Startups: User Acquisition through Social Media

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A few weeks ago, we did a bit of research on customer acquisition strategies for startups and published the results in the free e-book which you can find on our Resources Page:

This is the first blog post from a series, in which we’ll share all the chapters from the ebook. These strategies, which we’ve collected from real-life startup founders, are organized by type of user acquisition channels — this first one’s all about Social Media. Stay tuned for the next posts about Email Campaigns, Direct Contact, Networking, SEO and out-of-the-box user acquisition strategies.

Social media offers a variety of ways to discover and reach your first users, from paid ad campaigns to totally free organic exposure. Unsurprisingly, this is a top channel for user acquisition for B2C (business-to-customer) types of startups. In fact, 1 out of 3 people we spoke to mentioned social media as either the top or second best channel for acquiring new clients.

From the basics to innovative new strategies, check out how some recent startups tapped into social’s deep-rooted power.

Use Social Media

Jodi Mullen, Head of User Acquisition at Ginsberg , a publicly funded digital mental health startup based in Edinburgh

“We brought on our earliest users via social media. The real advantages of social are:
a) It’s immediate — channels like SEO take time to bed in because of the way Google handles new websites and aren’t likely to be effective for brand new startups. With social media, you can start to recruit users immediately through quality engagement.
b) It’s cheap — social media can be extremely low-cost, which is particularly important for a startup that doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on paid online advertising. This is more true these days for Twitter than Facebook — it’s very difficult to make an impact on Facebook today without paying to promote your content.
c) You can create a virtuous cycle — if the users you recruit through social media like what you’re doing, they are likely to share that positive experience with their network, which makes it much easier to find your next waves of sign ups. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth!”

Generate Traffic with Facebook Ads

Vladyslav Ionov, Founder of Lomenos, a site that compares consumer electronics prices for the main online stores in Mexico
“I used these three strategies to acquire my first users:
1. SEO. It is nearly impossible to rank high for a new ecommerce site, unless you have a killer content, Google does not want to see you on the first page. Blogging helps but once again you’ll need some awesome posts and much time to make it to the first page. After 6 months I’ve only achieved ranking high for the brand terms.
2. AdWords PPC campaigns generate quality traffic if done right, but it costs too much. This channel is great for direct response and short term goals but I think that at the beginning you’ll need much more branding impact than immediate sales.
3. Social Ads in Facebook. I’m sure this is the best strategy for a startup. These ads will generate traffic to your site, likes for your Fan page and a strong branding awareness for your site. Combined with good content posted on your Fan page and quality images and messages in your ads you will have all you need to start your business successfully.”

Show Off Your Brand Personality via Social Media

Matt Hallisy, Founder of The Negotiator’s Playbook 
“Getting into 1st gear can be a challenge for a new business owner. For me, Facebook is excellent because it allows me to effectively display my humor, personality, and manner of teaching my expertise to my audience. Even on top of that, Facebook makes it really easy for people to share content with their friends and connections.”

Target a Niche Audience on LinkedIn

Dan Kaminsky, CEO and Co-Founder of  – social media marketing hub for real estate agents and brokers
“When considering our first steps in an effort to find our first users we looked to social media and blogging. We launched a simple landing page site and attached a WordPress powered blog and started writing content that addressed the specific pain points agents experienced as we learned through our early discovery phase. We actually found most of our users coming from LinkedIn because we had simultaneously built up an account with hundreds of real estate agents as contacts. This allowed us to target potential users who worked in Real Estate. We built a top ten list of agents that we thought were good candidates to use the platform first and invited them each to chat with us on the phone before we released an account to them. We really wanted our first users to truly get it as the potential of them sharing the site with colleagues would be higher.”

Target a Niche Audience on Facebook

Andrew Guiyangco, Creative Director of – Men’s Style Box Subscription startup
“As an e-commerce, we immediately knew that our demo would be desktop users. Looking at our organic traffic, a lot of our early marketing strategies involved putting ads on Facebook. And once our social media started rolling, we got a deeper understanding of our subscribers and started making assets specifically targeting a certain demography – modern professionals, fearless, vintage guys, and classic men.”

Promote Giveaways

Susan Brandt, Founder of Blooming Secrets, a new gardening website
“We used Facebook to give away free Zinnia seed packs last summer. We ran Facebook ads and linked them to a sign-up form on our Facebook page. We were getting about 10 sign-ups a day, and then, all of sudden, over 3 days we added over 1000 sign-ups. The giveaway went viral on Facebook and Twitter. It wound up costing us $1.50 per sign-up. We actually had to pull it down because we ran out of seeds. We are gearing up to roll this out again.”

Test Your Idea’s Potential in Twitter

Walter Blake Knoblock, Founder of,  a candy subscription service, launched about a year ago
“I am fortunate enough to have about 60K Twitter followers, so one day I posted on Twitter that I was going to start selling a subscription to international candy, and that anyone who wanted one should tweet me and I’d send them a link to a paypal checkout. In about 20 minutes I had enough subscribers to pay for the first shipment and thus validated the idea.”

Promote to Friends And Family

Tom OsborneEntrepreneur
“At the very start I acquired new users through Facebook friends and family. Depending on how supportive these people are, you can use a Crowdfunding platform to spark interest and gain other outside investment/customers.”

We hope these real-life user acquisition strategies will help inspire your own business founding efforts.

Copy them, tweak them, improve on them, or go in a totally new direction! Be creative and play around to find out what works best for your business.

And if you’d like to grow your user base to its full potential, check out more customer acquisition strategies by downloading our free e-book, “Customer Acquisition for Startups: 35 Real Life Strategies”.