Chris Brogan had two posts over the weekend about a guy named “Bob” at a Fortune 500 company who tried to engage with his customers and was cut off at the knees by management. By themselves these posts are interesting reads, but for marketers at small and mid-size business, they’re even more interesting when read with Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post about Balsamiq. I’ll get to that one in a minute, but first let me get back to Chris Brogan’s posts…
There’s a good discussion in the comments to Chris’ posts about whether or not Bob should have done this without the company’s approval and whether or not the company has legitimate reasons not to participate. My take – I’d bet a dollar that the conflict stems less from the specifics of the situation and more from the fact that it’s a big company with a culture and org structure that’s not designed to support this kind of participation. I wrote a post a few weeks back about the social media advantage for small and mid-size businesses and Andy Angelos from Zocalo Group pointed out in the comments that often big companies want to participate in the conversation, but they’re simply not built for this. They’re designed for deliberate, structured decision making and they’re optimized for preventing bad decisions from being made. This just doesn’t work when the name of the game is speed and independent decision making.
So, as Einstein said, “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity,” and in this case, Mister or Miss marketer at a small or mid-size business, the opportunity is yours. If you doubt this in any way, go take a look at Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post on ReadWriteWeb about Balsamiq. The post describes how the founder of Balsamiq has leveraged social media to build a kickass small business in a really short period of time. We use Balsamiq here at BuzzStream to create all of our low fidelity mockups and we love it…what were we using before Balsamiq? Microsoft Visio (i.e., the big company product). Why did we switch? Because Balsamiq solves a specific problem really well, we liked the way that the product was evolving, and we got great support from them. On top of this, we just liked the mentality of the company and, even though we’ve never actually met him, we liked the founder, Peldi Guilizzoni.
So how do all these things relate to social media? Peldi uses social media as the underpinnings for virtually all of his communications with the market. Why does the product solve a specific problem so well? Peldi blogs and uses twitter actively and gets tons of feedback on the needs of the market. Why is support so good? Balsamiq’s Get Satisfaction support community is very active and Peldi is heavily involved in the discussion (also great for driving product direction). How did we find out about Balsamiq? Word-of-mouth, resulting from his participation on blogs and twitter. And what was it that made us like Peldi, even though we’d never actually met him? Take a look at his blog…you can’t help but root for him. When I use Balsamiq, I don’t feel like I’m using some product built by a nameless, faceless team of engineers…I feel like I’m using a product built by a human being who loved building it and is really excited about growing his business. I wouldn’t feel that if it weren’t for Peldi’s social media participation.
As I’ve said before, we’re in the middle of the single biggest shift in marketing since the advent of television. Few big companies are going to really embrace this in the near term. As a marketing or SEO manager at a small or mid-size business, this is a huge opportunity for you. If you’re thinking about participating or if you’re just dabbling, now is the time to get in the mix.
Agree. Small businesses have an even bigger advantage in that they can test things and if they find they don’t work, try something else. They can tweak as they go along… large companies are disadvantaged in that they cannot more with this speed and so experimentation “on the fly” is almost impossible. And of course they have fewer layers and stakeholders – so don’t have to get permission for every action – as does a large company.
Interestingly some large companies are at the other end of the spectrum, they see the benefits of SM, allocate resources and do it and track the results.
@Nicky – I agree with you that a better business case needs to be made before the Fortune 500 truly embraces social media. This is a topic that I talked about in my last two posts (there’s a good discussion about it in the comments of the last post). That being said, part of the problem is that very large companies look for marketing vehicles that scale, and this is a legitimate concern with social media. Small businesses don’t have the scalability problem, which is one of the reasons why they have such an advantage. Add to that the complexity that comes with being in a large organization (per your comment), and small businesses have an even bigger advantage.
I reblogged Bob here:
As you say it’s easier for smaller businesses to take advantage of social media. The smaller the company the (possibly) easier it is because there is less hierarchy and probably less of an impact. However there are enterprise companies that are embracing Social Media. See my post. I think if there was more focus on how Social Media solves business problems, rather than simply having the latest tools, and more appreciation for the different big company issues, the “how” as well as the “what” we may be surprised that more will come on board. I don’t think the business case has been made… at least not in language they understand. And don’t forget, when we talk big companies we are talking of hundreds and thousands of employees…. not one or two people or even 10 people. It adds to the complexity.
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