Could you help me out? I’m writing an article about starting blogging.
Let’s say you were to go back to when you first started blogging. How would you get your first 100 Facebook fans?
1. Write an article
2. Post a link to the article on your Facebook page
What’s the next step?
Go back to when I first started blogging? Well, that was around May of 2010. How would I get my first 100 Facebook fans? I’d have to create an account first.
After disagreeing with Zuck’s views on privacy, I deleted my personal account. But then in late 2010, I had to create another account for managing clients’ pages (which I also ended up deleting).
There are hundreds of reports, which are saved somewhere in the cloud, with details of my recommendations, methods, and results for growing an audience on social networks. Thing is, most of the specific advice is outdated.
Best practices are meant to be broken, and the people who push boundaries get the furthest.
You can google the latest tactics for inspiration, but successful marketers are the ones that devise their own experiments. If you’re starting a blog today, treat it like a business. Start with a marketing plan, and then use trial and error to figure out what work best for attracting your target audience. Oh and remember to avoid making the pinball machine mistake. Getting 100 fans might be a strategy you consider to increase readership, but it shouldn’t be your high level objective.
Whenever I see decanters, I’m tempted to buy them. They are essentially useless to me, but it’s difficult to resist their beauty and elegance. I try to justify the purchase by imagining other uses for them. Perhaps one could be used to serve water, another to store cotton balls, and a third as a vase. Then I think that flowers belong in the garden, and so I walk away.
It wasn’t until recently that I learned that decanters weren’t simply vessels meant to hold alcohol. One of their functions is to aerate wine. Allowing wine to breathe after being bottled up for years, seems like a fitting metaphor for my journey.
Over the past decade I spent the majority of my time as a marketing consultant. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that my creativity had been bottled up, especially while working with startups, but it has been too long since I’ve created art for the sole purpose of self-expression.
It’s been even longer since I’ve experimented with making something in the physical world.
Art isn’t a new passion. I’ve studied art for over 13 years, and those who are close to me always wondered why I ever stopped. Instead of getting into that, here’s how I got started again.
Whenever I used to have down time, I would log in to Codecademy, read a startup book, or clear my Pocket full of tech and marketing articles. My interests became too narrow. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t great professionally. The most innovative ideas are the result of exposure to different topics and industries. I asked around for new sources of information, and ended up reading a few long form articles on random topics. This wasn’t enough. The articles opened my eyes to new ideas, but I needed to be more immersed.
I came across a chemical engineering course, and thought about diving in. Chemical engineering is vastly different from anything I’ve studied before. What are the odds that I would have studied engineering had I known about it earlier? Or, would I have known about it earlier had I was better suited to study engineering?
This lead me to wonder about the subjects I already knew about and somehow forgot.
Whenever a friend turns out to be a secretlytalented artist, I encourage them to create even more and sell their art online. I tell them how they shouldn’t doubt themselves, and how I wish I could spend my days making art.
Instead of taking random online courses, I decided to rediscover one of my forgotten passions. It felt incredible to dig up my old sketchbook, and buy new art supplies. My curiosity grew, and being an artist no longer felt like a hobby or a crazy retirement dream.
An old sketch inspired me to play with shapes and lines, and the design of the modern decanter made for the perfect subject. The medium was a given. One of the last pieces I created years ago was in oil pastel. All that was left was to listen to my own advice and share the completed artwork.
Listening to podcasts has quickly become everyone’s favourite new pastime.
Podcasts don’t feel like the result of careful planning by a marketing team. Instead, listeners are the silent participants in a conversation they can’t wait to share with their friends. An emotional connection forms as the host’s voice reaches listeners with unedited discussions and personal stories.
While others compete for eyeballs and are quickly forgotten, you can leverage a podcast to grow an engaged community that will generate positive returns for your business. Here’s how best-in-class marketers are incorporating podcasts into their content mix to accelerate the growth of their community.
Reach podcast fans through existing audio platforms
When deciding on a podcast hosting solution, you should find one that makes it easy to distribute your episodes to podcast listeners. Audio platforms like iTunes, SoundCloud, TuneIn, and Stitcher help podcast fans easily discover and listen to your podcast. These people might have never heard of your company, and now you can reach them every day on their commute.
Plan your distribution strategy before you launch your podcast, as you would for any other piece of content. Understanding how to increase your discoverability on each of these platforms will maximize the reach of each episode. Start by searching for related podcasts to see which ones rank well and learn from best practices.
What keywords are they using in their title and description? How many ratings and reviews do they have? How do they structure their show notes? These are some of the areas you can optimize for better reach.
