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Archive for March 2010

How Startups are Using Social Media for Real Results

Posted Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

For startups, the amount of money you have to burn before you either need to break even or raise more capital is your runway. Extending the length of that runway is an art form that requires startup founders to learn how to squeeze maximum value out of every dollar they spend. Social media is one important way that startups are saving money while still delivering value.

Whether being used for customer service, community building, product marketing, or internally for staying organized and communicating as a team, one common thread can be found through the social media use of every startup we talked to: Cost savings.

“We have no outside investment. That means we’re bootstrapping right now,” said Jack Benoff, Director of Marketing at Zugara, which last year went back into “startup mode” to create their own augmented reality software. “Social media has given startups the ability to market themselves in a way that wouldn’t have been possible before. Sure, it takes a commitment (in time), but the hard costs are minimal. It allows us to focus our financial resources on production, research and development, and sales, which is huge for us.”

Here are four ways that startups are using social media for real results.

1. Customer Service

One of the most useful ways that startups are employing social media is for customer service. “On the customer service side, beamME gets tremendous value out of social media. These days, people expect to be able to post issues with companies directly to Twitter and obtain a real-time response. This instantaneous access to our customers is invaluable,” said Gabe Zichermann, CEO of beamME, a maker of mobile networking tools.

According to Zichermann, one of the most useful tools they’ve used to manage their customer-focused social media efforts is Hootsuite, which has cut the amount of time necessary to look after their Twitter and Facebook accounts tremendously by allowing them to be used at the same time. “HootSuite is particularly effective and cuts down our time/cost requirements,” said Zichermann, who still advises getting someone, at least part-time, to help manage the flow of social media use and plan things out as far into the future as possible. “[That] will reduce the repetitive workload and make campaigns run faster.”

Phonebooth.com, which sells PBX services to small businesses, has had a similar experience using Twitter for customer relations. Said Todd Barr, Vice President of Marketing at Phonebooth:

Twitter has become the launching point for many of our internal processes. We have multiple examples of responding to an issue on Twitter within a couple of minutes and being on the phone with them within ten minutes. A tweet actually starts an internal process where we pull in the appropriate parties, get our information together, and reach out to the customer.

All of our other social media usages are extremely important, but Twitter is actually helping to create a culture change. We’re able to quickly assemble the correct folks to improve life for the customer. Internally, this begins to shed light on the power of social media and the team of folks who want to be involved is gradually expanding.”

Barr told us that Phonebooth has solved over 20 customer support issues using Twitter and has also created a “vibrant product feedback loop, with good user participation.”

2. Building Community

Barr and Phonebooth also utilize social media for building a community of customer evangelists. “With the launch of Phonebooth Free, we heavily relied on our social media efforts to rapidly build a community and are providing support, invites, encouragement and general engagement through Twitter. Social media also impacted our decision to launch Phonebooth Free at SXSW,” said Barr. “We believe that it is important to focus on where our customers are and not where our industry is. This is a very important distinction in our minds.”

Zugara also uses social media to create community and build awareness. Both the company’s Twitter account and Facebook page are used to actively engage people, Benoff told us. “We also use Twitter to attempt to organicly build relationships with our industry’s key influencers,” said Benoff, who reached out to Mashable over Twitter for this post.

Building relationship and fostering community are commonly talked about uses for social media, but one of the most often overlooked aspects of social media is building relationship offline. It is important for startups to take online networking to the next level and go out and talk to customers in person at tweetups and conferences.

“There were at least ten social media people that were critical to our success at SXSW that we had met in person before or planned to meet in Austin. Many of those connections even helped funnel people to our booth and evangelize Phonebooth,” said Barr.

3. Product Marketing

Using social media for marketing is another cost-saving no-brainer for startups. Social media tools like YouTube, SlideShare, and Ustream have helped Zugara save money and increase new business opportunities, said Benoff. Much of Zugara’s social media use is centered around thought leadership and allowing journalists and potential customers to have immediate and easy access to information about their products and industry.

