With influencers making thousands off it and company reputations rising and falling at its whim, it’s safe to say social media is no longer a fad or passing craze.
Instead, it’s a business tool. Brands are built off it, sales are made through it, and some companies wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for it. Although we’ve passed through the age of every company and its dog having a Facebook page, social media in some form is essential to nearly every business.
But as a business owner or startup founder, the rules around how you should be using social media personally are much less defined. Some founders choose to have no presence at all, or a presence that’s barely distinguishable from their company’s account, only ever posting about the business or its products.
Some choose to run a low-key personal online account, even choosing to not identify themselves as the founder of their business. They post about regular things like their family and pets, barbeques, and friends.
And right at the end of the spectrum are the business owners who dive into social media head-first, posting about everything and anything, replying to others, and engaging in long inspirational or advice-driven tweetstorms. Sometimes they might go a bit Elon Musk and get into a few fights, but it’s all just part of the process.
Wherever you sit on the social media continuum is up to you, but according to the business owners we spoke to this week, keeping a strong presence across Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can do wonders for your business.
It might even lead to a few sizeable business deals.
A six-figure deal on Facebook
About six months ago, founder of freelancing startup Speedlancer Adam Stone closed a six-figure deal via Facebook.
“I was just looking around Facebook business groups for leads — basically businesses with hiring needs,” Stone recalls.
Reaching out to the founder of one of these businesses via private message (Stone thinks public comments can seem like “spam”), it wasn’t long before the agreement was tied up. It was a first for Stone, who says he’s noticed use of social media amongst businesspeople has been on the up in recent times.
“I’m noticing more and more executives and businesspeople in general hanging around social media generally, and it’s clear that it’s becoming more and more important,” he tells SmartCompany.
Stone posts across three of the ‘big four’ social channels, using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to help grow his business via his personal account. He finds LinkedIn the best for more business-focused activity, while Facebook and Twitter are ideal for personal connections or friendships with other founders.
“It’s not about shoving something down their throats, it’s more personal. If you follow each other, like each other’s posts, and build a rapport, then you can eventually go through a DM [direct message],” he says.
“LinkedIn has that real business focus, and it’s all about keeping awareness up about your business and keeping your community up-to-date, and a bit of blowing your own horn. I don’t feel as comfortable doing that on Twitter or Facebook.”
Stone’s social media presence has also become a bit of a personal branding exercise for the founder. It’s something he says he never used to want to do, but he now recognises it gives founders the “best shot at success”.
Vinomofo co-founder Justin Dry doesn’t balk away from personal branding, telling SmartCompany how he and his business’ social media presence has changed over time; it starting out with a Twitter account in the platform’s early days called ‘The Quaff Boys’.
Today, that account is known as ‘The Mofo Boys’ and is rarely used by the founders, but Dry says it was a godsend for the young company back when it was starting out in 2011 in Twitter’s halcyon days.
“A lot of the wine industry was on Twitter, so we were building a lot of relationships with producers and consumers, it was really powerful. We held the first live Twitter feed for a wine event, and it was great for us because we got onto the platform so early,” he says.
As Twitter went through its difficult years, Dry and his co-founder Andre Eikmeier migrated towards Facebook and built a similar community of wine-lovers there. But inevitably, algorithms changed and Facebook became less viable for companies like Vinomofo. So Dry set his sights on photo-sharing platform Instagram.
Instagram “taking off”
“Instagram is now the thing, it’s taking off,” says the Vinomofo co-founder.
But according to Dry, it’s taking off not for businesses, but for their founders. The business owner runs a page with more than 42,000 followers where he regularly posts updates on his life and business, along with multiple daily submissions to his Instagram ‘stories’.
In recent times, these have included photos of Dry on holiday, him talking to the new cohort of an accelerator, inspirational quotes, and his dog — a Groodle called Delilah, who has her own Instagram account.
“It’s funny, a lot of businesses have great engagement on social, but I personally find engaging with individuals rather than business so much more powerful. The world has shifted away from connecting with brands — people would rather connect with people directly,” Dry says.
“It helps that entrepreneurship has become ‘the thing’ as well. At some point, people stopped wanting to be rock and roll starts and sportspeople, and now they want to be entrepreneurs. It’s bloody awesome.”
Dry uses the example of famous startup personality Gary Vaynerchuk, saying while Gary Vee’s personal brand is huge — with well over 5 million followers on Instagram and Twitter — the brands of his companies such as Vayner Media are much smaller. Interestingly, Vaynerchuk has more than double the amount of Instagram followers compared to Twitter.
But beyond having thousands of followers fawn over how cute Delilah is, Dry says his efforts on Instagram have netted the co-founder “heaps” of real-life partnerships and business deals. He puts it down to his constant content attracting the attention of brands that recognise the value of having someone “living and breathing” as the face of the business.
Stone agrees, saying business founders who stay “top of mind” for others by posting regularly on social media are more likely to see the connections roll in.
Where to start
Both Stone and Dry say the key thing to keep in mind when getting active on social media is to always produce content, and for that content to be as different and interesting as possible.
“Produce new and interesting content in different ways, and on different mediums. Anything that adds value or trust to you as a founder — anything other than you saying how good you are,” Stone says.
“Try not to toot your own horn.”
For Dry, it’s making sure your focus isn’t on perfection, but authenticity. He says people are looking for personal connections, and are looking for real ‘behind the scenes’ insights into the life of a busy founder.
“If budding entrepreneurs can see that I have just as many doubts and challenges as them, it helps, and it’s powerful,” he says.
“And make sure you’re engaging with the audiences you want to build a profile with for your business.”
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