If you’re thinking of launching a new project, here’s how I got started with Mypodnotes.
A few months ago a friend suggested I write summaries for podcasts. The idea sounded interesting since podcasting is on the rise, and there’s no way anyone could keep up with the constant stream of new episodes. The best part was that I could test the idea without dropping anything. I started Myponotes as a side project, but after deciding to think like an entrepreneur I realized that it had the potential to become a business.
How to find ideas
Side projects, businesses, and high growth startups all start with an idea and don’t go far without commitment to pursue them. Even though you need both to succeed, it doesn’t seem to matter which comes first. The idea for Mypodnotes found me, but if you’re itching to build something of your own stop thinking up solutions to problems that don’t exist, and answer the following questions:
What’s a problem that many people have?
What’s the solution?
How can I help these people solve their problem?
Think of as many problems as you can from your own life, and then ask your friends about anything that bothers them or wait for them to complain about it on Twitter. In the beginning it might be difficult to come up with ideas, but after you train your mind to think in this framework you’ll spot new opportunities everywhere.
When to commit
The bar for side projects is much lower, since resources can be restricted and failure doesn’t dramatically impact your life. So if you find an idea that intrigues you, go for it. This is an opportunity to get those creative juices flowing and learn some new skills.
Starting with a side project is also a good way to validate an idea if you have grander plans. If you’re unhappy at your full-time job, you don’t have to quit to find out if you’d be happier having your customers be your boss. I’m not a lawyer, but you should probably check your contract first to make sure there’s no conflicts so that you’ll have full ownership if you decide to leave.
After chatting about Mypodnotes with friends to gauge demand and the work involved, I found many people who were interested in Cliff’s Notes for podcasts. There just isn’t enough time to listen to every single episode, and no one likes to miss out. I also relate to people who remember key insights better by reading text over listening to audio. This was enough to take the side project seriously, but I only decided to fully commit to Mypodnotes once I saw actual traction on the blog.
It will take much longer for me to figure out a business model that works, but I’m in it for the long haul. All you need for building a company is time and determination, because you only fail when you give up on your idea.
How to name your business
The name Mypodnotes came to me randomly, and is pretty straightforward because that’s what appeals to me. Ignore the pressure to spend time searching for the perfect name, because you can always change it later on. Finding a name that’s unique and playful isn’t as crucial as making sure people can pronounce properly so that it catches on. Once you come up with a name, don’t get too attached to the spelling before you secure a domain and a Twitter handle. Try adding words like “The” and “App”, switching up vowels, or experimenting with new top level domains.
If you’ve ever heard of Lean Startup Machine workshops, then you know a business can start with a single piece of paper. Remember that when it’s time to create a website for your new idea. Instead of spending the next few months learning how to code, or figuring out WordPress.org again, I decided to go with Tumblr so I could focus on growing an audience for Mypodnotes. Your site is just a means to end, and the functionality you need to test an idea is usually offered by a third party platform. You can always build a custom site later on, when it’s time to scale. As you probably figured out, this section isn’t about how to magically create something out of thin air or how to hire a web developer. I’m a bootstrapped non-technical founder, so it’s all about distribution.
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.
My cousin is only 10 years old and has already learnt the difference between B2B and B2C marketing. It helps that both of her parents are marketing executives, but she still understands the real world much better than I did at her age. So the other night when she asked me what I actually do for a living, I could’ve either dumbed it down or told her straight up. Instead, I avoided the question. Like I always do with family.
I’ve been doing the same thing for over 7 years now, and still haven’t really talked about the details with my family. At first it was because the concept of a startup marketing consultant was so foreign, that every time I tried to explain the appeal of it I was asked why I don’t just go to a headhunter and get a real job. Then as online community management became more of a thing, no one could get over how I got paid to tweet let alone that there was more to startup marketing than posting social media updates.
The biggest hang up of it all was admitting that I was a marketer. If you’re hiding something from the people who love you and know you best, then you should ask yourself why are you ashamed of it. I could’ve been patient and explained that I helped new companies build communities around a product that makes those people’s lives better. I could’ve chatted about companies that failed even though they were valuable just because no one has ever heard of them. But any way I’d spin it, the word marketing would have to be included. This was difficult because for years I thought marketing would be the last field I’d end up in.
