Always New Mistakes

May 28, 2008

Twitter as a marketing tool

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 12:21 am

It’s been twice in a week that I’ve talked with Marketing and Communication people about using Twitter for their companies and the answer has always been NO. It really strikes me, specially because both companies are part of the Tech Industry, one of them is even a well known startup.

The response I always get about Twitter is: “We don’t use it because it’s only for early adopters and geeks“. While this has been the case until very recently, Twitter is gaining critical mass at an amazing pace. Just to throw some numbers, Twitter has a daily reach of approximately 0.1% according to Alexa. That means that 0.1% of the Internet users access Twitter each day. But, that’s not the only thing, according to Biz Stone the Twitter API gets 10x that traffic, bumping Twitter’s daily reach to a very nice 1.1%. Right now it has broken the early adopter barrier and you can start seeing a more general use of it by online users. That’s the reason I think it’s the best moment to start using Twitter as a Marketing tool.

Why is Twitter a Marketing tool? Because it allows persons and/or companies the following:

a) Give a human face to the company
b) Keep your customers up to date with the latest news of the company
c) Listen to your customers feedback
d) Interact one to one with your customers
e) Keep key influencers (tech gurus, bloggers, journalists, etc.) updated about your company
f) Brand tracking

Who should use Twitter as a Marketing tool? Not everybody of course. Twitter users have a tech profile, although this profile is being widened by other online non-tech users day by day. This is something that many old school marketers don’t grasp. Everyday the digital breach between the online and offline worlds is diminishing. Currently you can see baby boomers buying food, books or flights through the Internet. You can see them chating, emailing, commenting on forums or writing blogs. Some of them are real social network junkies. Marketers have to understand that the profile of an Internet user is becoming much more general than it used to be.

So, again, who should use Twitter as a Marketing tool? I would say that it should be used by anyone with a company that is related to the tech industry. That would be websites, blogs, newspapers, software vendors, hardware vendors, musicians, … hell, everyone that can make business through the Internet. Right now that is mostly everyone!

Why are people going to adopt Twitter? It’s very easy, Twitter is Free and Simple. The sophistication level needed to use Twitter is close to 0 for any single Internet user. It’s ease of use is one of its strongest points. Also, the need to be connected and to know what is happening in other people’s lives is something inherent to humans. Humans are curious by nature, Twitter lets you be curious about other people at a never seen scale. The best proof of this are social networks like Facebook. What’s the real value of a social network? Simple, stay connected with your friends, or in plain English, know what your friends are doing. In that sense Twitter is much simpler and faster than any social network out there. In my humble opinion, it’s just a matter of time before all the social network late adopters take over Twitter.

Finally, why do I say it’s now the best moment to start using Twitter? Well, Twitter, as what happens with blogs lets you build a big audience. And the key concept here is “build”. You can’t start using Twitter and expect a relevant audience of 10.000 users following your account. Why do I say relevant? There are many Twitter users which think that if they follow many people they’ll get followed in exchange and while it’s true that this happens (byproduct of our society, people feel bad if they are being followed but they don’t follow you back), these type of users aren’t really listening. That’s why, even though you can do that, you won’t build a relevant user base. Your messages won’t be read by the users you want. The funny part of this is that the people that follow thousands of users just to get more followers, are usually so called “Marketing experts“. That’s pretty ironic if you ask me, as they should know better. So trust me when I say that building a reliable audience on Twitter takes time and good, thoughtful messages. That’s why it’s important to start now, so that when Twitter goes mainstream your company has already a good number of followers. As they say, the more number of follower you have, the faster you’ll get new ones.

Any experience with Twitter and your company? Please share it with us! Are you a Twitter user already? Follow my Twitter user http://twitter.com/abarrera

UPDATE: I found a very good hands on example of using Twitter as a Marketing tool.

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April 3, 2008

Why forcing an entrepreneur into a big company is a mistake

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 3:16 pm

Lately I’ve been hearing many negative comments about creating startups and being an entrepreneur. Most of them can be reduced to: “You should work for a big, well know company and after several years you can go and start you own“. In my experience this idea is pretty widespread. I’ve heard it from my father, from my friends, from friends of friends, etc. The problem with it is that, ALL the persons that express this idea have a common characteristic: they are conservative.

The idea that working in a big company you have better odds of creating a successful startup is bullshit. There are no statistics for that. Even more, people like Paul Graham from Y Combinator recently wrote an essay precisely about this same issue:

We’ve now funded so many different types of founders that we have enough data to see patterns, and there seems to be no benefit from working for a big company. The people who’ve worked for a few years do seem better than the ones straight out of college, but only because they’re that much older.