Social media marketing tactics also figured into the launch plans for Phonebooth Free. “Social media levels the playing field. It has never been easier to be more in touch with your customers or market than it is now,” said Phonebooth’s Barr, who used social media to lay the groundwork for the Phonebooth Free product. “Traditional marketing promotes messages to unwitting audiences –- our marketing seeks to draw in interested people who want to hear from us with compelling content, products and conversations.”

As a result, Phonebooth Free “blew away” launch goals, according to Barr, in large part because “our [social media] messages were amplified by a strong group of followers.”

However, startups using social media for marketing need to be in it for the long haul, cautioned Benoff. “If you are going to use social media to market yourself think of it as a commitment, or strategy, not a campaign. You can’t start a conversation with someone (in the real world) and then walk away. The same applies here.”

Every startup we talked to counseled on the value of being authentic. “Be honest. Be respectful. Be responsive. Be transparent. Sell infrequently,” said Benoff.

“Keep it real: Don’t try to be someone you’re not; don’t cover up issues/problems –- instead, address them head-on and transparently; follow-up with people (do what you say you are going to do),” was Barr’s advice.

“Concentrate on the value you’re providing for others through these tools,” said Dmitry Dragilev, Marketing Lead at ZURB. “The tools are just another communication medium. What value are you providing for them through SM? Try to imagine yourself in their shoes –- would you be interested? Imagine you’re standing with strangers in an airport -– what would you say to them to get their attention and get them excited about what you’re doing?”

4. Staying Organized

Finally, startups are also using social media with great success internally as a way for employees to stay organized and more connected with each other. At interaction design firm ZURB, they’ve actually built two social media tools, Notable and Verify (in invite-only beta), to help streamline their internal workflow. Though they now sell it as a “software as a service app,” their flagship product Notable, an application that organizes and manages design feedback, is actually used internally at ZURB.

“The homepage of Notable was actually designed with the help of Notable,” said Dragilev. “We took the capture of it, iterated through feedback with the team, then closed it down and implemented it.”

The team also uses Harvest (time tracking) and Highrise (CRM) to keep track of complex consulting hours and people at the more than 75 companies they have worked with. “Social media has provided another channel for teams to streamline their internal workflows,” according to Dragilev.

Online gadget community gdgtuses a number of social media and web-based applications to create a virtual office environment for its employees that increases communication and collaboration. Company founder Peter Rojas explained how gdgt uses social media tools internally:

“We don’t have an office (at least not yet!), so being able to collaborate together online is essential. We use Campfire as our primary chat room, Skype when we’re rolling out new features and need really close collaboration or have a conference call, Google Docs for documenting anything and everything, Dropbox for sharing files, and Yammer as sort of a looser way to chat and share links.”

By relying on web-based tools and not needing to have an office, said Rojas, the company is able to save a significant amount of money and been able to better communicate with each other. “I think it’s made it easier to be decentralized and run very horizontal organizations with a minimum of micromanagement,” said Rojas.

One thing to remember when putting social media in place internally, according to Rojas, is to test applications and find the ones that work for your startup. “I’d recommend trying out different [apps] until you find one that’s the right fit for your organization. The tools need to fit with the team rather than the other way around,” he said.


Growing Your Business: 5 Tips from the Co-Founder of Foursquare

Posted Thursday, March 25th, 2010

smallbusiness, 23 March

As co-founder of the Internet’s hottest startup, Foursquare, Dennis Crowley knows a thing or two about growing a small business.

Foursquare is a location-sharing mobile app that lets users check-in to venues, share that check-in with their friends and social media sites, and discover friends, tips, and popular places nearby. The startup launched one year ago, has attracted massive press coverage, and has grown to around 600,000 members.

