You have moved past the idea development phase for your service, and now your early-stage startup is focused on growing its customer base and creating brand awareness. Inevitably, you will need broader exposure for your online service. In the meantime, your startup may come to enjoy increasing media hype.

Media buzz, however, is a double-edged sword.

Many promising startups pay a steep price for extensive media coverage when a service they provide cannot match the growing or excessive expectations of both prospects and customers.

Startups should validate their relevant market first, gain traction and achieve sustainable growth before pursuing wide media coverage.

Media buzz can be a stumbling block for your startup’s growth for two main reasons: either you cannot deliver in line with expectations, or you cannot cope with a rapidly expanding customer base. Both can jeopardize the very existence of your online service or application and prevent you from offering a worthwhile customer experience.

Be prepared to deliver to expectations…

The founder of any tech startup should be aware that building an online empire overnight is impossible even with help from the media.

Today’s online consumers are overwhelmed with choices in virtually every niche and across all industries. Even companies developing advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) face fierce competition in every single market.

Consumers have greater expectations than ever before, and each startup must live up to them to stay in business.

The markets for popular online services (content marketing, customer relationships, content management, and collaboration) witness new offerings emerge on a daily basis. The same holds true for the booming new markets for chatbots, virtual assistants, and applications that utilise machine learning.

Some of these technologies are quite new. Nonetheless, releasing a product with a large-scale media campaign often turns out to be the worst way for a startup to gain traction and market share.

The markets for online services and both business and consumer applications are highly dynamic, so if you are unable to provide, develop, and maintain exceptional functionality and usability, the media buzz will only help to spread the word about your service failing to fulfill its promise.

… And meet the demands of a fast-growing customer base

Let’s assume you have avoided the traps of extensive media coverage until the functionality and performance of your service have been tweaked to provide the high quality your target customers expect. You might be sorely tempted to reach out to the media, believing that your great service deserves great media coverage.

But are you prepared for the fast-growing number of customers that could follow positive and unbiased presentations in mainstream media?

Many startups make the mistake of seeking huge publicity while not yet ready to meet the requirements of a rapidly expanding customer base.

It is not about the features of your service; they might be quite useful and solve a real problem your customers have. It is about hardware, infrastructure, human capital, and any other resources required to expand your service at scale. Nor is it about taking advantage of cloud solutions like IaaS.

If you are not prepared to meet this rising demand, poor customer service may very well ruin your business.

Building customer experience is a tricky process where a small missing detail can be of the utmost importance.

Growing your customer base rapidly through social media can also ruin your reputation.

A survey by Sprout Social has found that the average brand response rate is just 12% on social media, while a brand needs 11 hours on average to respond to a customer inquiry, complaint or comment. You must ensure that your online service will be available all the time, but you must also engage with a vast number of consumers who prefer online communication channels. Automating answers to the most common questions only partially addresses the problem since you need person-to-person communication if you are to grow your business.

Rapid expansion can be a daunting task when coupled with media over-hype.

Think of building a solid service first

Despite the things said above, you do need media coverage.

Hiding from the media should not be considered a good practice unless you are still in the early stages of a stealth-mode startup. Distributing press releases and contacting selected media outlets and journalists can help your growth but this should be organic growth.

The best time for a startup to get media coverage is when a particular milestone has been achieved.

It could be the acquisition of a large client, the appointment of a well-known expert as a C-level executive, the launch of a new service or a major redesign, the introduction of new features, or any other event that can be considered a significant milestone for your business and service.

By bombarding journalists and the media with press releases, however, you might unintentionally force an adverse reaction. Not that they will start releasing negative comments about your startup – they’ll start ignoring you, which is the worst-case scenario for any business, small or large. Therefore, you should carefully select the timing for an approach to the media and must make sure that you have a valuable piece of news to share. Plus, you should seek coverage in meticulously selected media where your message will resonate and whose readers fall within your target group of customers.

But you should also not fear negative media coverage. Research by Babson College and Indiana University reveals that successful companies get 4.5 percent of negative media coverage as compared to 2.6 percent negative articles about failed companies. It is a good example that seeking media attention for the sake of PR does not pay off. An unbiased negative article can help your online service grow and attract customers in the long run once you fix all issues with your application or online service.

Create a company story and a message that you can sustain, grow naturally in accordance with your stated core values, deliver a great customer experience and only seek broad media attention when you are ready to meet expectations.

Ask yourself these simple questions: how will any particular media story influence your business image and how will it help you build brand awareness?

Finally, remember that your business will not thrive without strong foundations and a positive user/customer experience, and no media buzz can help your startup survive if it lacks a solid, scalable and responsive service.