Growing up I wanted to be a designer or an artist of some sort. I was very vocal about how marketing was evil and manipulative. Creating value was much more important to me than making people believe something that may or may not be true. Many people still think marketing and sales are evil, but that’s just a generalization that can be true within any field. Trying to help incredibly talented creators share their ideas with the world can be done ethically, and there are tons of non-spammy marketers out there committed to figuring out how to reach the right people with the right solution to their problem. It took me years to learn this, and even longer to publicly stand up for marketing.
The only way for me to confidently talk about my work is by swallowing my pride and admitting I was wrong. Out loud.
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
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.
FreshBooks’ bio features a succinct tagline, consistent with their other social media accounts. Seeing as many Twitter users reach out to brands for a quick answer, FreshBooks invite inquiries within their bio and assures users that they are available and ready to respond. FreshBooks also proudly displays their location and tracks clicks from the url. A shortened link tends to discourage clicks, but a referral link is a great way to measure how many signups are generated through Twitter.
Twitter’s profile pictures are pretty small, and appear even smaller in the feed. Instead of the FreshBooks’ text logo, their profile picture is of the green leaf which also appears as the favicon on the FreshBooks website. The green leaf is quickly recognized, and the full logo appears on FreshBooks’ customized background image.
The custom background image includes additional information that could not fit within the bio. The information is presented in bullet-points, and doesn’t showcase a list of unclickable links. Twitter users viewing the account on the web might have different screen sizes, which often affect custom backgrounds negatively. However, FreshBooks took the time to match the background colour to their branding. Upon a closer look, their header and link colour are also the same blue.
In addition to tracking their website link in the bio, FreshBooks also uses Bit.ly to measure the performance of their individual tweets. Identifying the type of information that your followers prefer can help you plan an effective content strategy and in turn offer superior value to your audience. Bit.ly, Buffer, and similar third-party services, can also inform you of the best frequency and time for updates in order to maximize results.
FreshBooks has a deep understanding of their audience and shares valuable updates, however, they all seems to be from the company blog. Twitter can be a great tool for driving traffic to your own site, but the focus should be on listening. Monitoring relevant keywords, and influential accounts, can serve as a source of quality content and better position FreshBooks as a leader within the space. Freelancers and small business owners are undeniably interested in FreshBooks’ advice, but they will benefit even more from a variety of expert sources.
Twitter is known for delivering real-time news to users, and often the first place customers visit when they encounter technical difficulties. FreshBooks alerts their followers of any downtime through updates marked with the hashtag #status. Assuring customers that the issue is being taken care of minimizes the pain of the outage as well as the volume of individual complaints.
In their bio, FreshBooks states that the team is available for assistance directly on Twitter. FreshBooks delivers on their promise and provides users with superior customer service. In addition to actually responding to inquires, and those @mentioning the brand, the team does so promptly. The one thing that can be done better is follow-ups. Once an issue has been resolved or passed on, be sure to check back with the individual to make sure everything worked out.
FreshBooks taps into an existing community of small business owners and professionals by engaging with Twitter users through the hashtag #smallbiz. The use of hashtags can increase the reach of each tweet, resulting in additional RTs, favourites, and @mentions. Instead of only using the hashtag to push relevant content, another way to boost engagement would be to interact with top contributors.
FreshBooks has created several lists within Twitter to organize relevant accounts, which can help the brand better retweet and engage with others. Retweeting other Twitter users provides followers with a variety of information sources, leads to increased discussion, and may even result in people returning the favour. Twitter also allows for private lists that may be used to observe competitors’ best practices and reach out to their followers.
While scrolling through FreshBooks’ tweets, it was apparent that they have not shared any images for the past couple of months. Multimedia is highly engaging, as seen by the response to a recent SlideShare update (below). Different forms of content can help brands better tell a story as well as enable your company account to better connect with followers on a personal level. In addition to positioning FreshBooks as approachable, visually appealing content is highly memorable and often leads to increased word-of-mouth.
FreshBooks makes the most of their bio and highlights their commitment to customer service. Due to the past-paced nature of Twitter, be prepared to provide prompt support, as users will expect it regardless of your brand’s promise. This can be a blessing, as a simple reply recognizing the issue will delight your customers.
Be sure to create a profile picture, header, and background that are consistent with your site’s branding, but also be mindful of Twitter’s specific limitations. In addition, don’t expect links in your background image to have an impact as people will rarely take the time to type a url into their address bar.
FreshBooks has successfully grown their account over the past years; however, conversion can be improved by spending more time proactively interacting with others. Monitoring keywords and trends can help brands share timely content, and have memorable discussions that will result in higher customer satisfaction as well as customer acquisition.
If you’re interested in uncovering your company’s social media strengths and weaknesses, please contact me here.