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The three most common benefits I keep hearing about working in a big company are the following:

  • At a big company you’ll have the chance to get high profile contacts that might aid you when you go and create your own startup.

Contacts are of great help, everyone knows that by now, nevertheless, the idea that you’ll haveexecutive-talent.jpg better and more contacts working in a big company has no ground. First of all, to contact truly influential persons is, in general, way beyond a normal worker. You’ll need several years to reach a status within a company to get access to the management team or high profile executives. I’m pretty sure Apple employees can’t phone Steve Jobs or mail him at any time with total freedom. Even if this isn’t true (there are always exceptions), the psychological perception for many top executives is that they are better and you are worse, that they belong to the executive class and you don’t. This means that even if you can reach them, you won’t be seen as an equal and the true advantage of recommendations et al. will be diminished. Of course, there are always special cases, but we probably wouldn’t be talking about a BIG company then.

Secondly, contacts within a same company are pretty much endogamic. This means that, if you work as a beta tester, most of your friends and coworkers will be related to the beta testing environment. Reaching interesting and influential persons in other fields is much more difficult.

Finally, the rate at which you contact new people is determined by external factors like thewaiting4raise.jpg number of people in your department or how frequently you engage with other departments or clients. If we throw some numbers we get a glimpse of the big difference. I usually go to a couple of entrepreneur meetings per month. In average I meet 2 persons of interest for my startup at each meeting. That makes 4 good contacts each month. In the software industry (my field), projects usually take between 2 to 6 months on average (even more if it’s a huge project in a big company). During that period and if you are lucky you’ll meet an average of 3 persons (which might not even be good contacts) at the client. That means that for a 6 month project you’ll only meet 3 new persons and probably only 1 or even none will be of interest to you. Check that against 15-20 interesting persons in a 6 month period by yourself (and no, you can’t go to many entrepreneur meetings if you work at a big company). Although this estimates will also go down if you keep meeting with the same persons, it’s clear which rate is better. Please, as usual, takes these numbers with caution, they are very gross estimates and there are always exceptions.

  • Working in a big company you’ll get the change to work or see really big projects that employ huge resources. This vision will help you when working on your startup.

Nobody disagrees that you acquire very interesting experiences while working for a big company. Specially if you work with large teams. The problem is that when building a startup you won’t be managing huge teams or resources, you won’t (normally) need real-time critical systems either. You won’t even deal with a lot of clients at first. So, even though it’s a plus if you have the experience, it’s not critical, as a startup is NOT a big company.

  • Working in a big company will give you a good resume and it will be easier for you to find investors.

Good resumes are always good things. Specially if umbrella.jpgyou approach investors, your team’s resumes must be great. The problem is that many persons don’t differentiate between the team and the founders. An investor isn’t looking for a top notch programmer founder, they are looking for people with experience setting up companies, growing companies, selling companies. They are looking for people with a track record of not wasting money in useless things. They are looking for a true leader that is able to get the best out of his team. If you are also a top notch programmer then be it so. Working at a big company won’t get you more money from investors. VCs that invest on people only because they are ex-googlers or ex-yahoos are wrong and they’ll pay for it. That it’s harder to find investment if it’s your first time and you haven’t been working at a known company, true. Impossible to do it, false. Actually, most of the investments I see are to founders with not experience in big companies, just take a look at Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc.

So, in conclusion, from my point of view, there isn’t any competitive advantage in working on a big company. Actually for me it’s the opposite. Two years of inferno, with a tight leash around your creativity and without the freedom you’ve got in a startup. Worst of all is that the environment affects you in a negative way and it takes a while to get used to breath again. Finally, the years after graduation are the best to play the high risk game of creating a startup as people haven’t got so many financial debts (a house, a family, etc.). Wasting those precious years in a restrictive environment instead of changing the world is wrong.

Choose what YOU want and follow your gut. If you don’t feel comfortable at a company, take the time to think about what you really want. And most of all, don’t listen to those that try to project their own insecurity on to you, as that will only block your true feelings.

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As usual, everyone is invited to drop a comment. I would love to read what other entrepreneurs or big company guys think about this. It would be interesting to have a VC or an angel to comment on this issue as well.

Images: leakyfaucet.wordpress.com, legendsofhorror.org, lifedynamix.com, synergy.ralf.netmindz.net, interbgr.com

March 13, 2008

6 rules to get customer support right

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 2:03 pm

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Every single person that works in a business has been taught that customers come first. Nevertheless this simple piece of advice is, in my opinion, the most neglected one in a wide range of enterprises. Why this happens escapes my understanding. I remember when I was studying Marketing (yes, I’m a marketing computer scientist) we got banged really hard with: users, users, users (alas “developers, developers, developers” from the Steve Ballmer’s speech) but it seems not many people were listening that day.

