Life is a journey, but I’m impatient so I spend all lots of time reading career blogs trying to figure out what I should be doing next. Recently, I read that INTJs aren’t motivated by compensation which is why freelancing isn’t ideal. I gravitated to consulting because structure is boring to me, and clients in need of startup marketing always seem to find me. But in between clients it feels weird to spend any time thinking of how can I make money over actually helping as many companies grow.
Career advice starts by telling you to find the intersection between what you’re good at, what you like doing, and what people are willing to pay for. So I end up stuck wondering if I should hop on the learn to code train because I can’t seem to check off all three. The problem with this perspective is also that it’s all about the individual, especially talented ones and I already know I’m more of an agent type of person.
Then I look over at jobs, to see which companies actually need me and where can I make the most impact. There’s a huge demand for startup marketers, and even more applicants. Interviews aren’t my forte, and the process ends up being more about the resume and how many connections you have to the hiring manager.
I’m sure I’ll always spend time over-analyzing the meaning of life and my purpose, but I want to make sure that I keep moving forward. I want to spend the next 5 years working towards some crazy awesome idea and feel like I’ve achieved something great instead of being stuck in the same cycle. I’m starting to think the only way to do is this is by thinking like an entrepreneur.
Instead of obsessing over monetizing your skills, you uncover how to add value:
What’s a problem that many people have?
What’s the solution?
How can I help those people solve their problem?
Once you have a solution, it becomes all about distribution. Which I love.
This how both mypodnotes.com and whistlenow.co were born. I’ll leave the details for another post, but I’m pretty excited to start working on these and learn from some new mistakes.
Building a product that relies on user-generated content can start with you and your best friend posting everything, but that plan isn’t going to get you far. Since you can’t force anyone to create content, here are some lessons from Pinterest, Quora, and Hacker News since they’ve figured out how to get users to contribute.
Pinterest may have had a rocky start, but there’s no doubt that the platform is now one many aspire to emulate. In the beginning, Pinterest launched pin it forward campaigns to generate content by leveraging power users. Users would create a board, and then encourage their friends to create the same board with their own pins. How do you get your most active users to hand-hold newbies for you? Well, you could ask them nicely and hope for the best. Or you could offer them some incentive. Pinterest did just that by giving users more invites if their campaign worked. If you don’t have an invite-only community, you’ll have to be more creative, just make sure the reward is something users will actually care about. The best incentives reward both existing and new users as well as lead to increased product usage.
Since brands get so much value out of Pinterest they are much more motivated to have their images pinned than individual users. You might not be excited about the thought of having marketers use your site for their own agenda, but it works for Pinterest and many others. Especially if you’re looking to monetize later on. Pinterest built the Pin It button to make it easier for brands to have visitors pin their images, not to mention promote Pinterest. The button also means users don’t even have to be on Pinterest to create content. Building a tool this awesome that actually works starts with segmentation. Don’t just assume your most active users are the ones with the most to gain from your product.
Sometimes there’s just too much friction to creating new content. New users don’t want to look stupid and share the wrong thing, or they might not understand how your site works. I know you’ve spent weeks trying to design a beautiful interface, and are genuinely angry at users for not clicking on that now huge button, just to see what it does, but consider taking a step back. Instead of asking users to create their own original content, start by asking them to reshare someone else’s. Pinterest does this with the baked-in repin button. Users can easily repin images they like and see how well they’ve performed for other users by checking out the public number of likes, repins, and comments. This makes their first time pinning not as scary, and creating new boards becomes less overwhelming. Pinterest isn’t the only site with this type of feature, so if the concept of repinning doesn’t inspire you think about Twitter’s retweet and Tumblr’s reblog.
