Tips on being community evangelist for your startup

One of the key components startups need to think about today is evangelism. Here are some tips on how they can be a better advocate for their products and company.
Written by Srinivas Kulkarni, Contributor

How much time does one spend to "evangelize" their product? A typical question like this would get atypical responses like:

- "If you're a startup, you're constantly evangelizing your product."
- "As a startup, one has to eat, sleep, live and breathe their product."
- There's sometimes also this: "You don't need to evangelize your product if it's a real good one and solves real problems; the community does it for you." Apple is the best example of that, so to speak.

But when there are so many product startups emerging in India, it sometimes becomes a challenge to answer these questions:

- Where do I evangelize my product?
- Where do I meet my target audience?
- How do I go about networking with the right people?
And most importantly, how do I ensure that I engage with them effectively?

Having worked in a similar role previously, I would like to focus on how being a "community" evangelist doesn't just mean being part of various social channels 24 by 7. It is more about adopting a focused approach that encompasses building, managing, and networking within communities in India's startup ecosystem. It's not just about social, but also about Social + Offline!

So here are a few tips on how you could be better at the job, if you're working as a community evangelist for your startup...

Listening is key

Keep an eye out for conversations that may matter to you--both online and offline.

On the online front, the easiest option of course would be to use tools like, Twazzup, Social Mention, and Twitter Advanced search. Use tools like Commun.it, Bottlenose, etc. to check conversations within your streams. If you have allocated spend or budget, choose tools like Radian 6 or SM2.

Offline "listening" would be trickier, but a good way is to keep an eye for conversations in public spaces, while you're travelling or in newspapers, radio, or events you attend. You might get to listen to the painpoints people talk about that your product aims to resolve. You'd be surprised at how many brilliant ideas come by just listening to "real people" out there.

Talk passion points, not products

Once listening gives you an insight on what kind of conversations are happening in your product space, then talk to them about the issues that matter to them.

Try to identify what are the painpoints they face and converse accordingly. I remember one of my conversations during a meetup with a founder of a travel startup. He was just talking about the kind of features his product will offer and what his product will be all about. I don't really remember the name of the product even.

On the other hand I remember talking to Rohan Dighe, founder of ViralMint, about how companies in the e-commerce space are "struggling to give social couponing and campaigns a viral approach" and the brand ViralMint has a recall for me.

Your customers will always talk about painpoints and passion points. Engage with them and not simly preach what you have to offer. Speaking of passion points, one of the most passionate people who can help spread the word would be bloggers, so talk to them about their passion points, they'll figure out your product, and maybe even review it if they like.

Sunil Urs, founder of Fenopix, feels that bloggers are one of the best evangelists for brands. He also adds that encouraging users in-app to share and review the product helps. 

Build your brand

When you are a community evangelist for a product, you are a brand yourself.

As a brand, ensure that you take personal interest in the space and talk about it. Sharing your opinions on various platforms is very important. Give your quotes on various blogs, articles and guest columns in blogs and articles of products in your space.

Go speak at various conferences and unconferences. Don't forget the #barcamps. They are as fundamental as any conference you'd speak at.

Use various forums like stackoverflow, hackerstreet, headstart newtork, Startup Saturday, startup weekend groups, LinkedIn Groups, and various Web forums of topics of your product space.

Leave your digital footprint everywhere. Use tools like flipboard, pulse, feedly, currents, and on a daily basis share content relevant within your brand to your audience on various communities, with your comments.

But that also doesn't mean you just talk about your product topic only. It's always okay to be personal. If you just talk about one topic, everyone will zone out at one point in time.

Attend events--physical/virtual

Just because you live in the connected economy or a 'social media' world, don't forget that there's a physical world  out there. Many founders and CEOs most definitely attend these events. As a marketer, community evangelist, see if you can attend too.

Keep checking Meetup, Local Tweetups, startup events listed in your area, be regular to the Barcamps, hackathons and startup weekend events. This is to be part of your community and get insights on the space.

In addition, attend conferences, trade shows, un-conferences specific to your product domain, for example, e-commerce and retail conferences if you are an e-commerce startup. Try to find out events that are not overly expensive or are free, but most importantly the relevant ones where you don't end up wasting your time, money and energy.

Bhaskar Krishnamoorthy, founder of Cavintek mentioned: "Attending tradeshows and having a booth is another powerful way that we have recently started to venture into, but this costs money and for a boot-strapped company like Cavintek, identifying the right show to have a booth becomes tricky. We also write articles and whitepapers to gain trust among our target market."

That seems like a great idea too.

Be there always!

This is a key and the most important aspect of being a community evangelist. Just because you don't have a seminar to attend doesn't mean you don't talk and interact with the people who are already connected to you. Ensure that you keep in touch with them.

Make sure that you help out anyone, even if it's not related to your product or has anything to do with your brand. People always remember folks who help. Remember the Heineken "guy" who just got hired to be good? So do that as and when the opportunity presents itself.

These were some of my views on being that better community evangelists and I hope they help. If you have any more ideas to share, do let me know. Would love to know what you have to say.


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