Social Media, First-Mover Advantage, and Why You Should Take It

2641-3707322819_f336ff8aac_m.jpgI recently captured some thoughts from a discussion I’d had with Benjamin Ellis, a very astute consultant based in London, on the subject of business mindset and innovation. One of the things we discussed was what is known as first mover advantage – the term given to those businesses that make the first move into new innovative technologies ahead of their competitors.

My history with innovation is somewhat of a hack: like when I used Myspace to crowd source bands to play at the youth organisation called Feedback I started, back in 2004 – not because we knew how smart a move it was, but because we had no budget or time to find them otherwise. The benefits from this move weren’t just the low cost and high spreadability we got from this form of engagement. We had first mover advantage in the city, and every other teenage event that subsequently used this early Social Media was seen, by the teenagers, as “copying Feedback”. What I learnt from that was that a successful first move grants you prominence and a certain degree of pre-eminance that allows you to write the rules that the others follow.

A favourite of mine, Mike Myatt, in an interview with Chris Brogan last week said the following in response a question about the CEOs he works with and Social Media:

Aside from the obvious benefits (gathering intelligence, engaging stakeholders, building brand equity, more effectively avoiding and dealing with a crisis, increasing loyalty, creating revenue, etc.), the big opportunity is that a first movers advantage still exists for CEOs in SM. While there are numerous examples of entrepreneurial CEOs that already have a social media presence, the numbers of prominent CEOs who have an active and meaningful SM presence still number among the few.

This isn’t surprising on the surface, because we all know that a whole bunch of companies, when it comes to Social Media, just don’t get it. And this is supported by recent research (that I can’t find, sorry) that said the majority of people don’t consider a brand to be dimished if it lacks Social Media presence. But guaranteed, whilst they don’t lack, the ones that do have a presence are enjoying the first mover advantage and setting the pace for others to follow.

And here’s the reason why it matters: Whose case studies are we following? Whose guidelines are we following? Who are we looking to, and willing to pay, to show us how they made it work?

Yeah. It’s Dell, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Magners, Red Bull, Innocent. And the local guys too, like PhotoLegal, Sarah West Recruitment, World First Travel.

Or how about the people themselves that took the first move and were in Social Media not 2 years but 6,7, even 10 years ago? There’s no need to name them, because we all know who they are – they are enjoying the first mover advantage.

To ascertain when not to take the first move, Benjamin’s insight is that in a fast moving industry, there is lower inertia, more momentum, and plenty of vision, therefore it is advisable to take the first move. But in a slow moving industry, the resistance to change is so high that making the first move will result in bruised, battered, and often an empty handed team. Considering the pace of Social Business and the people-to-people organisational model that is accentuated by Social Media technologies, inertia is low. Consider that:

  1. With the buzz around Social Media, everyone from employee and manager to stock holder and c-suite knows that at least some kind of Social Media should be implemented – hey, they are hearing about it everywhere they go.
  2. The freemium model has made Social Media knowledge widely and freely available, much of it at graduate and post graduate level. Never before has so much free expertise been available on an emerging industry. This often goes undervalued and under-acknowledged, perhaps because of the large number of sharks and self-proclaimed gurus who teach tactics as strategies and tarnish the industry.
  3. Amidst this global recession, Social Media enables increased advocacy and spreadability at a more affordable rate that traditional big media buying. The case studies from the aforementioned first movers, including my own, attest to this.
  4. The statistics surrounding Social Media clearly illustrate that it is here to stay, and will become a valid top-level form of communication like phone and email. The inertia here seems to be that because Myspace has already risen and fallen, companies are concerned that other Social Networks will follow the same line, rendering their investment wasted. This is incorrect on three accounts: first, there is great gain to be had while any Social Network is active, and buy-in does not need to be expensive, it just needs to be engaging; second, Facebook and Twitter are different to Myspace, have gained ubiquity through the mobile, and have far more business reach than Myspace ever did; and thirdly, whilst the tools used to carry out Social Media engagement may change, the strategies and concepts will continue to stand.