Quora has so much potential, so you might hear some rumblings about how it’s not doing that great. Ignore those and hope that people have such high expectations for your own site one day. Instead of listening to the haters, Quora focuses on delivering an incredible experience to its users. There’s a difference between telling users how magical it will be when, or, let’s be honest, if they create content and actually proving it before they ever start posting. When you want an answer to your question, you head to Quora. Chances are someone else has already asked the question and you can check out the answers. It’s less about showing how Quora works through random questions and answers, but more about having a search function that allows users to see how valuable it would be if they had posted the very same question. You bet that the next time that user, or visitor, has a question they won’t think twice about asking it on Quora. Be careful not to spend too much time building cool ways for users to engage with content if these features don’t actually motivate them to create, otherwise there’ll be nothing to interact with. The important lesson here is to gain users’ trust by spending less time making promises and more time improving their lives.
Speaking of broken promises, getting influencers is a classic move to drive customer acquisition. New users join in the hopes of having an opportunity to interact with people they look up to, but usually these influencers are just for show and don’t end up using the product. This isn’t the case with Quora. If someone asks a question about Robert Scoble, anyone can answer it, but often Robert himself will take the time to jot down the obviously most accurate response. Quora recognizes top writers which helps encourage quality answers, but before that you have to get well-known experts to join your site. Make a list of the leaders in your industry, and ask shared connections for an introduction. A cold email can work, but an introduction will increase the odds of them becoming a user. Since these influencers won’t have much time, be prepared to send personalized emails with a clear ask. Occasionally, that will mean creating content for them.
If influencers don’t convince Quora users to create content, then Quora hopes friends will. After new users sign up they usually follow some familiar faces. Existing users are then prompted to suggest topics to their new followers. Quora knows you probably don’t have a clue what your friend wants to ask, but you definitely know what area they’re interested in. Similar to the way Pinterest enlisted the help of power users, Quora knows that a recommendation from a contact is far more effective than an email from their team. Initially, you should manually reach out to highly active users and ask them to become advocates. However, you should observe what users do naturally, and then bake that into the product to make the behaviour easier to repeat.
Finally, Quora allows users to post their questions anonymously without the hassle of creating a new account. Before simply copying this, you should consider if anonymity might negatively affect the experience for other users. Quora’s decision was made long before all the hype around anonymous apps and was likely based on research and feedback from inactive users. Asking a question online can be embarrassing, and users might have a bunch of reasons why they don’t want the question to be associated with their identity. Being able to ask the question anonymously solves the issue for Quora, but might not be the right solution for you. Your users might prefer to instead limit the visibility of their content to their friends. Depending on your product it might be easier to build one of the above features over the other, but make sure it’s the one that actually increases content creation.
Hacker News has a straightforward design that makes it super easy for users to navigate the site and submit links. There’s no surprises after you hit HN’s submit button, and there are only two fields to fill out. No categories, no summaries, no checkboxes. Sure, there are also Show and Ask style posts, but new users don’t have to know what those mean and probably won’t notice them. Users not only understand how to use HN, but they can quickly learn exactly what HN is and what content is most appreciated. This isn’t a fluke, HN has very clear guidelines about the type of content that’s on-topic and quality posts that comply get upvoted to the front page. There’s no confusion that HN was made for hackers by hackers to exchange news that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity. Strong brand positioning is one of the most effective way to increase user-generated content. This also happens to be very difficult to pull off. Whether your site relies on user created content or not, you should drop everything right now if you can’t fill in the blank: “When users need ________ they think about my product.”
This article focuses on how to get new users to create their very first piece of content, so I won’t delve into the promised rewards that follow which include making it to the front page or getting traffic to your own site. However, the articles written about the impressive power of HN are relevant since they are a proof of HN’s amazing ability to makethingshappen.
Endorsements from users are priceless, and you’re lucky if your users write about their positive experience. Actually, it’s not about luck at all. You don’t have to hope or wait, you just have to ask. Your users want to help but the biggest barrier is figuring out what you actually need from them.
It’s interesting to see that many sites, including Quora and Pinterest, allow users to do something new with the same address book. Perhaps the most unique reason that users create content on HN is because they want to belong to a pretty niche community. Even if most of your friends are part of the tech startup ecosystem, and have heard of HN, they probably don’t all frequent the site. Many users post content because they feel like they finally found a place in the internet where they can share their interests with peers. Building such a loyal community takes time and effort, but if you succeed you’ll find that users are eager to upload and create content they care about.
