Social media has been a concern for startup marketing for a number of years now. However, I still get many questions about it, and deservedly so — it offers many marketing possibilities and options for startups. So when I talk to clients and get asked “Should my startup use social media for marketing?” I often tell them that the short answer is a resounding “Yes,” but the how and why are much more important.

Whether you’re a San Francisco startup focusing on the local market or a solo developer aiming for iTunes success, social media can provide the means for marketing traction — if and when used appropriately. It’s my job to help clarify those critical points, and by the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how your startup can maximize social media.

#1 Know Your Audience

I can’t emphasize this enough, and this goes beyond the startup market, as it applies to businesses in general. Different social media platforms have different audiences, so your social media plan’s first key is lining up your audience with the right platform. Emphasizing video? Start with Vine. Going B2B? Stay on LinkedIn. Targeting more women than men? Take advantage of Pinterest’s heavily female demographic. Before you start, think out your strategy. Otherwise, your effort will likely go unnoticed.

#2 Stay Engaged

I’ve seen it all too often — a company that I’m researching has a number of social media accounts, but I can count their posts on one hand. For me as an industry insider, I know that it simply means their staff is overwhelmed. To the outside world, though, it appears that the company is out of touch or unresponsive. Social media is an investment, and the currency is time. Do you have the time to put into your social media account? Staying engaged is critical to success, so don’t just treat it as a trendy accessory, invest in it as part of your marketing plan.

#3 Use The Analytics To Refine Your Targets

Let’s say you’re a startup with an in-person service app that targets the entire Bay Area. Social media analytics can provide location data for posts and traction. They can also give you demographic data on followers so you can maximize any promotions, coupons, or discounts that occur locally — and that data can be mined and propagated forward into things like local mailers or other types of advertising.

ocial-media-for-startups-5-tips#4 Consider Ad Platforms

If you’re seeking immediate traffic boosts, then you’ve probably looked at pay-per-click options such as Google AdWords. Social media platforms provide the same kind of ad possibilities, except these cater to their unique demographic. Because social media platforms take user demographic data into account, their ad options often provide targeting specifications not found in the search engine space. When people ask me about social media, they’re usually surprised to hear this because these ad options aren’t widely discussed. However, they remain one of the most powerful aspects of the platform and something worth exploring if you have the budget for it.

#5 Use It For Customer Service

We’ve all been there: on hold for what seems like hours, shuffled back and forth between various departments just to answer a single question. This type of thing impacts a company’s reputation — usually negatively. However, social media provides the power to circumvent that. Let’s say your startup just put out a new update of the app. By monitoring social media, you can see if there are lingering bugs or performance issues — and if people complain, on-the-spot responses show that you care about customer service.

After reading these five points, you should have a good understanding of what it takes to choose the right social media channel, how to use it, and how to best engage your audience. When you get your profiles set up, please let me know so we can Like, Follow, and Connect.

By Marc Apple