Social media is big business. What started out in 1997 with Six Degrees has blossomed into the household names of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Whatsapp and Snapchat. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there’s Latin America focused Taringa!, China’s QZone and Japan’s LINE.
Tamara Littleton founded The Social Element (formerly Emoderation) in 2002, and it has since grown and internationalized with the market. It helps companies with social media strategy, content, engagement and insights. I caught up with Littleton to find out more about her journey, remote working and advice for female entrepreneurs (she is a member of the Female Founders Forum).
Philip Salter: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur and what do you enjoy about it?
Tamara Littleton: I’ve always been driven by wanting to fix things and worked in industries that are quite pioneering. I think that is the bit that I love – a feeling that I’m doing things for the first time. Before Facebook and Twitter came into existence, I saw something really fascinating around online communities. It was the early days of internet chat, forums, text messaging on big screens. My driving force was the belief that I could do something exciting and do it well, rather than wanting to be an entrepreneur per se. I’ve always been very lucky in having jobs that I love. Deep down, I’ve got a huge passion for work. I just love working and I wanted to build an environment in which I could be surrounded by people who also love working.
Salter: What was it like when you first started the business?
Littleton: When I was starting out, it was a very new industry so there were not set ways to proceed. The early 2000s were the real internet startup days, so there was a passion at that time for people setting up companies. It was a good environment and a culture of ‘giving-it-a-go.’ For two years, I was working 9–5 for a law firm running their website project, then I would come home and work on the business until 11pm in my garage. It could have been a bit faster but the industry just wasn’t really there at the time. It wasn’t until 2005 that Twitter and Facebook became more mainstream marketing tools and the business took off.
Salter: What helped to get the business off the ground?
Littleton: There were some really successful things right from the beginning. For example, when you are building a company, you can’t take offices. So we did everything online with people working from home. That became an integral part of the approach that we use. We were also incredibly fortunate that the first few clients I got were amazing – Chevron, GE, Disney – and I was able to get other good clients on the back of that.
Salter: How do you keep a track on things with people working remotely?
Littleton: A big part of it is about trust. You do have to take the time to hire the right people. I’ve always said hire slowly, fire quickly. We have to have measures in place to keep our clients happy, however. People login to a virtual company and they are not working on their own. We have an absolutely brilliant technical team and there are lots of clever tools. If anything, we have the reverse problem of people working too hard and have to remind them to log off!
Salter: Do you think these tools work particularly efficiently because of the nature of your business?
Littleton: It’s not so much about which tool you are using. You have to run the company like a community and have good community management, put good content out about the company, involve people, and communicate. Increasingly we are using video calls and emoticons!
Salter: What plans have you got for growth?
Littleton: We have a very simple vision which is: smart, social, global. We focus on very large international brands who need social media coordinated in multiple languages which is far from easy to achieve. That’s what we are focusing on now. We have also branched out a bit. Three years ago, I also launched a new company, Polpeo, which is a crisis simulation platform that enables brands to understand how to plan for, prevent and manage a crisis.
Salter: Do you plan to open new offices around the world?
Littleton: We have a central London hub with about 20 staff. We have virtual offices across America. We don’t need to have big shiny offices all over the world, but we do need hubs. I feel quite strongly that this combination of hubs and remote working works really well. It means that people can work from where they want so we hire based purely on merit and aren’t constricted by geography. As a result, global clients get truly local knowledge in their campaigns.
Salter: How do you find working across different languages?
Littleton: We have a big languages quality assurance team. We want people with the right cultural fluency to deal with consumers at a local level. At the same time, we need people who speak multiple languages to assure all of our clients we are hiring the right people.
Salter: Do you think there is any relationship between gender and how you run your company?
Littleton: The way I chose to run my business, with its high level of communication, openness and transparency, could be seen as adopting a ‘female’ approach. But I think that this is just a new non-hierarchical, transparent style of running companies. It’s possibly more about my generation than my gender.
Salter: Do you have any advice or help to give budding entrepreneurs?
Littleton: I am really passionate about helping others to start their own business because I think it’s such an amazing thing. A lot of women find it harder to get to the stage where they are employing people and running large companies, and I wonder why this is happening today. I run an informal group to support female entrepreneurs. As a company, we also still work with startups and charities, as well as producing white papers and sharing advice.
This article was written by Philip Salter from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.