Yeah, yeah, social media is still trendy and we all wish people would stop singling it out as anything other than another tool in the customer relations and marketing toolbox. But utilizing this tool effectively is still crucial to quality customer interaction. And what better way for a business to make a royal, social media mess of things? By not having a social media policy.
I would like to make the argument that any company, however small or large, in whichever type of business it may be, needs to have a social media policy of some kind.
Now certainly a one-man business or small shop shouldn’t waste their time writing an elaborate 20 page document covering every single aspect of every possible social media platform available. But they do need to evaluate how their employees are going to conduct themselves across various platforms as representatives of the company. Even if that means a simple paragraph in the employee handbook.
What is important to understand is the scope and penetration of company related social media interaction. For example, as the marketing director, I try to weigh each item I post anywhere against how I might be perceived as a spokesman for Big Bang. Even on accounts that have no direct tie to the company, I still consciously conduct myself as if the person reading what I typed knew I worked for Big Bang and what it was all about. This is largely because I spread Big Bang information all over on a daily basis.
But what about the person who isn’t responsible for external media, like one of our software developers. Well Big Bang’s short little two-page social media policy breaks it down two ways. First, if the individual does not have their work email, work url or any other work related items tied to any of their social media accounts, then they may conduct themselves however they wish. If however, they do have information available for public consumption that indicates their affiliation with Big Bang, they need to conduct themselves accordingly.
The extent to which a company manages and enforces social media policy is typically based on the scale of effect that an individual's personal social media presence can have on the company's brand and image. For Big Bang, we simply want represent ourselves ethically and with common sense, to offer honest and transparent insight into our brand and protect its integrity. And if we make a mistake, to be honest about that as well.
For us, and what I think is the most effective way to institute social media policy, is to treat employees with the same level of respect and trust that you have in them to work hard for you every day. They already possess the level of pride in their company necessary to, with the subtle guide of a well-written social media policy, conduct themselves as brand ambassadors.
And if they don’t, then that is probably indicative of larger issues than errant tweets.
Like so many businesses out there, Big Bang essentially started in my house. As an independent consultant, I did database development, ISO-9000 training, as well as the odd training work for companies like CompUSA and Binary Research. If my wife came home at night and I was still in my robe, she knew I'd been working that day.
How a business grows from there generally takes one of two paths - small organic growth, or funded rapid growth. I chose the organic path, and it's worked well for me. After eight years in business, Big Bang does a few million a year in sales and has fourteen employees. We have a five acre campus, with a putting green and tee box, sand volleyball court, and a recently added disc golf course. We grill out in the summer for lunch and hang out on the patio after hours with cold beer and drinks. We have actually been profitable every year. I can't begin to explain how much I enjoy what I do and who I work with.
However, I'd be lying if I didn't say I occasionally thought about what Big Bang could have done with venture capital. Would we have become the next Facebook? Not likely at all. But, could we be doing tens or hundreds of millions in sales? Potentially. But at what cost? Would I even still be here? What about the staff? Would they be here too, or would the appeal of cashing out stock options have been too tempting? It's both exciting and daunting to consider.
Regardless of the path taken though - slow and steady, or meteoric - the path to smart business is not dramatically different. And what I mean by that, is be conservative.
When it became time to move from the house to an office, I elected to sublease two offices from a law firm I did business with. Now that obviously didn't leave much room for growth, but remember, adding that first employee was a 100% increase in staffing! That's huge. It gave me the opportunity to learn about business outside the house - about employees, phone and internet bills, liability insurance, etc. The risk was minimal, and I think that's something business owners don't always take into consideration. We're supposed to be these aggressive, passionate, mavericks, when in reality, we're far more conservative than most would ever expect.
As Big Bang and the UIU grew, we moved our offices from the subleased rooms to a 3500 square foot office... in the same building. Nothing crazy, but it accommodated the four of us (another 100% increase!) and gave us room to grow to eight people, and have room for our testing equipment and lab. Here was a bigger jump, but the decision needed to be weighed against our growth. Now, did we still buy our desks from Office Max or Office Depot and have to put them together ourselves? Absolutely. The conference room table and chairs? Scavenged from my father's storage unit because he moved his business. Risky at $5000.00 plus per month for rent? Somewhat, but not much in comparison to the revenue of the company. The greater risk was stagnating the business.
