By Natalie Wilson

On Tuesday, July 17, Micheal Smith, an energetic and highly passionate digital and social media marketing leader with 20 years of experience, shared strategies and tips to help startups create and execute marketing programs and use social media to grow their businesses.

Smith, who previously directed MullenLowe Mediahub before co-founding her own boutique digital agency, Curly Top Solutions, advised that many entrepreneurs in the room probably need to shift their mindset towards social media. This means thinking of social media in terms of their business goals, not “social” ones. Rather than aiming for a certain volume of followers, fans, or interactions such as likes, comments and shares, founders should think about how to drive trials, sales and brand awareness, preference and loyalty.

This also means that startups should plan to spend money on marketing in order to target and reach rather than simply post.

“You might think you can get away without spending money,” Smith said, “but you can’t.”

Even though Smith is a social media guru with years of experience, when her content isn’t monetized to better reach targeted audiences, she isn’t as successful. To demonstrate Smith showed the difference between two campaigns she worked on. An April Fools campaign that had a $5,000 budget reached 800,000 users and drove 3,000 users to the company’s website, while a similar campaign with no budget for the same company shortly after only generated 100 clicks on the website’s link. Smith explained that putting dollars behind posts is important, and even budgets as small as $10 are enough to make a difference. Plus, something like a social media contest can serve multiple purposes, generating content and engagement while also tapping into a fan base for ideas and market research.

An effective social media plan should curate a distinct social presence that makes connections and creates conversations, Smith explained, and it’s important to consider content, channels and partners.  

While the goals of a social media strategy may be overarching, the techniques deployed on each platform should differ without recycling too much content. For Instagram’s current feed algorithm, more content is better. Instagram stories allow more creativity and humor. On Facebook, where 79% of online adults have accounts and the average number of pages liked by each user has increased yet the average organic reach per post has decreased, it is important to post what Smith calls “scroll-stopping content.” On LinkedIn, where users check-in more infrequently, it’s important to post when they’re actually online.  

Smith also suggested that companies share fan-created content and tag or mention the user who created it, treat fans to social media exclusive deals or events, pin fundraising or membership-driving posts, tap into relevant current events or holidays, keep posts shorter than 250 characters to get more engagement, educate fans with engaging how-to-guides, try interactive posts with explicitly-stated calls to action, give fans sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes looks, experiment with humor and more. She also stressed the importance of a content calendar and management tool.

Smith, who also teaches multiple courses at NYU including on marketing campaign planning and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), pared all of her suggestions down to the basics that should always be considered across all platforms, even as social media evolves and trends come and go. Smith said that effectively leveraging social media means understanding market trends and finding a balanced way to utilize them, having a plan and a content calendar to keep ideas organized, knowing what social media can and cannot accomplish generally and for your specific business, and measuring, trying, measuring, trying, and measuring some more.

“You have to go back to the basics,” Smith said.

However, because social media changes so rapidly and constantly, it’s important that founders constantly test and retest their implementation strategies while staying anchored to their basic mission, culture and content plans.

“Social media changes all the time,” Smith said. “What works today will not work next week.”