5 Ways to Tell if Your Small Business is a Social Media Lemming?

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Is Your Small Business a Social Media Lemming?It used to be that only a few people were brave enough to take the leap when a new technology emerged.  These early adopters blazed a path into the unknown, while the rest of us stayed at the top of the cliff waiting to hear if there was a splat.

We’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again.  Perhaps, it goes back as far as the invention of the wheel or discovery of fire?  There are the early adopters, the naysayers, and then there’s the rest of us.

The early adopters tend to be zealots willing to pay exorbitant prices to become leaders in their field, but many just end up being beta testers (kind of like we have been for Microsoft).  The naysayers stand at the bottom of the cliff counting all of those who do not survive the leap as evidence that none should jump.

Recently, however, many of the wait-and-see crowd have taken the plunge off the cliff following the early adopters just like a group of lemmings.  The thuds on the ground below from the failure of small business social media strategies have been drowned out by the social media cheerleaders at the top.

Developing a Social Media Strategy for Your Small Business

Did I say it was small business social media strategies that were failing?  Let me be more specific.  It is the Social-Media-for-Dummies type of how-to advice from would-be gurus that many small business owners are calling a strategy that’s failing (a mouthful, I know).

Following Social Media Gurus does not Guarantee SuccessSocial media is a great tool in the right hands, but in the hands of someone that does not know how to use it properly it can be disastrous.  Even if you have been properly trained on how to use a tool, it does not mean that it is the proper tool for the job.

It also doesn’t guarantee that if you follow a guru step-for-step that you will be able to repeat their results.  It’s like saying you can sculpt The David by knowing how to use a hammer and chisel and reading a book on Michelangelo’s methods.

So, what is a small business owner supposed to do with social media?  You must first sit down and develop a strategy.  Go back to grade school.  Ask the five basic questions – who, what, when, where, and why.

Who are You Targeting with Your Social Media?

It isn’t that surprising that many small business owners fail to reach their target audience with social media.  Most of them have never defined their target customer offline either.

Who are Your Target Customers?Jumping on the Twitter or Facebook bandwagon because you read how much traffic these sites receive, or that some guru had great success there, doesn’t help much if your potential or existing customers are not there.

If you do not know who you are targeting it’s not likely that your message is going to hit the mark.  Knowing your audience is the very foundation of any good advertising or marketing campaign.  Be as specific as you can.

Have an image of this person in your head when you develop, and later implement, your social media strategy.

The Whats to Ask about Your Social Media Strategy?

There are many whats that you can ask when it comes to social media.

What are Your Target Customer’s Interests?

Now that you have a specific image of your target customer, what do they care about?  A cardinal rule of selling is that you don’t sell the product or service, you sell the benefits.  You need to know what your customer cares about to know how your product or service benefits your customers.

What do You want to Say to Your Customers?

What is it that you want to say to your customer?  Nothing is worse than finding the right target but delivering the wrong message.  Too many times I see small business owners babble on about random subjects often having nothing to do with their business.  If you don’t have a defined message then you will not be successful with social media.

What is This Going to Cost Me?

Most social media networks are free to use, but that does not mean there isn’t a cost.  Effectively using social media will require a lot of time, either your time or someone you hire.  Depending on your computer and marketing skills, and your desire to climb the steep learning curve, the costs can quickly become prohibitive for a small business to implement a full social media strategy.

When Should You Implement Your Social Media Strategy?

Social media is just one tool in your advertising and marketing arsenal.  It is rarely effective on its own; however, when used in connection with traditional tools and leveraging other online tools it can be very effective.  If these other tools are not in place, your social media efforts may be in vain.

Where do Your Customers Hang Out?

The last thing you want to do is show up at the wrong party or to throw a party and have nobody show up.  Do your research when it comes to social media networks.  Find out which networks your customers, or potential customers, are using.  A tree may make a sound when it falls in the forest, but if nobody is there to hear it who cares?

Why do You Want to Use Social Media?

This is probably the most telling question of all.  Why do you want to use social media?  What is it that you expect to receive?

