In August of 2007, “social media” was still what we called “user-generated content,” with a smattering of “that Twitter thing” and the first wave of non-college students getting Facebook accounts. Blogs were mostly people’s day-to-day musings about their lives, newspapers were debating whether to charge for their online content (and open articles to comments), and we shared interesting stories we found online by emailing links to our friends and family.
When I started WideFoc.us, and began speaking to businesses about using social media, my story went something like this:
“Brands are going to become more and more susceptible to what users share online — not just the negative reviews or outbursts, but the positive stories, too. You can’t control the conversation, but if you’re not monitoring what’s being said about your company, and if you’re not putting out smart, relevant content about who you are and what you do, then you’re missing an opportunity to drive the behaviors that increase revenue and new business. Your search engine ranking will suffer, and your company’s credibility will be at the mercy of the last thing that was written about you.”
For every forward-thinking marketing director or business owner who understood what I was saying, three others would grimace, shake their heads, and say, “Social media is for kids.”
Nine years later, my story still stands. The tools have changed, the scale has increased beyond my imagination, and the ability to measure success has improved dramatically. But the basics are timeless: monitor your online reputation, know your target audience, develop strategies that are tied to business goals, create and publish relevant content (not always about yourself), and share your brand champions’ stories about their experiences.
And now we have more powerful opportunities to target content to specific audiences via tools like Facebook advertising (yes, it costs money; yes, it’s worth it), we have data-driven insights to help us understand how potential customers respond to our efforts, and we have a limitless array of relevant, well-written content to curate and share.
Back in August of 2007, I was sitting on the patio at Ink Coffee, working on freelance projects, enjoying Colorado’s late summer warmth and sun. I thought, “I don’t want to work in an office anymore…I just want to do this.” Nine years later, we have an airy office in LoHi, with a big garage door that makes us feel like we’re still working al fresco on temperate days. Office hours are limited to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, because I believe we all do better with built-in flexibility. Working from coffee shops a day or two per week keeps the team fresh, allows for cross-pollination of ideas and networking, and helps me feel like I haven’t strayed all that far from those summer mornings at Ink.
When I started WideFoc.us, it was just me, working with clients and agencies, learning from them as much as I was consulting. Now we have a talented team of pros with expertise in community management, content strategy, content curation, social ad strategy, and operations. And I probably learn more from them each day than they do from me. Work is so much more rewarding with a posse of talented, hilarious, huggable, enthusiastic individuals who share my vision.
When I think about the last nine years, I feel pride in what we have managed to build together, but the more powerful emotion, by far, is that of gratitude.
Gratitude for nine years of clients who put their trust in us to build their brands and increase revenue; gratitude for nine years of powerful relationships with strategic partners — agencies, media buyers, PR pros, and others; thankful for nine years of co-workers who have grown with the company (some of whom who have gone on to do big things in the world).
And humbled by our nine years of successes and occasional blunders, of a changing landscape and new expectations, of growth and joy and intensity.
And it all started with a laptop and a dirty chai.