Social media has already proven itself for business—start NOW.

Ignoring social media is a ‘strategic error of the most basic nature‘ ” –Chief of US Naval Operations

SMART: Most businesses wait to adopt new practices or technologies until they have proven themselves. Waiting for this reason is often smart.

DUMB: The problem is that most businesses are a step behind at knowing when something has proven itself. By the time many businesses find beneficial new uses for a technology, most businesses still don’t know what it’s good for. Not knowing in this case is dumb.

Get past the confusion and misperception that it’s only a way of doing new things once a technology begins to replace the way old things are done. Of course, it’s great if you can adopt once new benefits become clear best practices, but that takes time, education and some trial and error. It’s inefficient at first, though the gains can be considerable.

But while you can afford to miss out on gains, when it reaches the point you will incur losses if you don’t adopt (late stage 3, see below), you need to take action. Social media is in early stage 3 now. You have only a little time to avoid incurring losses by not learning its benefits.

Most businesses cannot do without some sales and marketing functions. If that’s true for you, it’s likely that your business will be hurt if you don’t begin learning relevant social media best practices for your business in 2011.

When should you adopt a disruptive technology like Social Media?

To find how to use it to improve things you already do, you need to filter out the noise about things you don’t want to do, and from people who simply misunderstand it.

So pay as much attention to the lifecycle of a technology as to how well you understand it. You don’t have to understand something to learn that it is improving on some business practices for a wide segment of your industry.

Once a lot of people have been saying for over a year that the technology has proven itself, people that say “I don’t understand it” are no longer relevant. Once the benefits of the technology are known and widely tested over months and years, ignore the people who don’t understand it.

Realize that soon your business will be affected adversely by not learning it. That’s right—you can rarely keep using the old ways and maintain the same business. Your customers will go to your competitors. I’m not talking about missing out on new benefits—I’m talking about losing your business.

Disruptive technologies follow an easy-to-identify timeline

You MUST adopt before stage four or you will risk your business. At first, disruptive technologies:

  1. AREN’T CLEAR. It’s hard to tell what use they are for most businesses. They create niche uses.
    Commonly known as: “Leading/bleeding edge” practices
    Social media misperception: “Who cares what I had for lunch?”
  2. OFFER NEW BENEFITS: Then, over time, they begin doing new things few businesses care much about, but which get a lot of attention.
    Commonly known as: Something for “early adopters”
    Social media misperception: “What we have is already working, I don’t have time for something new.”
  3. PROVE THEMSELVES: After more time, they begin doing some things for some businesses better than how those businesses already do them.
    Commonly known as: Methods that become a standard alternative or addition to some business practices.
    Social media misperception: “Since customers are looking for us on social media, we’ll reserve a username.”
  4. THE NEW STANDARD: Eventually, they replace the way a segment of things were done in the past, as well as adding new things to what businesses do.
    Commonly known as: The way things are done now, the new best practice
    Social media misperception: “Just because everyone is talking about it doesn’t mean it will work for us.”

Classic Example: How hydraulics replaced older technologies

Hydraulic technology (think giant excavating machines) couldn’t match the power or reach of cable-operated technology for a long time. It was a technology in search of a market, eventually finding use digging small ditches (like burying a cable in your yard) on the back of small and home tractors. As the technology advanced over decades, it eventually become both cheaper and much safer than cable technology: It became the way everything was done.

But it needed to create its own markets (small ditch digging) before it could become the technology all businesses used (excavators and related equipment of all sizes).

Social media followed the same path, with many businesses finding NEW benefits from using it, and with it now adding to or replacing many existing ways of doing things. It’s not just a way to do something new anymore, it’s now the way to do a lot of what you already do, only better.

Eventually, you must change

By the time a technology reaches stage 4, it is usually too late to adopt it. Your industry has already moved on without you. Your next step is to go out of business. Social media is currently at early stage 3, with some businesses using it in stage 4. It has proven itself, and is growing into the new standard in some areas. If you wait much longer to adopt social media best practices, you may have trouble maintaining your business much longer!