This isn’t Crowley’s first success story as a technology entrepreneur, and given that he’s also worked for Google, his perspective is colored with the sagacity of knowing that being nimble, lean, and fast can be just as effective — if not more so — as having bigger budgets and more manpower.

Over the years, Crowley’s learned several key lessons applicable to small businesses. Here are five that small business owners should take to heart.

1. “Twitter is your best friend”

Crowley speaks of Twitter as a distribution channel for all types of communication, and describes it as the most immediate way to connect with customers.

“At Foursquare we use Twitter for a little bit of everything: Good news and bad news, press clippings, RTs [retweets] from other users and customer service inquires. We’ll tweet when new versions of our apps are ready for download and tweet when our database is experiencing hiccups. Keeping users in the know doesn’t take any more than a few seconds and your most loyal users will spread the word via RTs.”

The nature of Foursquare may position it to be more heavily followed than the typical small business, but the point here is that small business owners should use Twitter to compliment their day-to-day work experiences.

2. “Keep it light”

The Foursquare team lives by this mantra, so while they share everything from where they are to what they’re doing, they’re doing so in edible, consumer-sized bites, perfect for the sporadic attention spans of their audience.

On this front, they’ve opted to use Tumblr as a lightweight blogging platform. Crowley explains, “On our company Tumblr we’ll post the success stories our users send in, write recaps of what goes down at Foursquare HQ meetings, and post pics of what we’re having for lunch. Our staff is full of personality and we try to show that as much as we can. The story of 16 guys and girls crammed around four tables is much more interesting than the story of a faceless Internet startup.”

Crowley also advises to apply the “keep it light” philosophy to all customer-facing initiatives. He also suggests that small business owners don’t have to be “all business, all the time.”

3. “Guerilla customer service”

Foursquare is by no means perfect. As a young startup, the company faces the challenge of keeping their servers running as they attract record levels of activity, and doing so always in the public eye. It’s a daunting position to be in unless it’s approached head-on, and that’s what Crowley and his team do on a daily basis.

“We’ll use Twitter Search to search for things like “foursquare sucks,” “foursquare broken,” etc. to find people who are experiencing problems but who would probably never submit a support ticket. With a quick @reply we can often shed some light on the issue and do it in public.”

The same guerilla-style customer service is perfect for small businesses, especially with regard to negative press or unflattering blog posts and comments. Crowley says, “don’t feel shy, jump in and comment. Making yourself part of the conversation shows users you’re listening and care about the issues they have.”

4. “Small and scrappy marketing 4eva”

Not everything should be expensive, especially when it comes to marketing. Small businesses could easily be intimidated by the money that bigger companies can throw at large campaigns, but bigger isn’t always better.

Steal a page from Foursquare‘s play book and get scrappy. Take the SXSW Interactive festival. Inside the convention center there were dozens of sponsors with huge tents and elaborate setups. Here’s what Foursquare did:

“Instead [of formulating a marketing plan] we did two things: #1. Took all the swag we had (pins, stickers, temporary tattoos) and put them in ziplock bags. Everytime we found a user that told us how much they loved Foursquare (and there was an army of them!) we gave them a bag of swag to hand out to their friends. #2. We picked up a rubber Foursquare ball and a box of chalk, drew a Foursquare court on the ground outside the convention center and played for four days straight (and yes, we are still sore).”

The game was a huge hit and attracted the attention of conference goers and big media alike. Crowley continues saying, “Thousands of people stopped by to see what was going on, say hi, play a game or two, and pick up some swag. It gave people the chance to meet our team in a super informal setting (playground game!) and hang out with us in an environment where phones and laptops were completely out of the way.”

5. “Show off your team”

The scrappiness didn’t stop with fun and games. Crowley also used the offline event as an opportunity to introduce users to team members, and vice versa, in a playful way.

