Real Companies Using Social Media: 6rounds Creates Live Meeting Point for Friends Online

Real Companies Using Social Media: 6rounds Creates Live Meeting Point for Friends Online

This post is part of our series where we talk to real companies around the world to find out how they’re leveraging social media, how it has impacted their business, and what lessons they’ve learned. Today we’re talking with Natasha Shine, the Social Community and Marketing Manager of 6rounds.com, which is an interesting site to do free webcam chats. You can check them out at 6rounds.com or follow them on Twitter here.

Tell me a little about your company, what you do, how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, etc.

6rounds is a live meeting point, a video chat platform which incorporates real-time communication and interactive zones so that users can web cam chat and also do interactive activities together (such as watching videos, facebooking, playing games together, e-learning and much more). We launched in July and since then, were chosen to build one of the first six Google Wave extensions to be featured at their launch (and the only video chat extension). We’re currently in Beta and plan on having our public launch in the third quarter of 2010. 6rounds is the first product of GixOO Ltd, a company founded by two Israel entrepreneurs, Dany Fishel CEO and Ilan Leibovich COO. The team currently consists of 9 talented members and will be expanding in the upcoming weeks, with an additional three developers.

How much of your business comes from the web, either via social media or via traditional web?

Since we are a web based company and platform, all of our business comes from the web. In being a small start-up with limited resources, all of our marketing efforts are based on Social Media Marketing and online efforts.

When did you start engaging in social media?

From the beginning we realized the importance of social media and therefore have been implementing it as part of our marketing strategy since even before our launch.

Who manages your social media efforts?

Social Community and Marketing Manager Natasha Shine and COO Ilan Leibovich handle all of our social media efforts.

What networks are you active on?

Currently we are on several different networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Digg, StumbleUpon and Myspace.

Which have been the biggest drivers of business for you?

They have all brought us some degree of traffic. I think the most interactive of them all is Twitter; the moment anyone tweets about us, we have the ability of contacting them directly and conversing with them. Our reaction time is instantaneous.

What software tools or web apps do you use in your social media efforts?

Mostly the tools we use are for SEO (such as SEO Doctor and Rank Checker)

For your business, what makes social media different from other channels?

Social Media has changed the way marketers and companies market. It is more engaging and it doesn’t carry a one sided message. Unlike traditional marketing, social media builds a two-way communication stream between the company and its clients. Whether it be to give technical support, do promotions, inform it’s users or spread word of mouth, social media done right builds brand loyalty and a deeper connection and communication line.

What has been the most challenging part of dealing with social media?

Social Media is time consuming, there’s no time to rest. Once you start social media efforts you can never stop because if you ever stop communicating and corresponding to your community they will stop writing and reacting to you. If this happens then all your efforts have gone to waste.

What are your social media plans for 2010?

We wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises. In general though, we plan on continuing our efforts and focusing even harder on our communication through social media. We have just redesigned our blog, and through this and our social networks will be in full force.

Much thanks to Natasha for taking time to talk to us. Don’t forget to check out 6rounds.com and follow them on Twitter here. We’re always looking for interesting companies and individuals to talk to, so if you know of anyone that would like to be profiled, please contact us.

Bookmark and Share

Real Companies Using Social Media: RunPee Helps Your Bladder Enjoy the Movies

Real Companies Using Social Media: RunPee Helps Your Bladder Enjoy the Movies

This post is part of our series where we talk to real companies around the world to find out how they’re leveraging social media, how it has impacted their business, and what lessons they’ve learned. Today’s interview is with RunPee.com, which is an unusual website. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to talk to founder Dan Florio, who was gracious enough to answer my questions about the site and how social media has helped them grow. You can follow RunPee on Twitter here.

Tell me a little about your company, what you do, how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, etc.