Here’s a summary of the actionable advice to help you get started on building your own product that relies user-generated content:
Leverage power users by rewarding them when they encourage new users to create content.
Identify the users with the most to gain from your product, and build tools that help support both of your goals.
Allow users to reshare content from others to reduce the pressure of creating original content.
Don’t just tell, but actually show users how much value they would gain from creating content.
Reach out to influencers and make it easy for them to stay active.
Build features that empower existing users to repeatedly motivate new users into taking action.
Help users overcome feelings of fear or embarrassment by letting them post content anonymously or to a limited group.
Design a straightforward product that doesn’t require users to struggle to create content.
Clearly communicate the problem your product solves and the content that performs best.
Ask users to share stories about their positive experiences on your site.
Build a community of users that are eager to share things they care about with each other.
The name you plan to use across all your branding and communications.
For example, deciding to omit accents in Hōjicha Co. or including them since it’s the official company name.
The main url used across all of your branding and communications.
For example, App.net launched at alpha.app.net even though they have many custom landing pages.
Typically 3-5 words that succinctly convey the high level concept in an appealing way. This may evolve over time with customer feedback, but you can get started by browsing through AngelList startups for inspiration.
[Company Name] is a [Product/Service] that [Benefit] for [Target Customer] who [Problem/Opportunity]
Unlike your pitch, this can be longer and provide more detail into your features and competitive advantage. You should create one description that will consistently appear on of all your branding and communications, but you might also want to be ready with a few personalized versions for different types of audiences.
The following questions will determine the why and how of all of your marketing initiatives.
Why do you exist?
What are your values?
What five words do people think about when they think about your company?
Read this post by Thomas for some great advice about positioning.
Decide on a target audience and include as much detail as possible. You likely have a large market in mind, but you should start by targeting a smaller niche. You’re not prohibiting anyone from accessing your product, you’re just focusing your efforts to better acquire early customers.
Create 3-5 ideal customer personas that include the following:
Interests and habits
Challenges relating to your solution
There’s some more information you might want to include as Uberflip suggests. It’s helpful to start by picking 50 real people that would be your ideal customer. Find out as much as possible about them through online search, record it all in a spreadsheet, and try to find patterns.
Decide on a couple of a goals you’d like to achieve through marketing.
Grow userbase by 10% week over week
Increase customer retention to 85% per month
Build a mailing list of 100K subscribers
Each goal above should be broken down into one or more strategies.
Increase customer retention to 85% per month
April has written a comprehensive post about startup marketing that includes most strategies.
These are the detailed actions you will take for each strategy and corresponding goal.
Increase customer retention to 85% per month
New users receive a welcome email
All users receive a monthly email with new features
Over the past week, I spent some time trying to segment Volley’s user base. There is quite a bit of overlap between the segments, but I was able to identify the source of each member, and the impact of different types of users on the community’s growth.
I narrowed it down to four types of users: early adopters, wait list, VIPs, and referrals. Even though these were generated from Volley’s user base, I’ve seen the same pattern in most successful communities. Unfortunately, there are also some startups that come to mind that have shut down partially because they were unable to acquire and retain all four categories.
A better understanding of the different segments will help you attract these users to grow your community.
Who are they?
The early adopters of Volley were people who joined the first iteration back when it wasn’t invite-only. The prototype had some flaws, but these users didn’t care. If anything, it made them more invested in helping us improve the experience as we learned from our mistakes.
Why should you care?
Listening to these users helped us understand what features we needed to build or remove. They also let us know that Volley sucked on mobile, and that making it easy to use the web app on their phone was a priority. Early adopters validate your assumptions, point out major weaknesses, and help shape your community.
How do you get them to join?
Even if you’re an introverted solo founder that spent the last year (mistakenly) thinking that stealth is the way to go, there’s still hope for you. Start by asking friends to join your community, just to see how humans, who haven’t spent hours developing each feature, interact with your site. Then you should invite online contacts from social networks by sending each one a personal message. You can’t growth hack this.