Crowley states, “We designed our business cards as collectibles — collect all 6 and unlock a Foursquare badge. Once word of this got out, people were looking all over downtown Austin for employees just so they could introduce themselves and collect a badge. Every time we handed out a card, we got to meet one of our users. Actually encouraging people to reach out and introduce themselves to your team puts a name and a face on the products you’re building. It also helped us start a dialog with people who’d probably never introduce themselves.”

It’s a smart strategy that small businesses can emulate to create more personal connections with their customers.


Mobile App Market to Surge to $17.5 Billion by 2012

Posted Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Lithuanian-based GetJar, an independent mobile phone application store with more than 60,000 mobile applications for major mobile platforms such as Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile, commissioned a study that predicts a huge surge in the number of mobile app downloads and the overall size of the mobile app market.

Mashable, 17th March 2010

According to the study, created by Chetan Sharma Consulting, mobile app downloads should jump from 7 billion in 2009 to almost 50 billion in 2012. By this time, the market will be worth 17.5 billion dollars, the study predicts, despite the expected lower price of mobile apps, which should drop from the current average of 2 dollars per app to 1.5 dollars in 2012.

GetJar chief executive Ilja Laurs makes another bold prediction, echoing the one we’ve recently heard from a Google executive. “It is easy to see how mobile apps will eclipse the traditional desktop Internet. It makes perfect sense that mobile devices will kill the desktop,” he said.

He backs this up with more data from the study, citing that 17% of GetJar users spend more time on internet-linked smartphones than they do on desktops.

Be that as it may, the work you do on your desktop is still a lot different than the work you do on your smartphone. The mobile application market definitely has tremendous room to grow, especially with the coming of iPad, which takes the mobile app paradigm and slaps it onto a bigger, tablet device. But let’s wait and see how it performs on the market before we declare desktop dead or irrelevant.


How Ford Got Social Marketing Right

Posted Friday, March 12th, 2010

The automaker successfully re-entered the subcompact car market via the Fiesta Movement and YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter

Businessweek, 7 January 2010

Ford recently wrapped the first chapter of its Fiesta Movement, leaving us distinctly wiser about marketing in the digital space.

Ford gave 100 consumers a car for six months and asked them to complete a different mission every month. And away they went. At the direction of Ford and their own imagination, “agents” used their Fiestas to deliver Meals On Wheels. They used them to take Harry And David treats to the National Guard. They went looking for adventure, some to wrestle alligators, others actually to elope. All of these stories were then lovingly documented on YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter.

The campaign was an important moment for Ford. It wanted in to the small car market, and it hadn’t sold a subcompact car in the United States since it discontinued the Aspire in 1997. And it was an important moment for marketing. The Fiesta Movement promised to be the most visible, formative social media experiment for the automotive world. Get this right and Detroit marketing would never be the same.

I had the good fortune to interview Bud Caddell the other day and he helped me see the inner workings of the Fiesta Movement. Bud works at Undercurrent, the digital strategy firm responsible for the campaign.

Under the direction of Jim Farly, Group VP at Ford and Connie Fontaine, manager of brand content there, Undercurrent decided to depart from the viral marketing rule book. Bud told me they were not interested in the classic early adopters, the people who act as influencers for the rest of us. Undercurrent wanted to make contact with a very specific group of people, a passionate group of culture creators.

Bud said, The idea was: let’s go find twenty-something YouTube storytellers who’ve learned how to earn a fan community of their own. [People] who can craft a true narrative inside video, and let’s go talk to them. And let’s put them inside situations that they don’t get to normally experience/document. Let’s add value back to their life.

