Three Startups That Effectively Put Social Media to Work

This is a guest post by Megan Hannay, the Social Media Director for, a new car buying marketplace. You can find her at or at, and she tweets from @mahannay. She lives in San Francicso where she enjoys wine, blogging, cheese and unnecessarily tall hills.

Startups are like narwhals. We’re borderline fantastical (you’re a company…but you’re not profitable? My grandparents still don’t get that), and we live in an entirely different plane than the rest of corporate America. Also, we all have giant horns on our heads. Good for hanging hats.

And while it seems that every hour another startup is announcing their $4,000,000,000,000,000… Series K funding round on TechCrunch, the truth is that for most startups, the cash clouds aren’t pouring down yet. Money still needs to be conserved and budgets followed, and the price of that homepage Facebook ad is pretty outrageous, let alone a nationalized TV commercial or the sponsorship of a college football championship (though the “Woobowl does have a certain ring to it…”)

For many startups, the first few months are dedicated to the perfection of the product or service at hand – until there’s an effective system, you don’t want to focus too much on sales. But then again, if you’re not marketing at all, it’s pretty hard to get those first customers. Following Brian’s post on how to work social media marketing into your startup, I thought I’d talk about some startups that have really impressed me by their use of social media marketing to draw new fans.

Zaarly and Community Building

The idea

Considering the number of Facebook and Twitter followers Zaarly can boast, it’s astonishing that this app was only built seven months ago, and wasn’t launched until last May. With more than 30,000 Facebook fans and almost 15,000 Twitter followers within a few months of launch, it’s pretty clear that this startup made social media a priority, even with only Angel funding in their pockets.

If you aren’t aware of the app yet, Zaarly is a social marketplace that allows users to post what they want (it can be anything – a product, a service, whatever, as long as it’s legal) along with a price. Other users can fulfill the requests and get paid. Since a lot of the interactions are IRL, the Zaarly app is location-based. But their social media channels are heavily location-oriented as well. Zaarly has additional fan pages for more than a dozen U.S. cities, with each city page specializing in local chatter.

Bi-Rite vs. Humphry - the biggest ice cream battle in SF image

How they got it right

Zaarly is a prime example of a company that didn’t just get on social media because ‘that’s what everyone else does.’ They climbed all up on their Facebook and Twitter channels and owned it.

Even though the app is nationally based, Zaarly decided to break their social media fronts up into local components, which is a great strategy for a locally based app. Today I might comment on my prefernce for Humphry Slocombe. Tomorrow I may see a post asking for help setting up a Facebook page (and I would totally answer that Zaarly!)

What your business can learn from Zaarly

Even if you’re just starting out, it’s important to consider what social media channels and efforts would be the most effective for your brand. With CarWoo!, for example, we spend a lot of time making our blog content-heavy because good SEO can be especially helpful for bringing us new users.

When resources are limited, it’s not the time to spread yourself too thin. Work smarter, not harder on the efforts that can really bring attention to your brand.

Modcloth: Selling Dresses to Girls

The idea

I met a man at SXSW this yeah who introduced himself by telling me “I sell dresses to girls.” Wait, I said. You don’t work for Modcloth do you?

When he said yes, well, basically I flipped out. I’d been shopping on Modcloth for more than a year at that point. Some of my favorite dresses of all time (in fact, the dress I’m wearing right now) come from this site. And I discovered them via Facebook ads. Adorable dresses and more and more adorable dresses, filled up my sidebar until I couldn’t but click through to the plethora of cloth beauties waiting for me on the other side.

Facebook ads don’t work for everyone, but they were the perfect vehicle for the spread of Modcloth. And once I started following Modcloth, I became hooked in another way. Their page often offers free gift cards or dresses to followers who can answer certain questions or be creative with their products.

How they got it right

Facebook ads are a crazy science. Since it’s not a search engine, you can’t target users based on what you know they’re looking for. It has to be based on what you think your target market is and what you think they also “like.” But getting a click or a “like” isn’t enough. You have to turn your fans into advocates of your brand. Modcloth is an excellent example of a brand who knew their audience, targeted them like crazy and continues to engage every day (check the Facebook page – they respond to pretty much every comment).

How this can work for your business

Many startups these days sell products or services that are too nebulous to be captured in a photo. But if you’re lucky enough to be selling a something you can take a picture of, you may have some pretty good success with visual ads.

OKCupid And the Awesome of Data Blogging

The idea

Okay, I’m probably not the first (or last) person to praise the awesomeness of the OKTrends blog. If you haven’t checked it out, please wait for a time when you have at least 2 hours to spare. As OkCupid built up its user base, its founders collected tons of dating data. What better way to draw new users to your blog than to promise them stats on, say, The Best Questions to Ask on a First Date (One example: “In a certain light, wouldn’t nuclear war be exciting?” may tell you how likely you are to get laid on a first date).

How they got it right

Psychology isn’t in the top 5 most popular college majors for nothing. People are voyeurs. We love dissecting the best ways to interact with others, especially when it comes to dating. I mean, how could you not want to click on a blog post titled “10 Charts About Sex”?

What your business can learn from OkCupid

If you have users, and your users do things, then you have data. Period. And it’s free. Example – I recently attended a conference at which Ben Barton from Texts from Last Night led a session. Their users are anonymous (except for an area code), and yet there is still so much the TFLN crew could do with a data-oriented blog. What types of alcohol are most popular in certain regions? What substances are going out of style on college campuses?

For a startup that may not be able to afford freelance writers or have the time to populate a blog daily, then it’s even more important that each post be exciting enough to draw attention.


The value of social media marketing can be greater than the sum of its parts, especially if you’re doing it right. If you’re a startup without the funds or free time to populate every single channel you read about on Mashable, then take a few minutes instead to think about which spaces would be most beneficial for your marketplace.

For your startup it may be the blog, for another it may be an awesome Twitter channel, and for a third it may be videos from that quirky dude in the corner of your office. The beauty of startups is that we’re almost never too shy to let our personalities shine – you just have to find the best amplifier for your voice.

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