6 Stages of Social Media for SMBs (and everyone else)

As with anything, there are stages for small business owners who decide to get involved with social media. Mastery doesn’t come all at once. We start at the bottom, we learn new tools and tricks over time, and eventually we work through common issues just as others have before us.

In my experience educating clients about social media and talking to others about their own involvement, I’ve found there are six basic stages that we all must pass through when it comes to getting involved with social media. Below are the six stages I most commonly see. You let me know if you’ve seen any others.

Stage 1: I Don’t Need Social Media

The first stage of social media is utter and total resentment. It’s where you view social media as an annoyance and where you wish everyone would just stop talking about it or recommending that you sign up for a Twitter account. Why would you ever need a Twitter account to talk to your customers? You talk to your customers every day when they come into your store. Facebook isn’t going to help you become a better marketer. Facebook is for people with too much time on their hands. You’re not interested in looking at other people’s photos of their kids. Please!

Stage 2: Fine, Maybe I’ll Just Try…

The second stage of social media is where you’ve finally decided to let your guard down a little bit. You decide you’ll give it a shot; you create that Twitter account and get your business listed on Facebook. Not totally committed yet, you only tweet when you remember to (typically a few times a month) and you’ve synced your blog with Facebook so that it publishes content there without you having to do anything. You’re hoping that now that you’ve joined the social media revolution, the customers will come flying through your door and you can sit back and roll in the rewards. I mean, that’s what everyone was talking about when they told you to get involved, right?

Stage 3: This Isn’t Working

In Stage 3, you start to get mad. You’ve had your social media accounts for several months but they’re still stuck in the experimentation stage. You’re still only tweeting when you feel like it, you’re sometimes engaging on Facebook, and you’re very lightly promoting the accounts when talking to customers. The result of being stuck in the experimentation stage is that you’re not seeing many results.

In fact, you’re not seeing any results. Social media isn’t working. And you’re mad.

The silver lining here is that the anger causes you to reevaluate what you’re doing and Stage 3 ends with a resolution to give things another, more human try. You stop the blind automation and start scheduling time to check in with social media and find people to talk to. It becomes part of your day, the way social media is supposed to be.

Stage 4: Things Are Feeling Comfortable

By Stage 4, you’re starting to get the hang of things. You’ve hit a groove. By participating consistently and scheduling social media into your day (like you do the rest of your tasks), you find the time to engage with your audience, answer questions and generally be a good social media citizen. Most exciting is that you’re beginning to see results! You’ve noticed more engagement on your blog, your Facebook page is seeing better numbers, and more people are telling you they’re finding your business through social word of mouth. Things are starting to flow and you feel confident enough saying you’re “comfortable” rocking this whole social media thing. Huzzah!

Stage 5: OMG, Tools!

Now that you’re comfortable, you decide it’s time to get serious. You’ve seen the positive effects that social media can have on your business simply by engaging consistently and with a purpose. Now it’s time to take things to the next level by using social media tools to help offer some new insight. You’re using Klout and SproutSocial to help you measure influence and you’ve got yourself a Trackur account to help you find and respond to mentions of your brand faster than ever. Armed with these tools, you’re able to shine a light into your social media use and find new ways to connect, engage and increase your bottom line.

Stage 6: Social Media Evangelist

By Stage 6 you’ve not only seen the social media light but you’re also preaching the benefits to everyone you know. When you stumble across someone still in Stage 1 of social media, you have to resist the urge to shake them and count off all the ways social media has helped your business. Instead, you just send them a list of your favorite tools and case studies, confident that with just a little bit of guidance they’ll see the light. Thankfully, they usually do.

Those are what the six stages of social media adoption look like to me. Do you agree? What stage would you classify yourself in?


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

4 Reactions
  1. That’s a great breakdown of how small business owners think about social media. I don’t know if 5 and 6 shouldn’t be switched, though. The owners I know are happy at stage 4 and jump right to 6 if they continue having success.

    But that goes toward another stage, if I may suggest it, that you’d have to say was stage zero. The stage where business owners are afraid to even consider using the computer for anything besides Quicken. It’s all because they don’t understand it – on a recent epsiode that was recorded in late 2010, Judge Judy claimed to not understand what PayPal and Ebay were and how they worked.

  2. If only people got into a few tools during Stage 2, they would get comfortable a lot faster. Something like Tweetdeck to help organize followers, or HootSuite to get some scheduling added to the mix.

  3. I laughed at and recognized each stage!

  4. Great list–I completely agree. It took me a while to ease in (I was stuck in stage 1 with an inactive Twitter account for a year!), but now I’m past stage 4 and working through 5 and 6 simultaneously (although I did jump ahead and start using Tweetdeck in stage 2). It’s nice to know I’m not alone!