While this sounds extreme, this is exactly what happens. The majority of businesses always wait too long to adopt. Yes, you should wait! You must wait. Don’t jump in. New ways of doing things must prove themselves before it is wise for most businesses to adopt them.

What should a business do?

Don’t try to do everything. Find something that benefits your business. I suggest using getting connected on Twitter to consultants who can help you determine best practices for how you do business now. Use Twitter as a personal learning network (pln). You can connect with people who can give you ideas on how to run your business better that have nothing to do with social media.

I’ll begin with some advice from Francine Hardaway about how small business can best leverage social media

“Don’t spend too much time monitoring for mentions of your brand, which is probably unknown, but look for generic things people are talking about in your industry segment or niche: lousy landscapers who leave the gate open and let the dog out, people who want fences that don’t block their views.  Dry cleaning that isn’t poisonous. Web sites that have e-commerce carts. Customers at coffee shops in the afternoons. Facebook pages that have hundreds or thousands of fans and likes.

“Try to learn from those other businesses. The best use of social media isn’t really marketing, it’s learning. Social media allows you access to competitors, customers, and best practices. That’s never been possible before.

“After you have gotten comfortable learning from what other people and businesses do and say in social media, see if it works in your business for customer service. After all, in your monitoring, if you come across a dissatisfied customer of yours, you can help her because you are already ‘out there’  listening and you hear the complaint.”

Try some of these 5 Key Strategies For Implementing Social Media For Small Business:

  1. Develop educational webinars and/or podcasts which address specific small business needs in the process of introducing company products or services.
  2. Encourage, and carefully tend, online reviews of company products or services.
  3. Establish a presence on one or more major social networking sites and use this as a hub for corporate social media initiatives.
  4. Participate in more focused online discussions where it is easy to find and respond to questions specifically related to company products or services – such answering questions on Q&A sites like LinkedIn Answers or Business.com Answers, or in online business forums – rather than trying to work a promotional mention into discussions on 3rd party web sites and blogs.
  5. Further investigate how your target audience is using Twitter for business today and begin developing a Twitter strategy.
  1. Commit to Social Media.
  2. Share your knowledge and experience
  3. Create valuable content for your community
  4. Share Everything.
  5. Tear down the Walls between you and customers.
  6. Have fun connecting. Use humor.
  7. Be yourself. Your personality will shine through on Social Media.

Don’t be fooled—Social Media has already proven itself

A business needs to ignore a new technology unless it has many new uses most businesses can benefit it, or it begins replacing existing best practices. Social media has already done both.  It’s at early stage 3, but because some businesses have managed to use it for almost all of what they do, it’s clearly moving into stage 4. And if you wait until stage 4, you might not have a business anymore.

Stage 2: Missing potential gains

For example, as many businesses began gaining customers by using social media in new ways, most business were still thinking Twitter was just for sharing what you had for lunch. It’s okay to miss out on this level, because the technology hasn’t quite proved itself yet. It takes effort to learn and gain new kinds of benefits.

Stage 3: Missing improvements in what you already do

By the time some established businesses were replacing old business practices with better ways of doing things through social media (identifying customer service issues, improving website search results, gaining a new segment of customers that use social media extensively, etc.), most businesses were saying “I don’t have time to learn something new. What I’m doing is working fine.”

This is when you should start adopting. Old ways of doing things are being replaced by better ways of doing the same things.

Stage 4: Old ways of doing things are replaced with better ways

At this late stage, the technology, by replacing standard business practices, has proven itself and become the new standard for many practices. But many businesses don’t recognize when this has happened. This is a dangerous time to lag behind. Your industry has already changed—you just don’t know it yet. You may lose your business entirely.

More Resources

  1. See 10 Guidelines to do doing well on Twitter for some simple ideas on how to get started.\
  2. Twitter is a $10,000 check you’re leaving uncashed.”

 

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