This post is part of our series where we talk to real companies (and other organizations) around the world to find out how they’re leveraging social media, how it has impacted their business, and what lessons they’ve learned. Today we’re talking with Jason Aiken at 99designs. Check them out at 99designs.com or follow them on Twitter here.
Tell me a little about your company, what you do, how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, etc.
99designs.com is a whole new way to get custom graphic design work – At 99designs a community of graphic designers competes to create the perfect design for your project – logos, web sites, marketing materials, product labels or any other graphical element. As the largest marketplace for crowdsourced graphic design with over 150,000 members, 99designs.com enables businesses to quickly and cost effectively source custom graphic design work without the risk – you see the designs before you buy.
The concept originated in the design forums at Sitepoint.com, where designers were making up fictitious design projects to compete on to improve their skills and have fun. It did not take long for an entrepreneur to come along and suggest that rather than making up a project – why not design his logo and he would give the best designer a cash prize.
We built a platform around it and officially launched 99designs.com in February of 2008. We now have 18 employees and offices in Melbourne, Australia and San Francisco, CA.
How much of your business comes from the web, either via social media or via traditional web?
We are an online marketplace – so 100% of our business comes from the web.
When did you start engaging in social media?
In many ways – 99designs itself is a social media channel of design, so social media is very central to what we do.
Who manages your social media efforts?
As the marketing manager, I am primarily responsible for managing the social media efforts of 99designs. However, everybody in the company participates at some level – which is key.
What networks are you active on?
We have always had our own blog and actively participate in the relevant conversations that happen on blogs all over the web. We are extremely active on Twitter and Facebook. As a company – Twitter came before Facebook, but we cultivate both channels. We also utilize Youtube/Vimeo as well as Digg and Blend It.
Which have been the biggest drivers of business for you?
The blog, Twitter and Facebook have definitely been our biggest business drivers and therefore, that’s where we focus the majority of our efforts. We are really fortunate to have a passionate user base. Having largely grown through word of mouth – people sharing their good experiences with others – social media makes it even easier.
Describe any customer interactions that stick out in your mind.
Twitter is amazing for these kinds of stories; everything is so immediate. I remember a recent case where someone was having a problem of some kind with their project. They had emailed customer support, which is mostly based out of Melbourne at the moment. A couple of hours had gone by, the Melbourne team was still asleep, and that’s when I saw an angry tweet, complaining about the problem and that he had not yet received a response from support.
I was able to jump in immediately and fix the issue. In seconds, there was a new tweet singing our praises and describing our fantastic support. That’s the power of social media and culture of immediacy at work.
What software tools or web apps do you use in your social media efforts?
Our blog is built on wordpress, which has been great. Aside from the blog, TweetDeck is the app that I have used the most. It was a revelation when I first discovered it. I later found CoTweet, which at first I was not crazy about it, however I have recently started playing around with it again and could easily see it become my go-to app for twitter.
For your business, what makes social media different from other channels?
The interactive participation is what makes social media stand out. You can put an ad up that, may be cute or compelling some way – but it pales in comparison to the connection you can make with your community through social media.
What has been the most challenging part of dealing with social media?
Ultimately – the biggest challenge is just keeping up with it all. Social media requires commitment. There is no point in being passive – conversations pertaining to your company directly or indirectly will be happening all around you regardless. We want to be an active participant and help further add value and drive the engagement of our community.
What are your social media plans for 2010?
More commitment. Our business is all about community – so social media will remain a large focus for us. As more people get on Twitter and Facebook, and use them in different ways – these channels will continue to grow in importance.
I appreciate Jason taking the time to talk to us, and I encourage you to check out 99designs.com and follow them on Twitter here. We’re always looking for interesting companies and individuals to talk to, so if you know of anyone that would like to be profiled, please contact us.