Eventually we moved again, this time to our five acre campus with an office building that could accommodate another 100% increase in staff... which we're quickly approaching. And it was the conservative decision. While admittedly we've put a tremendous amount of money into the property, we didn't have to right away, and our loan payment is less that our former lease. So, while the million dollar loan might seem outrageous and frightening, the day-to-day math proved to be an easy decision. Less money being paid for twice the space and an awesome environment. Wild and crazy appearing from the outside, but actually very conservative. Could we have gone bigger and more expensive? Yes, according to the bank. Should we have? Absolutely not.
Where I'm not conservative though, is with my employees. They are the lifeblood of the company, and while I can nickel and dime on desks and chairs, I refuse too with the employees. We generally pay at the high end of the scale. Our benefits are second to none. Keeping these people, and keeping them happy is what allows Big Bang to thrive, not just survive. Spending a couple hundred extra dollars for a bigger, better monitor, or dual monitors, is a no-brainer. And because we're willing to do that, they're that much more productive, which makes Big Bang more profitable, which leads to the disc golf course in the back yard.
Businesses, at their most basic, fall into two categories - either providing a product or a service. The two are often interchanged, and arguably a service is a product, but not the other way around. FedEx's "product," for example, is the shipping service they provide, not the packaging the customers use.
When starting a business, whether a one man shop, or growing into a small business, this distinction is something to keep in mind, specifically when it comes to your brand. Unfortunately, I did not realize the importance of this until several years after Big Bang released the Universal Imaging Utility (UIU), and it has likely cost us.
The advantage a FedEx, or any other "service" oriented business, is that their name is synonymous with the service they provide. If truly successful, it even becomes a verb. It's not unusual to hear someone will FedEx a package. It's what they do and who they are.
On the other hand, consider Research In Motion, or RIM if you prefer. Now most technically savvy readers will know who RIM is and what they do. The rest of the known world knows them as BlackBerry. Their product branding is so strong, that most users of BlackBerry devices likely don't know that Research In Motion is the company behind the product.
Let me explain how the branding has worked for Big Bang and how it has affected us. When Big Bang first released the UIU, we distributed it through Binary Research International, the original creators of the Symantec Ghost product. It was a natural choice. We worked with them providing Symantec Ghost training services, they were still involved with Symantec and selling Ghost world wide, and they had a huge database of existing Ghost customers. Our experience was in supporting the software. Their experience was in selling software. Perfect!
Because distribution and sales was not our expertise, we relied very heavily on Binary to market the UIU, and they did that very well. However, we did not insist they market Big Bang, and to an extent, that was a mistake. Their job, as a company that specialized in bringing products to market, was to promote the product to increase sales... and to promote themselves in order to obtain more products. This caused us two issues.
First, our customers, the end users implementing our Universal Imaging Utility software, did not know who Big Bang was. We did not do nearly a strong enough job of getting our name out there. Rather, the UIU was the focus. So, like RIM and BlackBerry, we have created a situation where there is a disconnect between our product and the company. While the business was first taking off, no one thought anything of it. However, as we grow and look to release new products, we don't have the name recognition we would like as a company. Our UIU "Power Button" logo is far more recognized than the Big Bang logo, which has caused our marketing team no end of problems. How do we want our customers to identify us, by product or by brand name?
The other issue that arose with our distribution and marketing model, is that customers associated the UIU with Binary Research, not Big Bang. I can't begin to tell you how many times we have contacted a customer only to be told, "We only deal with the manufacturer." We are the manufacturer! But as I said before, Binary's job was to sell themselves as well as our software. To this day, despite the hassles, I do not begrudge them this. That's how their business as designed, and in order to grow and thrive, they wanted more products to bring to market. It makes perfect sense - for them. We didn't realize early on though what a problem it would cause for us down the road. We have spent the last year trying to educate our customers about who Big Bang is. In some cases, these customers have been using our UIU software and support for years! It has been a hard lesson to learn.