They’re always looking, they’re always hungry, they’re always looking for more content to create. I think this gets things exactly right. Undercurrent grasped the underlying motive (and the real economy) at work in the digital space. People are not just telling stories for the sake of telling stories, though certainly, these stories have their own rewards. They were making narratives that would create economic value. The digital space is an economy after all. People are creating, exchanging and capturing value, as they would in any marketplace. But this is a gift economy, where the transactions are shot through with cultural content and creation. In a gift economy, value tends to move not in little “tit for tat” transactions, but in long loops, moving between consumers before returning, augmented, to the corporation. In this case, adventures inspired by Undercurrent and Ford return as meaning for the brand and value for the corporation. Undercurrent was reaching out to consumers not just to pitch them, but to ask them to help pitch the product. And the pitch was not merely a matter of “buzz.” Undercurrent wanted consumers to help charge the Fiesta with glamor, excitement, and oddity — to complete the “meaning manufacture” normally conducted only by the agency.

This would be the usual “viral marketing” if all the consumer was called upon to do was to talk up Fiesta. But Undercurrent was proposing a richer bargain, enabling and incenting “agents” to create content for their own sakes, to feed their own networks, to build their own profiles…and in the process to contribute to the project of augmenting Fiesta‘s brand.

Fiesta‘s campaign worked because it was founded on fair trade. Both the brand and the agent were giving and getting. And this shows us a way out of the accusations that now preoccupy some discussions of social media marketing. With their gift economy approach, Ford and Undercurrent found a way to transcend all the fretting about “what bright, shining object can we invent to get the kids involved?” and, from the other side, all that “oh, there he goes again, it’s the Man ripping off digital innocents.” It’s a happier, more productive, more symmetrical, relationship than these anxieties imply. Hat’s off to Farley and Fontaine.

The effects of the campaign were sensational. Fiesta got 6.5 million YouTube views and 50,000 requests for information about the car—virtually none from people who already had a Ford in the garage. Ford sold 10,000 units in the first six days of sales. The results came at a relatively small cost. The Fiesta Movement is reputed to have cost a small fraction of the typical national TV campaign. There is an awful lot of aimless experiment in the digital space these days. A lot of people who appear not to have a clue are selling digital marketing advice. I think the Fiesta Movement gives us new clarity. It’s a three-step process.

• Engage culturally creative consumers to create content.
• Encourage them to distribute this content on social networks and digital markets in the form of a digital currency.
• Craft this is a way that it rebounds to the credit of the brand, turning digital currency (and narrative meaning) into a value for the brand.

In effect, outsource some of our marketing work. And in the process, turn the brand itself into an “agent” and an enabler of cultural production that is interesting and fun. Now the marketer is working with contemporary culture instead of against it. And everyone is well-served.


5 Online Marketing Resolutions for 2010

Posted Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Resolve to give your online marketing efforts a boost this year by recognizing areas for improvement and putting in place a plan to make positive changes.

online marketing, Jan 8 2010

1. SEO:
I resolve to focus more on maximizing visits and conversions from organic searches. With SEO efforts, it’s easy to get caught up in one goal: getting found via the search engines. But ranking in the search results is only half the story. If potential customers aren’t clicking through to your web page – or other piece of digital content – the ranking doesn’t mean much. Plus, due to variances in what each of us sees in the search results for the same query, rankings as metric are no longer as useful. Personalized search results according to location and web history means your site might rank high for one person, but not another.

Maximize the success of your online marketing efforts by analyzing your metrics report to determine which pieces of digital content are highly visible but producing less than ideal traffic results. Then take some time to ask yourself these questions:

What competitive search results are your potential customers seeing? Assess the title tags and meta descriptions of competitive search results. Are competitors offering customers a free case study or a complimentary product sample? Then consider ways to make your own title tags and meta descriptions out-entice the competition.
Does your content live up to the promise put forth in your title tags and meta descriptions? Put yourself in your customers’ shoes: When you first visit your web page or other digital content from an organic search, is the content you find relevant? Potential customers don’t want surprises; they want a solution to the problem that caused them to search in the first place. And they want it as promised.
Not only will searchers respond more favorably to customer optimized titles and meta descriptions, but the increase in clickthroughs will, no doubt, be noticed by search engines and may influence subsequent rankings.

