Why startups should not promote the media (on the example of "Antifeisbook")

Original author: Andrew Zacharkis, DBA, Alisa Jno-Charles, PhD
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In the autumn of 2014, in the midst of disputes over the sale of Facebook user data, a new social network flashed on the Web - Ello. Ello promised to remain forever free of advertising, and in her manifesto made a loud promise to users: "You are not a product . " The time for such a statement was the most appropriate - the media dubbed Ello as “Antifeisbook”.

Thanks to media support, Ello began to gain popularity rapidly, and at the peak of her success she received 30,000 applications for registration every hour. However, her success was short-lived. Hurriedly launched by a couple of designers and developers from Vermont, Ello was not designed to handle such an intense stream of visitors - because of which its users experienced considerable inconvenience. In addition, the social networking site still had a primitive design. Therefore, users who expected functionality similar to Facebook were disappointed. So Ello's success was not long. Despite the fact that this site continues to live to this day, as a social network for artists and other creative individuals, most of its users, who came hoping to see an alternative to Facebook, quickly left.

The story of Ello shows what can happen to a startup when its success in interacting with the media is ahead of its actual performance.

While some developers naively believe that “if you have a quality resource, they will definitely come to it,” many others rush to the other extreme. Lured by the prospects of interaction with the media, they resort to using the press before they are ready for it.

Another example: Elizabeth Holmes from the medical company Theranos, who spoke at TED talks, New Yorker profiles and Fortune covers, telling the world an ambitious story about her latest equipment. But she did it without waiting for the key technologies of her company to work. This led to a serious scandal and a series of publications that Elizabeth Holmes denounced as lies.

Most startup founders tend to do the same. Based on the understanding that advertising is an important starting impulse for business progress; the momentum that helps attract customers, partners, employees and investors - that will help the company soar.

Of course, interaction with the media is an important part of building a business, but media coverage should be proportionate to the real potential of the firm. This sounds obvious, but often the founders of startups forget about it - because of the rush to launch advertising and because of the desire to achieve positive media coverage. However, when founders of startups use the media too early, they cannot fulfill the promises that they give to their customers from the pages of the media. In addition, anxiety associated with the need for positive advertising - lead to senseless spending.

In our study, we found that successful companies have an average percentage of negative publications of 4.5%. Whereas failed companies account for 2.6%. This of course does not mean that “all press is a good press,” but if information about you comes out in the press, then this in itself is a good sign that your company is quite successful. After all, she attracted the attention of the press - skeptical coverage that does not require PR efforts. If you were nobody, they would not write about you. Neither skeptical nor in a positive context.

One of the first things that founders of startups have to do is tell a distinct story about their company: why and why it was created. This story lays the foundation for attracting and motivating a team, for developing a corporate strategy and for attracting customers and investors. This story is also the first step for your media image. However, do not be distracted by telling stories if you have not yet developed key business processes.

The best time for media coverage is when your company has shown its performance or has taken a serious step in its development. For example, acquired a new customer or launched a new product. Focus on achieving corporate goals, and then highlight your successes in the press as soon as you reach them. When the media is attracted to you, tell them about your experience in detail, and make sure that key stakeholders (investors, partners, etc.) have seen the publication published in the press. Do not worry too much about negative press coverage - it also has a positive grain, as this shows that your company deserves the attention of the press; so much so that even its shortcomings deserve attention. The disadvantages of who is "nobody" - the press is not interested.

Another important tip for start-ups is: do not spend money on third-party PR services and do not hire a PR specialist in the state. Those who can really help you are too expensive, and those who provide free or cheap PR services should be avoided. In addition, in the first days, the story of your company will not be better told by anyone other than yourself, therefore you don’t need to involve a copywriter either.

So, while any company needs an individual media strategy, this is just one piece of the puzzle. Media activity should keep pace with the rest of the company's business processes. Otherwise, your company risks creating an image that cannot be justified. All those companies that are currently enjoying success, once told their spectacular story for the media - but they really had this spectacular story.

Original source

Andrew Zacharkis, DBA, Alisa Jno-Charles, PhD. Why Startups Shouldn’t Chase Media Buzz // Harvard Business Review (Digital). 2017.

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