When I founded Social Media Group almost seven years ago, I had a feeling I was on to something. There were a number of technology companies that we’re selling (at the time) blogging software, but clients had no idea how to actually engage online. The deal was sealed when, in a client meeting in 2006, a very senior agency person said he was really interested in how “companies were using blogs to talk to their customers”. I’d been blogging since 2004 and knew that I could help firms figure that out.
We started small – for the first year or so of being in business, I could literally read, and write about, every single thing that happened in social media. And I did – I posted daily on the SMG blog, commenting on many others. There was a small group of us working in the space then – all of whom I still count as friends, and many of whom have gone on to amazing careers as some of the most recognizable names in social and digital strategy and execution. One of the things I love best is when I get the chance to hang out with this group of “Social Media Old-Timers” at conferences like South by Southwest.
Social Media Group grew along with interest in social media – in 2007 we were hired by Ford Motor Company to increase their capabilities in social. By 2010, they were winning awards from their peers for their work in the space. We were engaged by companies like 3M to help craft strategic plans, and I take pride in the fact that digital policies and guidelines we wrote for them have been adopted across their global organization. We helped retail and consumer companies, too – in our work with Sleep Number we were able to help them draw the line between a Facebook “like” and direct return on investment - a case study Facebook’s legal department told them they couldn’t use because it was so exceptional. We pioneered – being among the first to use platforms like Outbrain and promoted tweets, and we lead – as in the early days, thought leadership and speaking was an enormous part of our marketing (and was always what I loved best).
Of course there were plenty of mistakes, missteps and misunderstandings along the way, but I learned from each and every one of them (and hopefully repeated very few!). As with all agencies, we ebbed and flowed with the work – but have, in recent years, gotten to an absolutely incredible place in terms of team. I have NEVER worked with such an amazing group of people. I understand that our folks are a regular target for headhunters, and it pleases me to hear that (and also to know that the headhunters never get very far).
And so, with all that in mind, it’s time to talk about where we’re going next. The part of our work that I have always enjoyed the most is the thought leadership and analysis – both external (what does this mean?) and also internal (what we have learned from our work?). Writing, speaking and sharing that industry-leading knowledge and insight has always been what we’re best at, which is why this will be our new area of focus moving forward. SMG will be backing away from the business of agency and creative execution and instead focus on delivering executive counsel, thought leadership and strategic insights based on our years of experience working with some of the biggest social businesses in the world. It’s a big change, and with it come big changes for our fantastic team. Although challenging, I’m very much looking forward to the next chapter.