One of the biggest misconceptions about social media strategy is that only the big brands and enterprise organizations can afford success. The impression is bigger businesses have unlimited resources, people and budgets to execute on all new ideas. This is simply not true. Like in anything, people are focused on their jobs as they exist and anything new that comes along, well, it’s met with prejudice.

The truth is that small businesses possess an enormous advantage over big businesses—the ability to recognize and adapt to new opportunities much faster, with far less investment, and with a greater capacity to learn and improve at will. So when it comes down to how a small business should consider how to employ a social media strategy, why would we look to big business for inspiration?

a) Because they have millions of friends, fans, and followers?

b) They are getting a ton of Likes, Tweets, and YouTube views?

c) They are always the source of the best content – videos, posts, infographics, designs

d) None of the above

The answer is “d” – none of the above.

Why? Because most businesses, large and small, have not answered that very question, why? Why would we go on social networks? Why would customers connect with us there? Why would we gain any value out of online engagement? Why would any of this impact my business?

At the root of the problem, today’s social media programs start with the technology in mind and not the solution in mind. Many businesses jump into Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google+, et al, without thinking through opportunities or customer expectations and experiences.

To help get you started and to leapfrog even the most advanced businesses in social media, I’ve outlined a 5-step approach. Working through it will assist in the development of a relevant social media strategy that allows you to earn customer attention, relationships, and loyalty in places that only expand your reach and impact.

5 Ways to Develop a Strategic Social Media Presence

1. Listen, Search, Walk a “Daily in the Life” of…

  • Take some time to search Google, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google+ for related keywords and geographies to your business.
  • Take notes of what you find…capture the trends, insights, activity, and the players that matter to you
  • Document the 5W’s + the H.E.: Who, What, When, Why, How, and to What Extent
  • Prioritize networks
  • Recognize patterns and behavior
  • Observe trends and themes

Tip: Also pay attention to what people aren’t saying or sharing

2. Define Your Online Brand: What do you want people to see and appreciate?

  • Take a step back to think about the value you can add based on who you are and the expertise or the unique service or solution that only you can provide
  • Define why you are different than your competition
  • Design the professional brand and the persona you would like to convey online
  • Describe “your” experience: What is it that you want people to see or think when they find you in social networks?
  • Portray your brand, persona and the experience in your profiles

Tip: Don’t sell or overly promote…

3. Develop a Social Media Strategy: Make your presence matter

  • Write a vision statement for how you will use social media to build relationships, a community around your value proposition, and how social media will enable your strategy
  • Describe what social media success will look like
  • Customize your presence, goals, and what success looks like in each network
  • Create an editorial program that reinforces your value, your business, and your goals within each network
  • Understand what format you love using AND what seems to be the formats your customers prefer
  • Curate relevant and interesting content that reflects your professional and personal interests

Tip: Find the balance between personal and professional activity online, it can’t be ALL business

4. Build and Invest in Your Community: Participate and earn affinity to become a trusted resource

  • Share insights in the communities that matter to your business and reach beyond the friends, fans, and followers you already have
  • Identify and talk to local online influencers who can help you spread your expertise and value
  • Ask and answer questions in your communities and across other vibrant communities hosted by others
  • Maintain a valuable and timely presence
  • Create a “linked” network of resources: Link to or recommend people who can also help your customers

Tip: Invest proportionally in social media, search engine optimization/digital and your real world activities

5. Learn: Repeat steps 1-5 over time to stay relevant as technology and behavior evolves

  • Learn from everything to improve experiences and your overall strategy
  • Ask your community what they’re looking for and how you can better help
  • Monitor activity using social media listening tools around you and in your areas of focus to stay on top of trends, themes, and needs

Tip: Looking at activity through the lens of your customers and walking in their shoes will always keep you on target in your strategy.

Brian Solis is the author of the new book, The End of Business as Usual. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.