Social Marketing for Startups

No not that kind of social. Meat-space social. Office party social.

Too many start-ups are spending too much of their (very limited) budgets on social events that completely and utterly neglect to factor into the equation – or the festivities – that there are actual business goals behind the events in question. Too many events are a waste of money, and squandered opportunity.

The start-up party I attended last night was just one more of a slew of recent examples. It was an office warming for a company I’ve dealt with plenty over the phone and via email, but have never met any employees F2F (though I’ve “known” one of the co-founders from his previous roles). I arrived eager to meet him in person, as well as his partner and members of the marketing staff II’ve been in touch with. The company is, after all, squarely in my coverage area.

The elevator ride upstairs was promising. I made the acquaintance of three friendly people. Upstairs was a healthy crowd of people eating, drinking and socializing – the stuff people do at parties. I had enjoyable conversations. I met new people. But I was unable to meet (literally) or even to identify a single employee of the company in question. There was no one who was able to facilitate an introduction to the four people I knew were in the room who I knew I knew.

Which is crazy. Particularly in light of the fact that they recently requested a meeting, which I declined (it’s hard to get out of my own office in the middle of the day). But I did agree to attend this party, and I made good on my bargain.

Not to single out last night’s host – this happens again and again. An unfacilitated mob scene is one thing at SXSW, but start-ups can’t afford to lose the opportunities and relationship building that they are presumably throwing a party to build in the first place.

Here’s how the start-up in question could have better leveraged what was, in essence, random beer-drinking and snack-eating:

1. RSVP list: Check people in at the door. It’s useful to know who was there (we did respond to an Eventbrite invitation – so the list exists). This aids tremendously in post-party follow-up, too.

2. Crib notes Key employees can indicate who they invited/hope to meet at events so introductions and connections can be made.

3. Greeters To facilitate business, and other introductions, throw PR staff or even some interns on door duty. “Hi, we’re so glad you’re here. Can I introduce you to [sales, marketing, the founder]? Have a great time, and if you need anything my name is X.”

4. Identify employees T-shirts, badges, nametags, whatever. If I could have ID’d someone employed by the company in question last night, I could have made the connections I specifically came to make. No one I talked to in a room of a couple hundred strangers was an employee, or could say with certainty who was.

5. Make a tiny little speech This is where you clink the glass, clear your throat, and thank people very much for coming. Then you say, “I’m the CEO, Susan here heads marketing, Dan’s in charge of sales, etc.” It helps your business, and it helps your guests.

None of this is rocket science. But start-ups, please do remember that there’s a reason potential clients, analysts, media and partners attend your parties. And it’s not all about the free beer.

Image credit: Aristocat

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