I talk about this because I continually see entrepreneurs neglect the “users come first” motto. Customer or users are the most important part of any business, including web applications. I’ve highlighted several key point I think are worth noting:

  • Never, ever, under NO circumstances be disrespectful with your customers. This first point seems fairly easy, but in my experience, it’s the most recurrent failure in many businesses. The lack of respect and education is really broad. Even if the customer is wrong, being disrespectful is a no-no. First of all, being wrong is a subjective notion, and we have to always try to understand the user’s perspective. But even if a customer is truly wrong, we have to treat them in an educated way and swallow the bad moment. You can reduce this notion to: “The customer is ALWAYS right“. This brings me to the next point.
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  • Do not confront a customer. That’s bad PR, bad Marketing, bad everything. In the end you won’t getinsolence.jpg nothing out of a confrontation as the customer is already angry and if he isn’t, a confrontation is probably going to piss him off. Under this point I want to share two stories. The first one happened to my blogger friend Tom Raftery. Blueface’s CEO confronted him in a really nasty way. This case is even worse, not only are you attacking a former customer, but a prominent blogger with media exposure and it’s the CEO the one that is attacking him. Please bear in mind that the CEO and founders of a company are an extension of the company’s brand. Their personal brand is as important or more than the company’s, so do not engage in a confrontation, but even if you do, don’t expose the CEO or founders. The second story happened very recently at one of the South by Southwest‘s panels. It was during the Mark Zuckerberg’s interview by Sarah Lacy. I won’t get into the gory details, you can read those around, but there was something that really made me jump. At one point of the interview she confronted the audience in a very cocky way and said: “Try and do what I do for a living, it isn’t as easy as it looks“. From all points of view, even if she had a reason to say that, confronting a bored audience of geeks and developers is a really stupid move. Not only she didn’t accomplish anything, she probably made things worse with that attitude. So remember, if you ever feel the urge to yell and attack a customer (we all have been in that situation), refrain yourself, tell yourself you wont get nothing positive out of it.
  • Be transparent with your users. This point is probably more of a strategy to build a great brand, but I wished more companies did it. Yesterday I went to an event where they talked about the importance of personal branding. For the speaker, a brand is all about relevance, reliability and notoriety. When you are transparent with your users you increase the reliability perception of your brand. People tend to mystify companies and as such they tend to think that they are evil and that they only do things to gain big money. Being transparent brakes that notion and sets a human face to the company. For example, if Sarah Lacy had disclose that the reason she did the interview with Mark Zuckerberg the way she did was because of restrictions imposed by the organizers, maybe the audience wouldn’t have had their expectations so high. Evidently, a company can’t disclose strategic plans, but most of the time the can and in my opinion, they should. I know a lot of people that would be really happy if Twitter explained what is going on every time they are down.geek.jpg
  • Know your users. When someone starts a business, one of the first things they do is to make some market study and see which market niches they are after. You normally get a profile of the kind of user you are targeting. Strikingly, when dealing with customers and users, a company forgets all about this and treats them in a way that doesn’t makes sense with their profile. Come one, lets try to be coherent. If your target niche are geeks and developers, please, bare that in mind when you talk with your users. Communications flow in a much nicer way when you are in synchrony with your users.
  • Treat your users as adults. One thing really gets on my nerves is when you call customer support and they treat you like if you were completely retarded. Why do I have to tolerate that? I can understand that most of the calls a company gets might be from people with no clue of what they are asking, but extending that notion to all your user base is very dangerous. Please, treat your customers as adults, give them the benefit of being well educated and respectful persons. If you treat them as dumb, they will react as such. If you treat them as adults, some of them will hopefully react as adults.
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  • Ask your users in a regular manner. I just added this last point just to remindfeedback1.jpg everyone that user feedback is the best tool start-ups and even fully grown companies have to understand and measure their brand awareness and quality of their products. Always introduce feedback capabilities into all stages of your products. This is even true at an internal level. Introduce feedback systems into you internal procedures to review and understand what is happening inside your company. And of course, act consequently. There is no use in processing feedback if you don’t do anything with it. Listen, process, act and most importantly COMMUNICATE the changes the company made based on the feedback. Feedback is a two way tool. This last point relates to the one about being transparent.

Concluding, I think that most of the tips I wrote about are pretty straightforward. Nevertheless I can’t decide if companies choose to ignore them because they don’t think they are paramount or because they couldn’t care less. Anyway, if you are an entrepreneur and you are bootstrapping your start-up (as I am) include these best practices as soon as possible as it will pay off on the long run. As I love to eat my own dog food, I encourage everyone to leave a comment with their thoughts on the matter.

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