Consequently, my lack of foresight regarding "product" branding versus "company" branding has cost Big Bang a considerable amount of marketing equity. It's something to consider during all the excitement of bringing your first product to market - hopefully there will be a second product! I can only apologize to my sales and marketing staff, and hope they will forgive me.
The nature of the cliché, "Do what you love," is not lost on me, although I have espoused that very advice more times than I can count. Along with that, I think owning a business must also be associated with, "Do what you're good at." Most clichés though, like most stereotypes, have some basis in truth, and I truly believe that this one is perhaps the most important and accurate.
The great challenges with this bit of advice though? First, identifying something you truly enjoy. Second, identifying those things that you are indeed good at.
Arguably, American Idol is the easiest and best example of these two principles. Undeniably, the finalists both love singing and performing, and have the natural talent to go along with that drive. Also, of the several thousand applicants, even though most love singing (although obviously some just want the 15 seconds of fame) and many are undoubtedly talented, all but a select few will not get their chance at stardom for whatever reason. Who do we remember the most though? Those poor wretched fools, who love to sing, who truly believe they can, and have been lied to by their parents and friends all their lives!
Realizing your dreams and aspirations requires understanding your dreams and aspirations, and then establishing whether you have the talents and skills to make them a reality. As much as I might enjoy the rock star ideal, I also realize that I have a great voice for radio... announcing. I'm never going to be a rock star, and that's OK.
When I started college (which I never finished), I started off along a path toward the maths and sciences, most likely leading to some type of engineering degree. Why? Because in high school I had excelled in the maths and sciences, having completed pre-calculus, physics, chemistry, etc., mostly by my junior year. They were a natural fit, I was good at them, and being 17, and obviously heading to college, they were my destiny.
Fortunately for me, it sucked! Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy some of what I was doing. I've found my math, chemistry and physics knowledge to be very helpful throughout the years. However, it wasn't my calling. I was a different type of geek.
Do you remember the dread that sat in the pit of your stomach when you discovered that you had to take "Speech" class in high school. My recollection is that it was the class that students were the most scared of, and I was no exception. Yet there it was, staring me in my pimpled face, sophomore year. Here I was, a member of the chess team, an outcast from baseball having been hit by the pitching machine, and now faced with the terror of speaking in front of twenty or so other teenagers. As a child of the 80's, all I can say is, "Gag me with a spoon!"
However, that semester of speech class may have made more of an impact on my future career than any other single educational experience. I loved it! And I was good at it. I never expected that I would go on to become an actor or great orator, but I found that I was very comfortable in front of people, and that I could readily get my point across to an audience.
Of course, it wasn't until years later that I finally put two and two together, after a failed college extravaganza, and the realization that I would never be an engineer. The truth was that I continued to return to teaching in some manner: My years at FedEx lead me to software and ISO 9000 training there. Later, I did technical training on A+ certifications, QuickBooks, and Visual Basic. My favorite class to teach - Intro to PCs, which normally consisted of twenty or so 70+ year old students who had never touched a mouse in their lives. I loved it. Teaching became my passion. Eventually, that led to my teaching Symantec Ghost training courses, and running into a gentleman who introduced me to what became the Universal Imaging Utility, which has allowed Big Bang to thrive.
My passions and skills have changed over the years, but I am eternally grateful for that sophomore year high school speech class.
About Big Bang Blog
There are many reasons to write a small business blog, we wanted to bring you at least a few reasons to read one. The Big Bang Blog covers the ins and outs of running a small software business, as well as a variety of small business marketing and media topics. Please leave us your comments and questions.
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|About Adam Murphy -
Adam is the President and Owner of Big Bang LLC and espouses a pretty progressive small business philosophy based primarily around hiring the right people and getting the hell out of their way.
|About Nate Bauer -
Nate is the Marketing Director for Big Bang LLC and pretty much spends his days tip-toeing on the pinnacle of how to most effectively implement strategy given the wide open cookie jar of small business marketing possibilities.
|About Kelley Burian - @kelleyburian
Kelley is the Sales Director for Big Bang LLC. Responsible for everything from GSA contracts, resellers and international customers, she has her hands full doing whatever she can to make sure our valued clients are thrilled with our fantastic products.