The age of social media has disrupted conventional ways of advertising and transformed the way that businesses reach consumers. In recent years, social media itself has undergone radical changes. Mike Mandell is a leading lawyer on social media thanks to the popularity of his legal tips and entertaining posts. Here he shares his advice for startups and their founders.

Alison Coleman: Why is it so important for startups to develop a great social media strategy for their business?

Mike Mandell: In the past, companies had to spend years amassing a large following to have any hope of a substantial number of views. Today, short-form video content, 15 to 30 seconds in length, is the cutting edge. Quickly produced videos can launch a business into the spotlight overnight, or even faster. By studying what captured the public’s attention, companies can follow up with more viral content on a consistent basis, keeping their brand relevant and vital. Social media represents a quantum leap in identifying niche markets. Algorithms know things about users that they might not know themselves. As the software learns more about individuals, its ability to influence them only grows.

Coleman: Many startup founders lack the time, resources, and budgets to create valuable viral content; how can they compete?

Mandell: First, let’s talk about budgets. With the dominance of short-form content, it’s not necessary to have one. Posting consistent, quality content alone can create a huge audience for your work. That said, even a shoestring budget can go far on social media. Allocating a few hundred bucks to boosting your posts would allow you to experiment until you see enough leads to justify the time and effort.

The beauty of this system is that cost scales with your success. If you’re making money, you’ll eventually want to hire staff to handle your social media. Businesses can do this more cheaply than they might expect. A million young people ache for these jobs, and they don’t expect a fortune in salary. They want in the game. That’s it. Keep in mind that these skills are learnable, as well. Consider offering paid internships.

Coleman: What tips do you have for startups for building a winning social media presence that pays dividends?

Mandell: Build an inventory before you launch. Have 10 to 20 videos on hand as a cushion. Avoid making your topics too time-sensitive, if you require your ‘rainy day’ fund for later, rather than sooner. Keep a list of your thoughts. You’d be surprised how often you can forget a brilliant idea if you don’t record it. Listen to followers and consumers; they’ll tell you what they want. On social media they leave comments. Read these and let the feedback, both positive and negative, guide your future content.

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The algorithms favor consistency, and part of maintaining your audience is ensuring followers know when to expect something new. If you release new content on Monday and Friday, then do that consistently. Even consider letting subscribers know you’ll be going away on vacation for a week. If your content isn’t seeing sufficient returns, consider taking a hard look at its appeal from an audience-centered perspective.

Coleman: What’s the key to going viral?

Mandell: Firstly, you don’t need to go viral to have a successful social media presence. The key is engagement, not the number of views or your follower count. The more people engage with your content, the farther along you are in creating a community of supporters who love your brand. Focus on that. I’d rather have 1,000 followers who engage with me all the time than 500,000 who never comment. People want to do business with someone they feel connected to, and social media provides you with that opportunity. A tight-knit audience that has ‘buy-in’ will do more for you than a huge passive following.

When it comes to creating viral content, the keys are to innovate, engage with followers, produce solid material, and release it on a consistent schedule. Most importantly, persist. One of the quickest ways to fail involves assuming you’ll strike gold, failing to do so, and quitting. Building a following on social media can be a grind. Luck does indeed play a role. But the longer you push, the luckier you are bound to get.

Coleman: What are the common social media mistakes made by startups and small businesses, and how can they be corrected?

Mandell: Don’t develop a persona and try to perform. Be genuine. People respond to authenticity. And don’t bandwagon. If you just echo what everyone else is already saying, then you’ll get lost in the shuffle. Most people can tell you are just fishing for likes or followers. Instead, create a purposeful brand and stick to it, even when others shift in another direction. People can change their minds overnight, and they might switch back before you know it. Your consistency will beget their trust.

Be careful what you say. What you put online stays there. This goes for private messages, which someone could screenshot and share on multiple platforms. Finally, long-form content is popular – but only if you have a base audience that wants it. If not, short means short. If it’s not essential to post, remove it.

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