2. Social Media:
I resolve to set goals and track the results of my social media efforts.
There’s no denying that social media is more difficult to justify in terms of ROI compared to other online marketing strategies.  But that’s not to say it’s impossible – or that tracking results should be placed on the back burner. And without goals, it’s pretty difficult to measure success. In 2010, put forth even more effort to set goals for social media participation and tie results back to specific tactics.

There are a host of free or near-free tools available to gauge brand mentions and traffic from social media channels.

Tracking results via social media monitoring tools is just a start. Those results must be tied back to business goals. Potential goals might be:

Develop better customer relationships
Reputation management
Identify and energize brand evangelists
Increase brand awareness
Increase relevant visitor traffic
Improve standard and social search engine visibility
Build up a list for email marketing
Increase leads or sales
Without setting specific goals upfront, social media efforts can’t be definitively quantified so be sure to implement a Social Media Roadmap and all or social bases will be covered.

3. Email Marketing:
I resolve to integrate my email marketing with other online marketing channels. Regardless of what the naysayers may say, email marketing isn’t going to disappear as a result of social media in 2010. In fact, email will continue to play a significant role in most online marketing mixes this year. A study from Silverpop found nearly half of marketers surveyed plan to increase email marketing budgets in 2010.

That’s not to say email marketing efforts shouldn’t evolve with the times. Integrating email with social media is on par to be a popular resolution for 2010: A recent eMarketer report found 40% of executives surveyed willmake integrating the two tactics their top marketing initiative this year. Another 25% of respondents have already implemented an integrated strategy.

Pledge to take email marketing to the next level by encouraging email subscribers to not only forward content via email, but also to get social with email and share it via Facebook, Twitter, Digg and other sites. Conversely, conduct a poll on Twitter or your blog, and encourage followers and readers to subscribe to your e-newsletter for the results.

4. PPC:
I resolve to maximize conversion rates by testing different versions of my ads and landing pages. Most companies using self-serve pay per click programs fall victim to “set it and forget it” habits. They’re busy with numerous other marketing activities or don’t have the time to really get to know the native bid management platforms and test/refine campaigns. Even if PPC efforts are reaching set goals in terms of conversion rates, there’s always room for improvement. You’ll never know until you try.

Consider these three ideas for testing different elements of your PPC campaigns:

Test multiple ad versions that highlight different benefits of your product, service or company. For example, one could tout cost-savings benefits, while another emphasizes a convenience aspect.
Use A/B testing to try out two different headlines on your landing page. Again, each could speak to a different benefit (i.e., cost savings vs. convenience). Google Optimizer is a great tool for this.
If you’re targeting a competitive search term with many competing ads, consider launching two different campaigns simultaneously. Each could offer a distinct piece of fulfillment – a free case study and a product coupon, for example.
A few tools for testing include:

A/B Testing resources: (Google Website Optimizer, 7 Free Resources)
Multivariate Testing service: (Omniture)
Heatmap & User Testing tools: (CrazyEgg, Clickdensity, Clicktale, userfly andEyetools)

5. Mobile:
I resolve to rethink my website design for mobile users.
If your site isn’t already optimized for handheld devices such as cell phones, now is the perfect time to re-assess your site design and how users find your site through mobile search – particularly for B2C companies.

In October, ABI Research forecast that mobile sales of physical goods in North America would reach $750 million by the end of 2009, a 117% annual growth rate. Consumers are doing a lot more than purchasing downloadable cell phone ringtones and games from their mobile devices. These days, clothing, electronics, books and a host of other items are being purchased through mobile commerce. Additionally, social network participation through services like foursquare, Facebook and Twitter are growing dramatically, creating additional opportunities for promotion and traffic to the mobile version of your company web site.

When optimizing web pages for the mobile web, consider a few tips:

Keep fonts in their most basic format
Eliminate advertising to conserve screen space
Take out images unless they are absolutely necessary
Remove Flash, Java or any plug-in content unless absolutely necessary


 
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