David vs. Goliath: Taking on Big Competitors with Social Media

In honor of Small Business Week, I've written a post on how you can compete with big corporations by leveraging social media. Read on…

How can you compete against giant corporations with entire departments dedicated to marketing and seemingly bottomless pockets for advertising?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, he leads with the famous story of the shepherd boy who killed a seemingly unbeatable warrior with a simple sling.

We all know the story, and it’s often brought up as an inspirational tale of how we can triumph against insurmountable odds and defeat a superior competitor. It’s a story about miraculous wins.

But Gladwell reframes the story.

He explains that this battle was really about the artillery (David) going up against the infantry (Goliath.) That if David had fought Goliath on Goliath’s terms—up close and personal—he would have been crushed.

However, David plays to his own strengths. He was a practiced marksman and a slung stone is as deadly a fired bullet. David strikes from a distance so Goliath can’t reach him.

There were other factors at play as well. Goliath was slow moving. He may have had vision problems that kept him from seeing the battlefield clearly. He was accustomed to fighting people his own size in hand-to-hand combat.

Imagine a modern day battle between a sniper and a wrestler, and you get the idea that this was indeed an unfair fight, but not in the way you were brought up to believe.

So how does this impact your small business?

Many of us have to go up against large competitors. They have people, money, and resources to throw at problems that just aren’t within our reach.

They can buy ads on popular television shows. They can afford the naming rights to stadiums. They can hire popular actors—or at least reality TV stars—to hock their goods and services.

They can pay huge sums of money to stay in front of their ideal customers, who are also our ideal customers.

It almost seems unfair.

Load your sling with social media.

You can’t compete against giant corporations on their battlefield. It’s not a meritocracy, it’s a wealthocracy. He with the deepest pockets wins.

So no, we can’t saturate the airwaves with our message, but we can load a tweet into our sling and target our audience. (Don’t worry, it’s not lethal.)

Social media removes, or at least reduces, the money advantage. A Facebook update is free. An Instagram post is free. A blog post or YouTube video is free, or at least damn inexpensive. And sure, these days you need to spend some money to reach even your fans on Facebook, but it’s still significantly less expensive (and more targeted) than an ad in the local paper or a national magazine.

Suddenly reaching ideal customers is within everyone’s budget.

Connect with your customers.

But it’s not just your ability to reach your customers, it’s your ability to engage them in a way most giant corporations wish they could.

With few exceptions, giant corporations come off like, well, giant, faceless corporations. Or they have megalomaniac CEOs with bad hairpieces that most of their customers can’t relate to.

People like to do business with people they like, and in a small business it’s easier to see the people. While giant corporations are made up of people, too, it’s sometimes harder to make them out when they are part of giant workforces. I can’t see the trees for the forest.

With smaller workforces, it’s easier to make out the faces and voices of the employees.

Get intimate.

Most giant corporations need tons of customers. They need to appeal to a wide audience so they MUST blanket the airwaves, the highways, and the public spaces to reach that audience.

Most small businesses can succeed with fewer customers. We can focus on the type of customers we can help most. Whether they’re local, or elderly, or aspiring motocross racers. Or all three.

And by doing that, we can have more intimate conversations. We can have inside jokes. Secret handshakes. (Or hashtags.) But we can still use social media to scale that conversation to find even more octogenarian racers.

Respond quickly.

Most corporations are so encumbered by policies and procedures that they kill the spontaneity of social conversations. (Yes, there are exceptions, but they’re called exceptions for a reason.)

Small businesses are nimble. We’re fast. We’re unencumbered by legal departments that have to review every tweet or Facebook update. (Most of us. I appreciate that some people are in highly regulated industries and have to work with compliance officers.)

Large companies require expensive social media monitoring software to keep track of the conversations. We can get by with Google alerts and paying attention to our Facebook page.

Get creative.

If you’re a local cupcake manufacturer, choose one local company a day or a week and drop cupcakes off in their office. Take some pictures or video of you surprising the receptionist and share it on Facebook or Instagram (with his permission, of course.) Put them in a box with your company’s name and a hashtag and see if they share that story on Twitter.

If you’re not a local cupcake manufacturer, what creative ice breaker could you do and share it on social media?

Share your story.

Most entrepreneurs got into business because of their passion. That passion creates a story that resonates with your audience.

Social media gives us the tools and the channels to share our story with people who care. Maybe you need to tell your story in a blog post. Or speak your story in a podcast. Or demonstrate your story in a YouTube video.

Or perhaps your story is best told in snapshots posted to Instagram. Or pieced together on a board on Pinterest. Or told in secret on SnapChat.

Fire away.

Do you have any other thoughts on how small business can use social media to compete against larger competitors? Leave one thought in the comments below.

Rich Brooks
Readying My Sling Shot