network. It’s the envy of cable channels.

Essentially a search engine for videos, it’s where people go to find how-to videos, product reviews, new music, fresh laughs, TV clips, and movies, or to simply pass the time. There’s pretty much a YouTube video for anything. Celebrity status can even be found here for everyday people. Many YouTube “stars” make a living posting videos for their loyal followers to enjoy.

Should Your Startup Use YouTube?

To best connect with an audience on YouTube, you’ll need to put in much more effort than you would with other channels. With the others, you need to create content, but it’s easier — finding an article, taking a picture, writing copy. YouTube is different. You need an idea, filming equipment, editing software, and more to create high quality videos. It’s much more time intensive, utterly original, and not only do you need proper resources, but you also need a proper reason.

So, if you don’t think you need videos to highlight your startup’s product or service, you don’t need YouTube.

3. Instagram (600 million unique monthly users)

Here lies the prettiest of photos and videos attached to (typically) short, engaging captions that’ll show up in your feed one post at a time. And, more recently, Instagram introduced a “Story” feature — mimicking Snapchat’s own Story feature (we’ll get more into that later) — that allows you to edit and upload photos and videos for your friends to see for up to 24 hours.

Should Your Startup Use Instagram?

If you sell anything eye-catching or anything that can be made to look eye-catching, Instagram is where you’ll thrive. People love scrolling through their feed and viewing pretty pictures, and, as a business, you have a HUGE advantage here versus other channels as 53% of users follow at least one brand — a remarkable stat when comparing social sites. Also, if you’re targeting a younger crowd, the facts only get better because 90% of Instagram’s users are under 35 years old.

If you fit this bill, get your camera out!

4. Twitter (317 million unique monthly users)

A public message board where ideas can spread like wildfire. The messages are short — only 140 characters; oops, excuse me, 280 now. And boy oh boy, does news travel fast with the help of the #Hashtag.

The “#” is used to tag a Tweet (post) as being about a specific topic. For example, if you were to write #GoGreen in your Tweet, the content better have something to do with Michigan State…or the environment. It not only makes your Tweet easier to find when searching about the topic at hand, but some powerful Tweets can even start trending, and the most popular of these gather thousands of Retweets and Likes.

Should Your Startup Use Twitter?

Twitter is a relatively open platform that any business could potentially find a use for. However, it’s tailored much more toward younger generations because it’s so fast paced. If you’re target demographic is people over 45 years old, Twitter is probably not going to be very effective for you.

For those startups that have a younger target audience, Twitter is a dynamic way to push messages out quickly, learn what your target market is saying about your brand, and then start a conversation. In addition, people on Twitter are pretty darn honest, which will help you better understand your customers.

5. Pinterest (317 million unique monthly users)

Ah, Pinterest. The platform where, let’s be honest, women (who make up 80% of users), can spend hours planning everything from their next exotic meal to dream vacation homes. And this channel can quickly turn into a black hole of scrolling and re-pinning. Huh? Re-pinning? Let’s take a step back.

Pinterest is made up of a feed — no surprise there — of images with a caption and link, created by the users. These are called Pins. Clicking on the Pin will take you to a website, and re-pinning is the act of saving that Pin to a Board on your profile. These Boards are all themed: food, home, wedding, fashion, travel, the list goes on. The idea is that your profile is organized into Boards with certain themes, displaying your interests.

Should Your Startup Use Pinterest?

Bloggers, photographers, designers, and travelers dominate this platform with the most followers. But don’t fret, businesses experience plenty of success too. In fact, people who find an e-commerce site via Pinterest are 10% more likely to buy than if they were directed from another channel.

Remember Instagram and how everything pretty exists there? Same goes for Pinterest. If you’re selling clothing, accessories, food, craft supplies, home decor, or anything along these lines, open an account here.

6. Snapchat (166 million unique monthly users)

In terms of social media channels, Snapchat was revolutionary when it first launched — no feed, no cluttered profiles, no desktop version, no form of longevity. It’s main function is a messaging application, allowing users and their friends to send each other disappearing chats, photos, or videos with text, emojis, stickers, and many other designs.

Earlier I mentioned Instagram’s new Story feature — yeah, Snapchat did it first. However, Snapchat tops Insta with public Stories all users can see about the latest hot topics from companies like BuzzFeed, ESPN, The New York Times, and more. These are captivating because they’re made up of professional as well as user submitted content from all over the globe.

Should Your Startup Use Snapchat?

Snapchat is not for most businesses as it can be hard to build a solid audience. It’s primarily made up of the youngest, most tech savvy people — Gen Z — and their primary concern is to follow their friends. But they also enjoy being entertained. There’s no harm in giving it a try if you’ve got something interesting to snap about on a daily basis and can commit the time.

7. LinkedIn (106 million unique monthly users)

LinkedIn is unique among this list because it’s purely for professional, career-driven usage. For a normal user, their profile is basically their résumé. For a company, their profile is like a mini website focused on providing information and hiring new employees.

Similar to the other channels it has a feed with the latest updates, but this content is primarily focused on business and industry news, careers, job postings, professional services, professional experiences, and more.

Should Your Startup Use LinkedIn?

If you’re a B2B startup, this is a must-have channel because it’s a fantastic medium to connect with business professionals and potential customers. Or, if you have a more established startup that isn’t in B2B, you should be on LinkedIn too because it allows you to use your employees as brand ambassadors — their profiles link to your company’s profile and they can tag your company in their posts. Furthermore, users can follow your company for updates and job opportunities, making it a prime hiring tool.

Bit of a long crash course, I know, but now you’re all set up for the rest of the blog series! And by knowing the basics of each social media platform, you should have a better sense of which ones align with your company’s goals.

Stay in the loop for my next installment as I will provide you with ideas on how to build your social media presence and grow your audience. Until then!

Kaitlyn Setter is a senior at Michigan State University studying marketing, international business, and German. She has been working with The MSU Hatch for two and a half years and will be graduating in spring 2018. Upon graduation, she will begin working full-time at Whirlpool Corporation. View her LinkedIn profile here.

To read more from Voices of The MSU Hatch, click here.

Edited by Gerard Smith