Lee Odden

Jumping off the Social Media Cliff

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

Photo credit: Susanica

Of those that reach out to our agency at TopRank, most of the companies I talk to are intrigued and even excited about social media. The challenge for organizations is that they’re often not exactly sure where to start or what will happen if they do.

For many companies, kicking off a social media effort is like jumping off a cliff. The question to consider, as asked at last week’s OMS event, is whether your company is jumping as a base jumper or a Lemming?

What I mean by that is a question as to whether your organization is following others blindly into the chasm of social web participation or are planning and preperations being made first? Are the right people being educated and given the proper tools? Is there a plan with a specific objective?

Chasing after the competition into Facebook, Twitter and blogging without a plan is the Lemming approach. You can almost visualize swarms of companies jumping off into the abyss following competitors, self serving social media consultants and momentum created by mainstream media hype, each yelling “weeeee, social meeeeeedeeeeahhhh” and then realizing (maybe too late) with wide open eyes that they’re not prepared (no social media policy, no roadmap). There’s no chute, and the ground is coming up fast.

Photo credit: kgleditschAccording to Forrester Research, Using Buyer Social Behavior To Boost B2B Social Media Success, “Starting with social tactics spells disaster”. Why?  because social media puts buyers, not marketers, in control and “Build it, they will come” seldom works. Launching a company social media program by emphasizing specific tools rather than an understanding of the audience you’re trying to reach, goals or strategy, leads to wasted time, inefficiency of effort and in some cases, embarrasment.

Capturing insight about your audience in a social media context can be accomplished through a variety of tactics ranging from social media monitoring to conducting surveys of existing customers to determine their social media usage.

The base jumper approach is another metaphor that emphasizes having a plan: a goal and the right tools.   A good place to start is developing a clear understanding of what social media is and isn’t.

I think it’s safe to say that social media is a set of technology and platforms that facilitate:

  • Conversations
  • Connections
  • Sharing
  • Influence – acquisition and exertion
  • Customer Relationships
  • Muliti-disciplinary: marketing, PR, sales, customer service, HR, research
  • The opportunity to listen, engage & be useful

You could also say that social media is not:

  • Just like direct marketing
  • A replacement for other marketing
  • Controllable
  • A campaign with a defined start and stop
  • Easy to measure (in the same old ways)
  • Another place to publish offline Advertising media

The idea of jumping off a cliff is scary as hell to many and exciting to others. The reality is that becoming an active participant on the social web isn’t like jumping off a cliff at all.  It’s perfectly fine to test programs at the product or departmental level before committing enterprise wide resources. With the right planning, tools, guidance and education, companies can equip themselves for a journey that focuses on meaningful social media efforts online that provide value both to customers and as well as growing the business.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Madalyn Sklar says

    Hey Lee, great post! You are so right in that it’s about using social networks to facilitate connections and conversations. You cannot build it thinking people will just show up. I always say it doesn’t work unless you work it.

    Your insight is great!

    Madalyn Sklar

  2. I work at a college in the Northeast and we are jumping off the cliff right now. But we have a very careful planning process in place. It’s going to be a blast!

  3. Great post, Lee! I especially like your list breakdown of what social media can facilitate and what it is Not. The conversations and online interactions are an amazing benefit to being part of the new social media sphere. Thanks!

  4. BTW, Disney faked the lemmings commiting mass suicide – it was stage – carefully choreographed ..!

  5. Avatar Anthony Mora says

    This was a very, very good post. First time at this blog and I think I’ll stay!

    My company is diving into the social media pool right now, and I’m glad we chose to make a plan before implementing anything. I agree that many people just go head-first into the many different social media options without considering who they’re targeting, like a law firm setting up shop on myspace.

    Thanks for all the great info, Lee!

    • That’s great to hear Anthony. You’re unique and insightful to have made a plan. Come back and let us know how it goes?

  6. I see you on Twitter often, Lee. Nice post! (FYI your link to the Forrester piece results in a 404).

    • Thanks – the previous link for Forrester was going directly to a ppt file. Now it’s pointing to the slideshare version of that same deck.

  7. i have just started a small home based buisness. in essence, my ability to sell will come from my ability to market my product and myself on the internet. currently, you could say i am taking the lemming approach by following everyone off the cliff using facebook, twitter and blogging and other such tools. i never really considered a proper approach recently, i have since learnt drawn like a moth to a light about SEO, google adwords and now your company. informative blog, it will help me make my decision and has opened my eyes to other options rather then the ye ol build it and they will come kevin costner approach. great blog, cheers!

  8. Hi Lee, nice article, I agree that social media shouldn’t feel like a jump off a cliff at all. A company simply needs to apply basic business processes and assign the right people to the task.

    This usually starts with someone who champions social media, the main person responsible.

    The biggest mistake some companies do is not identifying specific goals and objectives for using social media, and establishing measurement processes.

    Without continually measuring and tweaking social media strategy against a set of goals, it really does feel like jumping off a cliff. It’s like running a website without web analytics, how do you know whats happening?

    Are there any really good web analytics tools specifically for social media?


    think in a way feels like a jump off a cliff for some companies.

  9. Avatar sshwepps says

    Hi Lee

    Excellent post, it conforms to much what I feel is necessary for success in social media. I would like to add two more attributes – perseverance (to sustain and nurture a relationship) and patience (to not actually wear the marketer’s hat all the time) are key (IMO) to the success of any social media marketing campaign.

    According to me a good SMM plan should go like this:

    1) Find out the target audience
    2) Locate this target audience in various social media platforms
    3) Get connected to this target audience on these platforms and get the relationship going
    4) Establish your credibility through interactions where you add value to your contacts without indulging into marketing (here comes the patience part)
    5) Once the credibility is established and relationships are mature enough you can actually start the marketing (keep it subtle, in your face marketing just doesn’t work on social media)
    6) This is an ongoing process (here comes the perseverance part)

    I am from India and into online marketing for some years now and most of what I know about social media marketing is from your posts and from the writings of Dave Evans (what a book he has written). Incidentally he is coming to India for hands-on workshops, can’t wait to be there.

  10. Actually I think it’s more like climbing a cliff. Jumping is all about getting up the nerve to start, then it’s out of your hands. So many people start a social media effort but if they are not prepared to keep putting in the effort, they grind to a halt after climbing the first few meters. They are then stuck on the cliff with nothing to show for their efforts. It’s only those who are prepared to keep up the effort that get to see the glorious view at the top!

    • cyberdov, it’s only out of your hands after the jump if the Lemming approach is taken. The metaphor of base jumping with a parachute implies that there is some degree of control with the right training, tools and a destination (goals). However, your comment about persistence is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Social participation as a marketing and communications tool takes a long term commitment, just as any worthwhile relationships do.

  11. Love your lemmings analogy… thanks for the great post, and inspiration!

  12. I think it is important for a newbie entering the social space to test the waters for sure but a strategic plan on how your daily efforts will be executed is very important.

  13. Hey,

    My name is Cliff, drop over sometime! Bad joke, I know. Doing what everyone else does seems all American, but you are for sure wasting your time if you don’t know why you are doing it. To make a bigger plan work the little plans leading up to it need to work as well.

  14. Thanks a lot for these posts! Me and a team of people here in Germany got a role to boost social media of an online company we work for (ad based and digital content sales based business models)Those guys working with me on this are SEO and Search specialists, so I guess a good first steps. But reading your blog, it really helps me to realize what we need before and how important is to have a plan and goals set before we start. Thank you again and keep up!