In the monthly “SKU View” series, Food entrepreneur leverages the expertise of mentors and startup founders at SKU, a consumer products accelerator based in Austin, Texas, to deliver insights on issues affecting early-stage food and beverage brands.
AUSTIN, TEXAS — The World Wide Web can feel like the Wild, Wild West for startup founders looking to grow a brand’s online following. There are many factors to consider when creating a social media strategy, according to Alison Smith and Karin Samelson, co-founders of Umai Marketing,
The Austin-based agency has worked with many new brands, including Serenity Kids, Canteen Spirits and Wondercide. Ms. Smith and Ms. Samelson are experts in social media, content creation, email marketing, and influencer and affiliate marketing.
Food entrepreneur: What are the do’s and don’ts of engaging your target audience on social media?
Alison Smith and Karin Samelson: Get real and be authentic. Work with creators and micro-influencers in exchange for a free product. Nothing works better than word of mouth marketing; cater to your audience and drive interest by allocating around 15% or more of your marketing budget for free product exchanges to social influencers and creators.
Don’t focus on the overall aesthetics of your feed. Gone are the days of a curated feed. Create a brand guidelines document and use it to ensure your brand’s beauty shines through, but republishing user-generated content and influencer content that doesn’t quite match your aesthetic will provide unparalleled influence and social proof, and will actually help to expand your brand’s reach and evolve your overall aesthetic.
Don’t waste too much time with cold community involvement. Time is of the essence when you are a busy founder. If you can hire an intern to do this, then they can try playing with the Dollar Eighty tactic (Google it) to see if they can get a good grip. If you can’t hire someone else to do this, prioritize making real connections with new or important potential followers – send a personal direct message, an authentic comment, etc.
Which platforms are best to use if time and resources are limited?
Ms. Smith and Ms. Samelson: Use Instagram for community and education. For reach and entertainment, use TikTok
If your product caters to a super-niche audience that relies on their community for recommendations and education, such as mothers of newborns, try creating a super-charged community through Facebook groups.
How often and what should new brands post/repost?
Ms. Smith and Ms. Samelson: For TikTok, use the rule of quantity over quality. We have a quick and dirty tip to stop using your photo tool on your phone, and instead just use video when you snap something. Capture three to seven seconds behind the scenes, your product and anything else that relates to your customer and core messaging; that way, you can quickly jump on a TikTok sound or other trend by having a large number of videos ready to plug and play.
For Instagram, this will vary for each brand. Some brands win posts three times a day; some brands win posts three times a week. Track your analytics and make educated changes to your content cadence based on the KPIs you’re tracking (number of followers, engagement). Just keep the short video content flowing and do what your schedule allows.
What are the best practices for growing a brand’s following on social media?
Ms. Smith and Ms. Samelson: Keep the cadence. Only focus on channels that you know you can continue to engage with and continue to post on.
Use all features on a given social platform. Try everything to see what resonates most with your audience and just keep testing.
Collaborate with brands that have a similar target audience as you. Try giveaways, collaborative posts, live streaming, everything.
If you have some marketing budget to spare, try boosting already high-performing organic posts and giveaways. Play for a cost per follow of 50¢ or less, and make sure followers coming through look like your customer avatar.
What are examples of emerging brands winning on social media (and how)?
Ms. Smith and Ms. Samelson: About. Founder-forward content with a lot of culture shared throughout; they always come back to their mission for the brand.
Funk it Wellness. Education-based content that cultivates community and fosters engagement. They have great content series that support their educational message and encourage people to follow them to learn more.
Zellies. The perfect blend of founder-forward and education on TikTok. Dr. Ellie is the founder and uses her dental expertise to attract new followers/customers daily.
What are the biggest myths or misunderstandings about promoting a brand on social media?
Ms. Smith and Ms. Samelson: One thing founders and businesses still have so much trouble getting past is the perfect flow, wanting to make sure every single piece of content published is flawless. The brands that win on social media test and try everything until something sticks, and then they run with it. If you’re focusing on single pieces of content to the point where it’s holding up your content calendar, it’s time to reevaluate your priorities and let go of that need for perfection or even the lack of vulnerability.