by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff

10 low-cost PR strategies for startups and small businesses

Aug 12, 2016
InternetMarketingSmall and Medium Business

Small business owners and experts in public and media relations share tips for how to generate good press for your business without having to spend a lot of money.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Most startups and small businesses cannot afford to hire an advertising or PR agency. They don’t have the money for glossy ads in magazines, or radio or TV commercials or to even create online ad campaigns.

However, thanks to the internet and social media, startups and small business don’t have to spend a lot of money (or even any money, in some cases) to generate positive buzz about their products and services. They can just use one or more of the following 10 cost-effective digital PR strategies.

1. Sign up to be a source on Help a Reporter Out (HARO). “Subscribe to HARO,” says Kyle Peterson, partner at Clement|Peterson, a tech PR agency. “The free service will send you three emails per day listing articles that journalists are currently working on – and the sources they’re seeking to complete the story. Just be sure to respond quickly when a request fits your area of expertise (and HARO covers just about all industries), since there could be plenty of competition.”

2. Reach out to social media influencers. “Ask them to hold a giveaway with you, become a brand ambassador or [write about your products or service],” says Alice Williams, communications specialist, Frontier Business Edge. “This has proven to be an effective and inexpensive way of generating buzz time and time again. Influencer recommendations carry 22 times more weight than recommendations from the ‘average’ customer,” she says. “It’s an especially effective way to generate buzz amongst millennials, according to a joint study by Twitter and Annalect. Forty percent of respondents stated that they bought something online after they saw an influencer use it.”

[ Related: 11 ways to build your online brand ]

3. Join the conversation on Twitter. Twitter “is an easy and cost-effective method for building brand awareness, creating buzz and establishing yourself or your brand as a leader in your industry,” says Kathleen Rose, owner, To get the most out of the platform, she suggests companies “develop a branded Twitter page, follow at least 50 members of their target audience per month and consistently post valuable content that their targets will find useful.”

Companies should also “monitor [Twitter, using Hootsuite or a similar service,] for relevant keywords and hashtags,” says Malcolm J. Gray, social media manager, Live Nation. “Monitor the conversations people are having about your [business,] products and industry” – and jump in if or when appropriate. “Searching [for] relevant keywords and hashtags for even 10 minutes a day can help you gain insight into industry trends, [discover] what consumers like and don’t like about your product” and identify media opportunities and prospective customers.

“Companies can [also] get their brand name out there and reach their niche customers directly by participating in Twitter chats,” says Jane Callahan, president, JKC Communications. “Companies can co-host a Twitter chat (an ask-an-expert type thing) or they can promote their own. Creating a unique hashtag also helps brands create a space on Twitter,” she says. “For example, there are tons of teacher-oriented Twitter chats that ed-tech companies can get in on, like #satchat. If you create your own tag, do something around it get people to use it, like a [contest] for free (branded) swag, [where people] just use the hashtag to enter the contest.”

4. Use Facebook Live. “Use Facebook Live livestreaming to share free content and get your message out,” says Jamie Broderick, founder, Network Now, a women’s business network. “Facebook’s algorithm currently gives more exposure to video, especially livestreaming, and it’s free.” To “drive viewers to your website, include a call to action [in your Facebook Live video].”

“Nothing beats video [especially live video] for building rapport and, eventually, revenue for small businesses,” says Kristi Brown, cofounder, Significantly Successful, a marketing & consulting firm. And “Facebook has made it super easy for both those filming and those watching, making [Live] gain in popularity very quickly. Plus, video beats out anything other than paid ads on Facebook for visibility. The trick is to promote your Facebook Live by scheduling the topic, time and date in advance. This way your fans know when you will be live and to look for the replay if they miss you.”

[ Related: Facebook, Snapchat and the future of live video ]

5. Boost your Facebook posts. “Use Facebook’s very specific audience demographics tool [to] ‘boost’ posts,” says Kelsey Goeres, social media & marketing associate, MyCorporation. “You’ll get your message out to exactly the right people for anywhere from $10 to $300.”

6. Post on Pinterest and Instagram. “One thing I’d recommend small businesses [do is] use infograhpics and Pinterest,” says Ashley Haugen, content strategist, brightpeak financial. “Using our in-house designer and copywriter, we put together an infographic on the 50/30/20 method of budgeting.

“For a minimal spend, we published it on Pinterest and watched it take off,” she says. “The organic reach of this one infographic blew our paid ads out of the water – over 31,000 re-pins and ranking on the first page of the Pinterest Finance category. It was consumable and valuable information for the consumer, and a low-cost win for us.”

Instagram is another good way to attract attention to your business. Post visually appealing photos of your products using popular, relevant Instagram hashtags. You can also create a unique, company-specific hashtag to track who’s looking at and sharing your images.

[ Related: 10 ways multichannel companies can build trust with customers ]

7. Answer questions on Quora. “Quora is a great place to share content in the form of answers to questions,” says Quincy Smith, marketing manager, Visiple, a video conferencing platform.  “If you post and answer enough, you will get more credibility and people will not only ask you to answer questions but will also visit your site.” Just “make sure your business name and Twitter handle are in your account bio (mine is ‘Marketing Manager for @Visiple,’ for example).” And include a link to your business in your posts, if or when appropriate.

8. Pitch smaller, niche publications and blogs that are targeted at your audience/industry. “Many companies overlook smaller, more niche websites and digital magazines in lieu of major publications like Forbes and Inc.,” says Lauren Fairbanks, CEO, S&G, a digital content and PR firm. “However, many industry publications get pitched far less often and are much more open to op-eds, guest articles and using you as a source for future articles.”

Similarly, reach out to industry blogs, or blogs that target your target audience.

[ Related: 12 tips for creating a must-read business blog ]

“Whether it’s a one-time guest post, or a regular column, reach out to the blog’s editor and offer [him or her] story ideas that showcase your business acumen, industry expertise and writing chops,” says Termeh Mazhari, a PR/Marketing and SEO consultant. “Even if the guest post is not directly related to your company, you’re establishing yourself as a thought leader and that’s just as important. Plus, your byline will feature info about your brand with links to your company site so press can always find you and contact you.”

“You can [also] use relatively low-cost distribution services like eReleases to send out press releases,” says Kristian Rivera, digital marketing specialist, Fit Small Business. Or “you can build out a media/press contact sheet and send out your press release via email, using LinkedIn or company websites to get contact information for the people you [want] to reach.”

9. Publish articles on LinkedIn Pulse, Medium and other free content sites. “There are hundreds of online industry news and blog sites that accept contributions for no charge,” says Domenick Cilea, president, Springboard, a full-service PR, marketing, social media and design agency. “These are free opportunities to legitimize your expertise.” And you can include “links to your company website [to] draw traffic to your brand without paying for any additional advertising.” Just be sure to share links to your articles on your social media channels and on your website to maximize exposure.

10. Reward customers for posting something nice about you. “Offer customers discounts or giveaways to post a picture of themselves at your store with their new purchase,” or using your product at home or someplace fun, says John B. Dinsmore, assistant professor, Marketing, Raj Soin College of Business, Wright State University. Ask that they “tag the store’s Facebook, [Pinterest or Instagram] account or declare the store as their location in the post. Immediately, the person’s friends will all see a persuasive endorsement for your store from someone they trust.”