Who are they?
Our prototype users loved us and the community, which meant it was time for a reality check. After relaunching as an invite-only community, we wanted to accelerate growth but we weren’t ready to onboard thousands of users all at once. A wait list is a great way to start collecting emails from people who want in.
Why should you care?
Users willing to sign up for a wait list are more likely to be engaged once they finally receive their invite. A wait list also makes it easier to ensure new members remain loyal by providing them with an incredible first impression. You can count on these users to share their honest feedback on your current state, without being biased by your progress.
How do you get them to join?
Our first 650 invite requests came from our feature on Product Hunt and its newsletters. Since Volley is targeting members of the startup community, Product Hunt resulted in high quality users. Sites like Product Hunt, BetaList, and StartupLi.st attract early users and help you quickly grow your wait list. However, you should also invest time on niche sites where your own target audience hangs out.
Who are they?
Volley’s VIPs are people that inspired us and have gone above and beyond to support the startup community. We haven’t even met some our VIPs, but we have seen them generously share their expertise and connections with others. Your VIPs might not be the same people we reached out to, but they should have a large network and be able to relate to your core mission.
Why should you care?
The value these influencers bring is increased visibility of your community to all of their contacts and online followers. VIPs massive reach will result in more users, and you’ll see a boost in activity every time they participate.
How do you get them to join?
After finalizing our VIP list, we sent each one a physical invite, which you can read more about on the Volley blog. You’re going to have to go the extra mile and be creative to get the attention of your VIPs. Don’t ask too much of these influencers. Accept that they won’t have time, even if they love your idea, and start by getting them to commit to something small.
Who are they?
Our referrals are users that were invited by existing Volley members. Each request created on Volley can either be replied to or volleyed (forwarded) to a friend better suited to help. Contacts that aren’t users yet, will be invited to the community. You referrals will be the friends of your early adopters, wait list, and VIP users.
Why should you care?
The most powerful form of marketing is word of mouth. It doesn’t matter how much of a marketing pro you think you are, users will always be better at promoting your community. The invites users will send to their friends will have a high conversion rate, and overall engagement tends to increase when users see familiar faces.
How do you get them to join?
We’re still working on improving the volleying process to increase our referral rate, but our first step was to create a built-in invite feature. You should at least start by making it ridiculously easy for users to invite their friends. Adding incentives will encourage them to do so more often, especially when the reward is offered to both parties.
Early adopters, wait list, VIPs, and referrals are all necessary to successfully build and grow a sustainable community. It’s never too late to examine your user base, and focus on acquiring the type of user that’s missing from your community.
My last few posts have been social media audits. Each one assessed a single online channel of a well-known startup. While trying to figure out what brand to feature next, I considered Nasty Gal. The only problem being, Nasty Gal is killing it on Instagram.
Of course there’s always room for improvement, but with no major shortcomings I wondered if I should keep looking. When a brand is doing well, I think it takes skill to point out its weaknesses. More importantly, I was hoping my actionable advice was heard and helped the startups improve their online presence.
After following Nasty Gal’s Instagram account for a couple of days, I realized that even though they don’t need my unsolicited advice, other brands are bound to be inspired by their success.
I often get asked if Instagram is worth it. This depends if your customers are even using the social network. You should also know that Instagram may not drive much traffic (and in turn sales) overnight, but it’s invaluable for building a loyal community. This is partly due to the Instagram feed being one of the few that is still viewed in its entirety by many users.
Below are some actionable lessons that translate to most consumer brands, and will help you tap into Instagram’s captive audience.
Open NastyGal.com in a new tab, and soak up that feeling. Now open up another tab with the Nasty Gal Instagram account. The brand has managed to duplicate the experience, with Nasty Gal’s Instagram being as vibrant as their site, and full of attitude.
The risqué tag line appears on their Twitter account, though it slightly differs from their Pinterest and Facebook bios. This might be intentional, as you should always keep in mind the type of users on each social network. However, your target audience might not change much depending on the medium. Consistent messaging can help with SEO and with conveying a stronger and more memorable image.
