THE BLOG
12/29/2013 12:35 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2014

Key Social Business Tenets that Can Help Startups Overcome Marketing Fatigue and Drive Brand Loyalty

Small businesses face a new marketing imperative: adopt a rapid cycle digital communications strategy or face competitive devolution. Across industries, purchasing decisions are increasingly dependent on consumers' referral ecosystems and social relationships. Top-performing products, services, and solutions share one thing in common -- the trust factor. In this context, engaging with key influencers and building presence on digital platforms are no longer accessory to growth but have become a part of fundamental business functions.

While there is a wide consensus among marketing gurus that social media, mobile marketing, and digital platforms can transform the way businesses build trust and establish relationships with their customers, most small businesses (and many big businesses) struggle to embrace these trends in a strategic way.

Research shows that more than 60 percent of company leaders are looking to integrate social engagement as a component of their marketing mix. It has been widely recognized that adopting a social business approach to marketing can be directly tied to positive growth indicators such as increased website traffic, growing brand awareness, and utilizing more effective knowledge management. If embraced as an organizational philosophy, the Social-First tenet can render viable ways for small businesses to extend the lifecycle of their investments in marketing and stand head-to-head with their established competitors.

The following best practices rooted in active online listening and social media taxonomies can help startups establish kinetic marketing programs geared towards building lasting relationships with customers.

Identify Common Values in addition to Common Goals -- There is a reason why corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social innovation programs are dominating the customer engagement efforts of most power brands. Cause-related marketing holds the answer to creating deeper, more personal and purposeful connectivity with target audiences. In a world where true brand loyalty is disappearing in a hurry, supporting customers' values, beliefs, and communities is not only a reputational driver but also a sales imperative. Both individual consumers and business decision-makers expect their preferred partners and favorite brands to champion and propagate their do-good causes as an extension of their business relationships.

To meet this growing demand, small business and startups can identify the common values, interests, and passions that drive their customers' decision-making process through social listening and engagement. Opening up to an ongoing dialogue with buyers and thought leaders can be tremendously valuable in customizing and evolving product features and brand messages to capture and maintain customer mindshare.

Encourage Employees to Serve as Brand Ambassadors for Authentic Storytelling -- Social businesses understand the importance of creating a dynamic and multifaceted environment that encourages employees to define and share their subject matter expertise. When it comes to small business marketing, employees are often marketers' most overlooked asset.

In most small business settings, the top echelon rarely empowers employees to serve openly as company spokespeople. In fact, the most recent Gallup poll on the State of the Global Workplace shows that only 13 percent of employees feel engaged at work. While big businesses are likely to experience talent retention and management gaps as a result of this trend, for small businesses, the consequences of an indifferent workforce can be devastating for the bottom line and permanently hamper the growth trajectory of the business.

The findings of the survey point to another paradigm shift -- the traditional top-down communication model is no longer apt to fostering meaningful brand allegiance and organic customer relationship-building.

Many entrepreneurs can benefit from activating their employees as social ambassadors to build compelling voices and amplify the public reach of their brands. Simple activities such as setting up training workshops on personal branding and distributing social media guidelines can empower employees to serve as champions for the business and create tangible cost-savings for the marketing department.

Overcome Marketing Fatigue with Cross-functional Teams -- Bringing together cross-disciplinary, even disparate, teams and enabling them to work together can uncover new differentiation points for small businesses. Silicon Valley's hackathon model of collaborative problem-solving offers an adaptable archetype for entrepreneurs to establish interdisciplinary knowledge management centers as part of their day-to-day operations.

The traditional hub and spoke model of communication and brainstorming is not well suited for start-ups that are rooted in rapid cycle development and agile scalability. When a company is poised to grow from one person to 100 in a year, developing, capturing, and sharing organizational expertise needs to take place at the same fast-paced growth scale. For marketing purposes, bringing together the 'unusual suspects' -- IT, product development, PR, and customer service -- to form a social business team can lead to improved CRM, more insightful communications strategy, and marketing efforts that better resonate with target customers.

Today, most businesses win customer loyalty through a continuous demonstration of their commitment to open collaboration and dialogue. Understanding how to capitalize on social media listening and to organize roles and responsibilities in a manner that conditions the company to better understand and address customer needs is critical for long-term success. While social business is not a silver bullet for entrepreneurs looking to extend the span of their limited marketing budget, it offers valuable best practices that can guide business owners in building scalable and recognizable brands.