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Growing Together Can Be Disorienting

Posted September 14th, 2014 by Andrew Goodman

Earlier this year, we were sad to wind down a relationship with an eight-year client. It wasn’t unexpected. Few projects take eight years to complete, and despite the need for close and meticulous ongoing campaign management, sometimes when you’re in bed together for eight years, it’s perceived that you’ve run out of ideas. :) We were instrumental to taking the company from below $500,000 in annual revenues to above $50 million. We’re proud of that. We did our part. We were also frequently blown away by the client’s drive, guts, and innovation.

In addition to inviting us to come by for a barbecue at a future, unspecified date, the client reflected: “I don’t know if you outgrew us, or we outgrew you, or what.” It’s probably neither. They grew 10,000% on our watch, to be sure. But then again, we work for much larger companies than them. Size isn’t the issue per se, but very rapid growth — compounded — can leave you with a “floating in space / uncharted territory” feeling. That intimate one-to-one casualness that works for any very small organization is, on one hand, calming to the nerves, but on the other hand, it can be inappropriate to the wider universe you’ve now found yourself in.

That’s nothing, though.

When I reflect on scenarios of particularly rapid growth from a little cult brand into a major publicly-traded enterprise (or becoming part of a conglomerate), and those entities, in turn, working with a partner, employee, etc., I think of companies like Lululemon or Ben & Jerry’s, and who represents them digitally. One day, tiny and friendly and not corporate. Seemingly overnight, very corporate. Ben & Jerry’s has 236,000 followers on Twitter. Twitter informs me that I “might want to follow these similar accounts: Walgreens and Taco Bell.” We’re not in Vermont anymore.

No commentary intended on those particular Twitter accounts, but the youth of social media — and in particular, the youth of Twitter combined with its recent mega-growth and launch of an IPO (now, suddenly, it’s the ultimate corporate publishing entity, like Google and Facebook, now beholden to Wall Street) — means that community managers comfortable with witty, intimate repartee with a handful of friends are now being watched by much of the world.

In eight years, Twitter went from a “little startup” to a $32 billion company. The potential of the platform is still so well-regarded that it has recently been able to raise a large amount of debt on favorable terms. It’s rumored that the company may then go on an acquisition spree, solidifying its hold on digital media attention.

Lululemon went from a cult yoga-pants-with-slogans vendor to a global $6.5 billion brand. In working in tandem, these now-large entities, now floating somewhere in vast economic ground-control-to-major-Tom space, are still often employing the skills of people who treat the whole thing like a casual romp. That’s understandable and maybe desirable in a lot of ways. Think about how a major TV or radio personality would have to prepare themselves, pretending just to speak to a handful of people, or addressing a studio audience of 200 people.

It’s disorienting to be in a new place so quickly. Many community managers and the like would probably choke┬áif they thought about what was really now going on: “I’m at the epicenter of public relations for a $7 billion company. I publish on a network that is so valued by users that they’re willing to endure advertising that is so valued by ad buyers they’re willing to pay rates high enough to make Twitter worth $32 billion.”

But that’s the reality. No one outgrew anyone else, but growing together can be a bewildering experience. Cue Wile E. Coyote out past the ledge, standing on nothing, holding up the little sign pleading “Help!”

No turning back now. Happy landings. :)



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