The only hyperlink on Instagram is the one in your bio, so be sure to use that space wisely. Nasty Gal links to their homepage. You can follow suit, or be creative and link to a landing page personalized for Instagram followers.
The Nasty Gal logo is used as a display picture for the main account, while a slightly revised image appears on their careers account. You might be tempted to switch up your display picture, but exhibiting a consistent logo helps improve brand recognition.
Sophia Amoruso is no stranger to social recruiting, and having a separate careers account allows Nasty Gal to stay true to their brand. If you plan on sourcing talent and distributing open positions on Instagram, consider that the content that appeals to your customers might differ from what you’d like to share with potential hires.
The majority of Instagram users capture moments as they occur, but creating appealing content that represents the Nasty Gal brand sometimes means carefully stylized product shots and Photoshop fun. These custom images do well since they don’t go as far as pushing generic marketing messages or shooting merchandise on boring mannequins.
Even when a product shot features a model against a white background, she is fully accessorized and looks like she stepped out of a glossy fashion magazine, rather than a dimly lit warehouse. You want your brand to stand out in the feed, not look out of place.
Nasty Gal takes full advantage of Instagram’s video feature by announcing contest winners and sharing GIFs. Recently, Nasty Gal created a very short and funny ad for a new app. Understanding the sense of humour of your audience, can help you create entertaining videos that don’t offend your followers. Nasty Gal has also been promoting Sophia Amoruso’s new book #GIRLBOSS by portraying successful women. These insightful videos are well received, as they provide followers with valuable advice and inspiration.
Aside from sharing the classic Nasty Gal look, new fashion and internet trends are also incorporated into images. This goes further than acknowledging seasons and holidays. These images make Nasty Gal part of the conversation, if not an authority, on festival wear and even wildly used emoji.
Nasty Gal also understands which famous personalities resonate with their audience. Photos of them wearing the clothing brand are posted along with a custom url. Followers can then learn more the product showcased, and other favourite Nasty Gal picks.
The custom url is added both in the caption and as a ‘location’. Neither of these links are clickable, so you will likely see very little traffic if they are only used on Instagram. If you do decide to include links, always use a custom url. This way you’ll be able to test variables and improve your results. Nasty Gal’s loyal community, solid call-to-actions, and striking images are all factors contributing to increased visits as users type out the url or copy and paste the caption.
While Nasty Gal mostly includes a url in place of a location, they do sometimes include a physical location. Adding a place increases your reach to Instagram users browsing images at that location. There have been some issues with location since Instagram replaced Foursquare with Facebook Places, so be sure to pick an accurate address.
Regardless of where the shot was taken, if the people in the photo have an Instagram account, Nasty Gal @mentions them within the caption. This makes it easy for your followers to engage with that person. Instagram also allows you to tag people in the photo itself, but you might want to get permission first since tagged photos will appear publicly in their profile. Either way, the person will get notified which encourages more activity and hopefully a repost of the photo for their own followers.
Adding hashtags to the caption can also increases likes, comments, and followers. Hashtags improve engagement by targeting users that aren’t yet following your brand. Nasty Gal could include popular, yet relevant, hashtags such as Fashion (114M+), Style (87M+), and Vintage (12M+). However, they mostly use their own branded hashtags. Event though these have been gaining momentum, the branded hashtags are likely to only be used by current followers. A balance of the two can have a significant impact on your brand awareness and engagement metrics.
Creating your own hashtags can help you build a community around a shared love for your brand. However, the above only works if that sentiment already existed among your customers. Nasty Gal was able to build a large audience, because it offers high quality products that their customers desire.
Nasty Gal has 1.2M+ Instagram followers, hundreds of comments per photo, thousands of images with their branded hashtags, and yet they still take the time to interact with fans. Initially this will be easy to do, but as your online presence grows you will have to make an effort to ensure engagement remains a priority. Nasty Gal knows the value of listening to customers on social media, and this has helped them become a stronger brand with a growing loyal community.