One of my subscribers wrote to me a couple of days ago: I am new business of under a year and I'm trying to understand social media and how to balance it with my projects that are on the go. I have underestimated how much time it takes to build posts and I'm worried about managing the multiple platforms once I release them. I am a residential designer by trade and love to look at "all the pretty things" when I have time. I know it's important to have digital portfolios on the web, but where is the line? I want to have a strong, professional social media presence, but I do not want the platforms to consume me. I'm also leery about how much money to invest in them. Any thoughts?
Let me see if I can help.
Things to keep in mind before you start
Getting started with marketing - from the ground up for a new business, does not need to be scary. If you're new to marketing there's obviously a lot that you will need to learn, but you can get started relatively small, with little or no money down, and learn as you go.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Marketing takes time to work. There is no "instant" cure that will suddenly bring you fame and fortune.
- For your marketing to work, you have to show up consistently and frequently. Publishing one article now and then or a couple of posts on a social network every week won't work - this is a long-term game.
So with that in mind, let's look at the general approach.
Your marketing strategy
The first thing you need to do is design your marketing strategy. In this case, a "strategy" simply says what you're going to do. We can break this down into three questions:
- Where are you going to market?
- What are you going to do?
- How often are you going to show up?
Let's look at each of these in turn.
Where are you going to market?
There are two things you want to consider when you think about where you're going to market:
- Where does my target market hang out?
- Is the platform suitable for my products and / or services?
In the marketing world, the "where" you market is called a channel to market. Choosing the right channel to market is important simply because if your potential clients don't hang out there, your marketing won't work.
The second thing to consider is whether the channel is suitable for your products or services. In the case of this subscriber, she is a residential designer and her craft is highly visual - so channels like Instagram or Pinterest would be good candidates. If you're a business consultant LinkedIn would be more suitable.
So here's decision number one: which channels to market am I going to use? Make a list - but don't start marketing on all of them yet.
What are you going to do?
There are many ways you can get your message to your target market. In some cases your channel to market is going to determine what you can do; platforms like Instagram or Pinterest are suitable for posting images, Medium is great for long-form articles and LinkedIn is suitable for shorter-form posts.
But rather than limit yourself to what each channel can do, think about what you can do that will be interesting for your target market, and then how you can repurpose your content to get more mileage from it.
Here's what I mean:
People love stories, and pictures make a lot more impact than just a bunch of text. Let's say our residential designer were to write one or two "stories" a month - each story showing how an interior went from blah to wow with some text and a bunch of pictures.
She can now publish the story on a blog (in the process building up a portfolio). But each story is also the seed for at least a year's worth of marketing material - snippets of text from the article, together with a picture, can easily be scheduled for posting on social media channels a year in advance. This way, the same content gets a lot more attention than just hoping someone will stumble over your blog.
The alternative is to just publish pictures on Instagram or Pinterest. This is quite feasible; especially if you're publishing pictures of a work in progress where your followers can see how the work is progressing.
So the decision you need to make is: am I going to create long-form stories which I can repurpose, or am I going to start with short posts (including images)? Long-form articles take time to create but can be repurposed and get you market exposure over a longer period; short posts take less time but have a shorter life span.
How often are you going to show up?
For your marketing to work, you have to show up consistently and frequently.
If you decide you're going to publish an article every week, you have to do it every week. If you decide you're going to post on a social media platform twice a day, you have to show up twice a day. Break the consistency and your visibility starts dropping.
Social media feeds are so busy the chances that someone will see your posts are pretty small; so you want to show up more frequently to get a chance of being noticed. But you can't just post the same message three or four times per day - you have to mix it up and keep it fresh.
This is one of the reasons I like these long-form articles; you can get a lot of marketing mileage from a single article.
So you need to make the next decision: how often am I going to show up - in particular, how many long-form stories am I going to create per month, or how many short-form posts am I going to make per day.
My recommendation: start with a small commitment so you can learn the ropes. You can always ramp it up later.
Putting this into practice
Now that you have your marketing strategy in place, you have to put it into practice - and there's one golden rule you have to follow:
Start small. Pick one channel to market, get it working, and only add the next channel when you've got the previous one under control.
For example, let's say our interior designer decides to write one story per month. The craft of writing stories takes time to learn, so don't worry yet about repurposing content and getting it on four or five social media channels - just get it on your blog, once a month. That's all.
Once you have two or three stories on your blog, you can start learning how to get it on to social media. Again, start with one channel, say Instagram. Learn how to create text snippets with an image from your article, and how to post this on Instagram. Learn how to use tools like Buffer to schedule these messages in advance so you don't have to spend an hour every day just showing up on Instagram.
Alternatively, if you decide you're going to start with shorter-form posts, start with one channel to market (say Instagram) and learn how to use a tool like Buffer to create your posts and schedule them in advance.
Let's get a bit more detailed
I started with these kinds of articles by just publishing them on my blog. Learning to write was my first big challenge, and it took me a while to get to the point where I could consistently produce two or three articles per week.
Once I had that more or less under control, I started publishing the same articles on Medium. Getting them on Medium was not difficult (there's an import tool for that), but getting to the point where I had my own publication on Medium (similar to a blog) took some time.
I then started looking for ways to promote my articles on social media platforms. I started using a free account on Buffer which allowed me to pre-schedule posts to LinkedIn and Twitter (the two channels I'm currently using). I had to learn how to carve out an hour a week to create the posts and get them scheduled, but that got me started. I'm now using CoSchedule which has a killer social media template feature that makes creating the posts a lot faster.
What I would do if I were starting out today
If I were in our residential designer's shoes today, I would do the following, one step at a time:
- Write long-form articles about actual work that I'm doing. Publish them on Medium (free or $5 per month for a membership). This in effect becomes your blog.
- Create my own publication on Medium to give the articles a more attractive home.
- Start with Buffer (free) and create a sequence of messages to go out on one social media platform at least twice a day.
- Upgrade to CoSchedule (starting at $29 per month) and learn how to use their social media template platform to create social media campaigns for my blog posts.
The primary reason I prefer this approach is that I've learnt there is tremendous future value in writing. Articles are generally evergreen - you can take even old articles and create social media campaigns to promote the article long after you wrote it. This is how you create a market presence and stay top of mind for your target market.
Don't forget to be social
Social media is a great platform for getting attention - but to get the most from them you actually have to be, well, social. The automated messages created from my articles get some engagement, but it is the actual interaction with your followers and the people you're following that makes the platform social.
For some people, being social on social networks comes naturally. For me, it's not that natural (and I need to carve out big chunks of time to write articles like this) so I schedule time during the day for checking in on my social feeds and engaging with what's going on.
There's a lot more to marketing, but you can get started without giving your whole life over to marketing and without spending a lot (or anything). The first thing you need to do is decide on your marketing strategy:
- Where are you going to market?
- What are you going to do?
- How often are you going to show up?
Once you've decided that, you have to put it into practice. The key is to start small and don't try to boil the ocean. Take it one step at a time, get that under control and then move to the next step.
I will almost always recommend longer-form articles or stories if you're just starting out. It takes time to learn how to write well and show up consistently, but each story is the seed for one or more social media campaigns and the stories build up a library that demonstrates your expertise and builds trust with your audience.
Finally - be authentic. Let your voice and your personality shine through. It's OK to be you (in fact, it's imperative). And have fun - be proud of what you do even if your marketing is not as polished yet as you would like it to be. Everyone starts out from the ground floor.