Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Tips for B2B Startups Considering PR and Social Media

I was recently asked for five tips for B2B startups considering PR and social media. I came up with these five somewhat random tips, and will come up with more next month. This is not meant to be comprehensive but they are intended to help be specific to the process of PR and social media.

Let me know what you think.

1.      If your startup has never engaged in PR before, ask the following questions:
·        Are you ready? We’ve had some clients who thought they were ready to launch but weren’t. It can take time to actually be ready – but you don’t necessarily need a finalized product or service. You do need to have strong positioning and compelling messages, a clear understanding of what differentiates your business from the competition. This can be a challenge since startups often pivot their business model until they get traction.
·        Who will be coordinating the PR program? Will it be the founder, a marketing executive, an office manager, or someone else? And will that person have the time and resources? We’ve worked with people at those levels, and have made it work but it can be difficult if PR is just another plate they need to keep spinning.
·        Do you need ongoing PR or is project-based a better fit? From an agency perspective, an ongoing PR campaign is better – and not just from a cash flow perspective but because it enables long-term strategies -- but that may not be ideal for cash-stretched startups with not a lot of news. Talk to your prospective agency; if they aren’t interested in project work until your startup has established a regular flow of news, they might not be the right agency for you.
2.      Are you goals realistic? There are two levels to this:
·        Are you realistic in terms of your story, resources, customers, etc.? You may have a great product and a great proof of concept, but if you don’t have a paying customer, some media won’t be able to cover you. (This is particularly true in B2B markets.) We’ve also been told by clients that they want to launch within two months but when we get in, we find they’re not ready (see #1, above).
·        Are you realistic in terms of your goals based on your budgets and internal resources? Recently a prospective customer with the related businesses asked us to 1) Pitch radio and podcast interviews for both businesses 2) Get bloggers to write about them; 3) Identify speaking opportunities; 4) Provide content to external sites that will create back links; and 5) Maximize earned media. All these goals were reasonable – except his budget had only enough in it to pursue only one of these goals, not all five of them.
·        Are you realistic in terms of outcomes? You may have a great announcement but the media and those on social media may not be able to write about it. A reporter once turned down a story about a $30 investment round because he had declined to cover a larger round that had been announced the week before.
3.      Can you be a thought leader? To be successful and to engage with current and prospective customers on social media, you need to continually develop new content on topics relevant to your customers. You can use these pieces to show that you understand your customers’ pain points and can help them address them. These thought leadership pieces don’t have to be white papers and case studies – they can be 300-word articles. But it is important to make sure these pieces are useful and not all about you.
4.      Even if you don’t have the budget yet, plan for marketing integration. That means, make sure whoever is writing your thought leadership content also knows what your keywords are. Make sure your sales keeps you informed about key trends affecting your customers as well as customer wins and milestones – those are things that can be turned into articles and press releases. Make sure whoever is handling your social media is aware of what everyone else is doing – they can post content about your latest article or case study, about your trade show booth or speaking opportunity or sales promotion. Even at small startups, it’s interesting how many of those activities are kept in separate in a silo. But you can generate much more traction if you leverage all the sales and marketing efforts your undertaking. And, if you’re not investing in all these tactics yet, that’s okay; just keep them in mind for when you do.
5.      When focusing on social media, keep in mind: clients don’t like to be marketed to. So make sure only one in 10 posts is a true marketing post – the rest can be about your industry, your region, but especially about your clients pain points as well as about your company’s personality and values. More than ever, people want to do business with companies they like, and social media is a great way to create and enhance your company’s personality.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Forbes' D'Vorkin's 11 Observations about the New Business

I don't always agree with what Lewis D'Vorkin writes in his column about the confluence of media and journalism in the digital age, but he's always worth reading. Sometimes his column is all #humblebrag about how smart Forbes is -- actually, based on a very unscientific survey, most of his columns are humblebrags. 

But his current column, "Inside Forbes: 11 Realities And Observations About The News Business, Like Them Or Not," is definitely worth reading for the following observations. (I'm not going to repeat all 11 items -- go read the column for yourself -- I'm just pointing out those I find most significant, and including some of my observations based on D'Vorkin's.)

  1. Content needs to be mobile-friendly and easy to consume -- but much of it is not. One problem is that when you click on a website on your mobile, often you'll get a pop-up ad (Forbes does this to, by the way) that you can't exit from because the form factor doesn't let you scroll easily to find the X. That's annoying and a problem.
  2. Ad-blocking software will get more popular -- a trend we didn't really address for 2016, but I tend to agree. The rise of ad-blocking will hurt online ad revenue that media properties can generate and depend on -- this is will lead to lower revenues, layoffs, and more media properties being shut down. Oh, and higher subscription fees for those media outlets that have a paywall.
  3. Facebook is not just a social network. It is a media play, and other sites' traffic rates are declining because people check out the headlines and comments on Facebook without clicking through. Again, that will affect online ad rates.
  4.  Lest you think Facebook is unstoppable, it is facing stiff competition from messaging apps like Kik, Snapchat and Whatsapp.
  5. A lot of the media sites (and quasi-media/e-commerce sites like Refinery29) that are doing well are targeting women. That says something for companies looking to target customers.
  6. Death of Page Views -- which even D'Vorkin admits has been a prediction that people have made for years now. But this time, it's different because there are new data and engagement possible via mobile.

Anyway check out his article.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bloomberg Businessweek Validates Our Prediction about Unicorns

In our predictions for 2016, we said that we should expect that Unicorns -- privately held startups with valuations in excess of $1 billion, would find this year to be much more difficult. (You can check out that prediction, "Whither unicorns and their business models?") 

Already, we've seen articles in Fortune, Wall St. Journal, and New York Times write about Unicorns this year, all validating our concerns about unrealistic valuations and pressures. Add to it, Bloomberg Businessweek, which wrote, "Unicorns Aren't So Beloved Anymore" (Print headline: "The Last (of This) Unicorn?") about Zenefits.

Zenefits has quickly become the poster child for unchecked growth, with a CEO who was ousted and concerns that the company may have broken laws and did not maintain compliance.

This isn't to say that all Unicorns are or will face a similar phase -- but just that we continue to think that 2016 and beyond will be a tougher time for Unicorns.

Left unsaid in our predictions is what the impact of tighter money, lower valuations, etc. will have on smaller startups. We think it could be a tougher time for them, too.