As I said, I’m enjoying a bit of first mover advantage, and to a degree, am writing some of the guidelines on P2P and Social Media (with your help). What the above doesn’t say, and what it took to get even near to this position, is the guts to take the first move. Robin Dickinson wrote last week on the subject ‘How to be unique and stand out from the crowd‘, which I highly recommend reading. Taking the first move, by definition, is about stepping out from the crowd to where others haven’t stood before.

Robin asks one very pertinent question: ‘How much of what you do is based on following what everybody else does?

  • If you’re a Solo, an internet entreprenuer, then you are one in a sea of Social Media users. But you stand out from the crowd by actually monetizing (not trying to monetize) your Social Media presence, and by using Social Media to do new things to bring people together.
  • If you’re an SME, you know that most companies aren’t yet using Social Media, and if they have, it is in the form of a Facebook Page with handful of fans. Standing out from the crowd means offering a service that solves a problem rather than trying to sell a product.
  • For big businesses, standing out from the crowd means daring to engage with your customers, and guide the discussion, rather than trying to govern the discussion.

Over the coming weeks I’m going to discussing how to make the first move, not just in Social Media, but in P2P. I’ll be sharing how to get executive backing, how to develop a program, how to get budget, and how best to use Social Media for generating revenue. Should be fun.

Until then, I’d love to hear about your case studies, and any additions you have to these lists above.

Thanks to nestor galina for the photo.

Archived Comments

  • http://benjaminellis.co.uk/ BenjaminEllis

    Your comment on myspace got me thinking.

    I’ve heard it from various sources, but there is a quote that is always along the lines of “the thinking starts when the budget runs out” – perhaps the question for social media is not so much “can I afford to do it/not do it?” as “what will I be able to do with it that I would never be able to afford?”

    Of course, once everyone else is doing it, the late comers have missed the opportunity to get an advantage, to stand out, and they’ll just have to tag along.

  • http://benjaminellis.org/ BenjaminEllis

    Your comment on myspace got me thinking.

    I’ve heard it from various sources, but there is a quote that is always along the lines of “the thinking starts when the budget runs out” – perhaps the question for social media is not so much “can I afford to do it/not do it?” as “what will I be able to do with it that I would never be able to afford?”

    Of course, once everyone else is doing it, the late comers have missed the opportunity to get an advantage, to stand out, and they’ll just have to tag along.

  • Scott Gould

    I like that line of thought – very pertinent, and very ahead of the curve. It is certainly my experience that Social Media has enabled me to do what I would never be able to afford otherwise – allowing me to work with zero media buying for one.

    And you’re right, the late comers to just tag along and don’t stand out. I’m been thinking and will start writing on the practical ways to pass Social Media programs with the board and get them implementing, but still when I do this it seems funny to me that with so much free expertise (or very cheap expertise – £25 for Like Minds) there are so many complaining about a lack of clarity on the subject.

    This makes me realise that the market is for those who have Social Media frameworks that they can implement. But guest what, even these are free! It’s actually delivering and implementing that few can do.

    Thanks as always for the thoughts… :-)

  • Scott Gould

    I like that line of thought – very pertinent, and very ahead of the curve. It is certainly my experience that Social Media has enabled me to do what I would never be able to afford otherwise – allowing me to work with zero media buying for one.

    And you’re right, the late comers to just tag along and don’t stand out. I’m been thinking and will start writing on the practical ways to pass Social Media programs with the board and get them implementing, but still when I do this it seems funny to me that with so much free expertise (or very cheap expertise – £25 for Like Minds) there are so many complaining about a lack of clarity on the subject.

    This makes me realise that the market is for those who have Social Media frameworks that they can implement. But guest what, even these are free! It’s actually delivering and implementing that few can do.

    Thanks as always for the thoughts… :-)

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