If the answer is that everyone else is doing it, or some guru told me I needed to do it, then you are probably a social media lemming.  If you do not understand why you are using social media, it is very unlikely that you will be effective with it.

Article by

Brad's Big Feet Marketing helps people on a limited budget enlarge their online footprint using blogging & social media. His other blog, Marketplace Christianity, examines faith's role in how we earn and spend money.

Brad has written 95 awesome articles for us at Bradley A Harmon

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula November 13, 2009 at 9:03 pm

This is so true. I have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon and am still yet to see its potential. I have lots of followers but are they targeted?


Brad Harmon November 13, 2009 at 9:50 pm

My first month with Twitter I was just there because it was the place to be, but this month I have a detailed Twitter strategy. It is tied into my blog schedule and my advertising rotation now. I need to plug my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts into the strategy and see how well it all works together. I'm encouraged by what I am seeing so far though.


ileane November 28, 2009 at 1:08 pm

I work for a medium sized non-profit publisher of technical books and journals. We have over 12,000 products and lack any focus in terms of social media. I can honestly say that it is basically because we don't have the answers to any of these questions. The great thing is that as an organization we can survive and even thrive without a social media strategy for now. However, the question is – for how long?

Well I'll be ready for them whenever they decide that they are ready to take the leap and create a new position for me (not that I'm unhappy with the one I have now, I'm just sayin').

Thanks for the post, I have cast my blogengage vote!



Karl Foxley November 28, 2009 at 4:23 pm

You've raised some very valid questions that companies should certainly take the time to answer. Why do you want to use social media? '[Because] everyone else is doing it' is something I hear way too often.

I think I'll just start pointing people directly to this page.



Brad Harmon November 29, 2009 at 3:46 am

Thanks for the vote Ileane! Your company is not alone. Many small and medium-sized businesses are still sitting on the sidelines wondering what to make of social media. I think that is better than just jumping in without answering the questions above.

You can quickly spend a lot of money and time with social media and not see any results from your efforts. I think social media is a great tool, and that it has a place in just about every small businesses advertising, customer relations, and PR plan. Sadly, many don't even have these written plans for their offline efforts so it is no surprise their social media efforts fail.

It sounds like your organization is niche oriented. You might set up some listening posts (see my other posts in this category) on social media networks to see what type of chatter is out there about these niches. This is a quick and free way of testing the waters, and the results may help your organization decide how to use social media.


Brad Harmon November 29, 2009 at 3:57 am

I see the same responses almost everyday. There is so much hype about social media just about everywhere you look that it's hard not to get sucked in by it.

We are told by these gurus that you have to be everywhere on the web, but unless you have a social media army this isn't possible. It's really not all that different from traditional networking – you have to be in the right place, with the right message, for the right reasons.

Unless you've sat down and figured this out beforehand, chances are that you will just spin your wheels accomplishing little. Besides the wasted resources, you could also hurt your business using social media incorrectly – not a lot is written on this that I have seen.

Thanks for the referral to this post. I appreciate it.


ileane November 29, 2009 at 6:59 am


Thanks for the response. Honestly, the situation is just the opposite. We have 142 “niches” in the form of technical committees. Therefore a social media strategy would be a major undertaking which would require at least 2 to 3 employees in order to be effective.

After reading your post, I'll be more prepared to approach upper-management when the time comes!


Brad Harmon November 29, 2009 at 8:24 am

Wow! That's a lot of niches! That would take a formidable strategy, wouldn't it? Does the Pareto 80/20 principle apply to your business? Does 20% of the niches make up 80% of your revenues? If so, that would certainly be a more manageable task.

I've been seeing you in a lot of different places this week; even before you commented on my blog. It seems like you have a passion for this, so I hope that new position opens up for you soon.


ileane November 29, 2009 at 8:35 am

Yes, the 80/20 principle does apply. You just gave my imaginary administrative assistant their first assignment – gathering all of the necessary statistics! lol

I try to leave a good impression wherever I go on the web, so it is nice that you noticed me. Thank you.



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