Small business, social media and the Tour de France

The 96th Tour de France will be staged soon to determine the greatest cyclist of the year. Competitive cycling is a lot like being a small business owner: You have to sprint when necessary and grind out mountains of endurance all the other times.

Regularly, a Tour competitor will “break away” into the lead and leave the peloton (the biggest bunch of riders) behind. Whereupon one of the TV commentators will say, “Someone better chase him down,” so he doesn’t get too far ahead and glide across the finish line unchallenged. But the “chasing down” only happens once it’s clear that the break-away has the “legs” and isn’t going to fizzle and fade back into the pack. To make the move too quickly would waste energy resources on someone else’s ill-advised dash.

Whenever something is new, trendy and/or unproven in the marketplace, there is often a lot of hype about it as the next greatest thing, not unlike the early stage of a break-away. Wise small business owners are not easily pulled into chasing down these fads because the return on investment has not been proven. The social media craze has been one such example – until now.

Reasonable people can disagree as to the relative value of social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, just to name a few. And I’m on record saying that in a few years, we won’t talk much about these brands. But we will still do what these sites have helped create: build online communities; and for a business: build online customer communities – a term I prefer to social media.

So, if you’re one of the many skeptics of the value of social media, your reaction may have been to not participate. But it’s now time to realize that this guy has legs. Let me say this one more time: Social media may be a craze, but it’s not a fad.

Even if you don’t yet have a social media strategy, even if you don’t know how to create value for your company, even if you still think it’s just silly, you must now think like a member of that Tour de France peloton: You can’t let the break-away leaders get too far ahead, or you’ll lose sight of them.

Start chasing down the leaders by opening a Twitter account and spend only a few minutes there once a day; post your profile on Facebook and learn how the inhabitants of this universe behave; find someone, or a company, whose values and ideas you like and subscribe to – and comment on – their blog.

You can be successful without winning the social media race, but not if you don’t at least keep the break-away leaders in sight.

Recently, on my small business radio program, I talked about social media with marketing expert and Brain Trust member, Ilise Benun, author of Stop Pushing Me Around! Take a few minutes to listen to our conversation on this important topic. And, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.

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