Flickr CC: cjsveningsson

{ Pick My Brain! is fixed price service tailored to early stage startups, gender wage gap adjusted for female founders. }

Many things in the Nordics are similar to one another, yet not quite the same. The underlying, often subliminal, social and cultural differences are becoming harder and harder to detect, due to common denominators such as high Internet and mobile usage, and large Facebook penetration. This makes it easy to jump to conclusion, that these geographically close countries with fairly similar languages, apart from Finnish, are to be treated alike. As a Finn living in Sweden, with large social and professional networks within media, tech and startups across the Nordics, I find this particularly interesting development to follow.

Naturally, the increasing penetration of the Internet and mobile is not just a matter for the Nordics, but to have a global future impact on any cultural region. That’s what makes ones fans and social networks even more invaluable: They are the ones that will help you to keep up with the changes and learn about the differences, whether they’re about a specific behavior, a preference, or a saying. Should they not have an answer to your question, they’ll certainly know where to look.

This is also why I advice startups to pay attention to their fans and embrace the social web. Many are still too busy building their services to have time to listen and engage, or simply don’t see the point in engaging in as many social networks as possible, just because their immediate users may not be there. While that might be the case, I still bet their next business partner, employee, or someone with a great idea or a new user base, most likely is.

The other great thing about social networks when launching to a new market, is that they tend to span across geographical borders, as for example here in the Nordics. Thus, your fans will help you to bridge the distance by providing trust and authenticity. Question remains: Do you know who your true fans are?

Flickr CC: the_shed

I will use Headweb, one of my favorite Swedish startups, as an example. It recently launched in Finland and Denmark, now covering all the Nordic countries. I hope this will give you inspiration and advice on how to engage with your fans and reach beyond your current market.

1. Find And Love Your True Fans

Not only will your fans help you to create a better service, they actually understand and care about your product enough to walk the extra mile. Today it’s also easier than ever before to track ones fans’ social demographics, and most importantly, who they in turn have in their social graph. Make your fans feel special, for example by sending them invitations to beta testing, give them new features first etc. Ted Valentin, a serial entrepreneur, with his latest Restaurangkartan, is great at doing that, and people seemingly appreciated the effort by Flattr. I know I did. There are tons of great advice like this one out there (Tip: Superanton). How to love your every customer like it was your first and only fan is best told by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, great at delivering happiness. Headweb is heading the right way here by reaching out to the community for help with translations and testing the upcoming iPhone application.

2. Look For Collaboration – Bundling

Find services and products that in some way complement your own service, and already have an established presence, preferably in several of your target markets. Bundling, for example, with a membership offer increases both reach and eyeballs.

Example: Headweb is about entertainment and recreation, movies often being used as a gift or reward for personal achievements. One such partner could be Viktklubb, Swedish online weight loss service, and my previous baby, established both in Norway and Finland, and gathering a large community of determined users, ready to reward themselves.

3. Social Network Presence In Native Language

Join and create a presence in the most popular local social networks, using native language. The easiest way to reach approx 40% of the population in the Nordics is Facebook (FI, NO, SE, DK). This would also be the 40% of the people that already are more likely to talk about and share things they find interesting.

Example: Headweb can start a Facebook Fan Page in each and every language by offering a free rental movie to everyone becoming a fan the first day/days. This gives it an immediate and well known user base to start building relationships with. It’s like using Twitter to make followers retweet a certain message in exhcange for something. Facebook, a familiar environment in ones own language, is a good way to get acquainted with a new service – but most of all, to spread the word to ones trusted peers. It is now also possible to use Facebook Fan Page more efficiently as customer service with a Get Satisfaction integration.

4. Use Current And Engaging Topics In Your Offering – Timing

When crafting your offering, relate to current events, national news and local competitors’ offerings when possible. The usual suspects such as pricing, usability, and technical advantages are not the only selling points while attracting new crowds. Appealing to emotional values is not to be diminished when establishing trust and authenticity.

Example: Headweb launched right after closing of the Olympic games in Vancouver, prior the Annual Academy Awards , and the International Women’s Day, all topics that engage a large group of people, and therefore great to build a message and offering around. It’s also easy to run a check on the top lists and reviews of the most popular and upcoming movies in movie theaters, DVD rentals and other online streaming services. Facts that would help Headweb to differentiate, and create a compelling offering with its own movie selection.

5. Eyeballs – Approach To Media

Your fans will help you get eyeballs by knowing what publications, bloggers and forums to reach out to. It’s no secret that the established media scans blogosphere and social networks for buzz and scoops. For better or worse, the trending topics in various social media channels are more likely to even make it to the traditional media, print and online. Most importantly – never send PDFs. All you should email is a very short personal note on why the recipient will find your service interesting, including the link to your service, your contact information, and a ready to use image of your product and logo. No rambling, instead focus on making your product super accessible.

Here’s my talk on the topic: Launch Strategies for Startups and How To Turn Fans Into Ambassadors.

Hope you find this useful. Let me know if I can be helpful to your company in any way.

Paula is Digital Product Advisor and Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe, focusing on Product, Go-to-market, and Internationalization strategies. Rated as one of the very best startup mentors in Europe, she has to date mentored over 150 digital technology companies on product, marketing and growth. Pick My Brain! is her fixed price service tailored to early stage startups, gender wage gap adjusted for female founders. Contact Paula for digital strategy work or book her as keynote speaker about #Startups #WomenInTech #GenderEquality #Entrepreneurship. Read more about her work and connect @Twitter, @LinkedIn. “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen”Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital

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