The mission of RunPee.com is to help you enjoy your moviegoing experience and relieve your bladder at the same time. Every movie has a few scenes in there somewhere that aren’t crucial to the plot, or can be easily summed up for you on our site. It’s mostly me running the show. I had the idea and I’m a Flash Platform developer so I built the site and did the design myself and my wife, mother and sister help with watching movies to get peetimes. This is my first personal project and it’s been amazing to see it take off the way it has.

How much of your business comes from social media vs. via traditional web?

Social web is huge for us. After Google, Facebook supplies the most visitors to our site. And I keep a Twitter search going for “RunPee” in TweetDeck and the stream is pretty good. Probably hit somewhere between 10-30 tweets a day of people just saying how much they love RunPee. I’m really happy that I almost never see anything but positive comments.

When did you start engaging in social media?

I signed up for Twitter back in Feb, 2007 – @polyGeek. I’ve been a steady user ever since.

Who manages your social media efforts?

Me and my wife.

What networks are you active on?

Twitter is an hourly thing. I’m online a LOT and anytime someone @s me I know about it. I always respond when appropriate. A lot of people are overjoyed that I actually engage with them.

Which have been the biggest drivers of business for you?

Probably blogs. RunPee has been written about on pretty much every major tech blog. Cover of Yahoo, MSN, etc. And every time that happens the social web comes alive.

Describe any customer interactions that stick out in your mind

There have been many but one that sticks out came shortly after RunPee.com became popular. A kid tweeted that he was pissed off that the RunPee site was 100% Flash. I tweeted back to him that I’m a Flash developer and wouldn’t know any other way to make the site. We tweeted back and forth a few times. He was really amazed that I was talking with him. There’s always the feeling that the people that make things like this are behind many layers and never communicate through them. Eventually he mentioned that there was a feature that he thought could be improved – how fast the synopsis was de-scrambled. That was an easy fix so I sped it up and uploaded the change to the public site. Then I tweeted back to him that I changed it. This all took no more than 15 minutes from the first tweet and now he’s a huge RunPee fan. He tells his family and friends about us. He even gave me my Google Wave invite.

What software tools or web apps do you use in your social media efforts?

TweetDeck and Twhirl are always running.

For your business, what makes social media different from other channels?

It’s more engaging. People find it very easy to communicate via Twitter and they don’t hesitate to ask me questions or offer advice. Even if Twitter hadn’t increased my revenue one dime it would still be worth the time and effort because it’s fun but mostly because I get so many ideas from it.

What has been the most challenging part of dealing with social media?

Occasionally just keeping up with it can be a challenge. Most of the time it’s pretty steady.

What are your social media plans for 2010?

I’ve just recently integrated tools in the app to encourage people to Tweet/Share on Facebook, Digg, Stumble, etc. That has picked up the conversation quite a bit. I can track exactly how many times each is used. And it also reminds people to talk about RunPee.

I really appreciate Dan taking time away from saving the world’s bladders to talk with us. Don’t forget to check out RunPee.com and follow them on Twitter. We’re always looking for interesting companies and individuals to talk to, so if you know of anyone that would like to be profiled, please contact us.

Bookmark and Share

Real Companies Using Social Media: Chrometa on Twitter, LinkedIn, and the Phone

Real Companies Using Social Media: Chrometa on Twitter, LinkedIn, and the Phone

chrometa founders

This post is part of our series where we talk to real companies around the world to find out how they’re leveraging social media, how it has impacted their business, and what lessons they’ve learned. Today, our interview is with Chrometa cofounder Brett Owens, who has some great insight regarding which “social media” channels offer great ROI. You can keep up with Chrometa on their blog, LinkedIn group, or follow them on Twitter here.

Tell me a little about your company, what you do, how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, etc.

We make software that helps people account for their time…it’s basically time tracking software that does all the work for you. Most of our customers are professionals who bill hourly – like lawyers – who need to account for their time down to the minute. We founded the company about 2 and 1/2 years ago. We have 3 full-time employees, and several part-time team members that help us out in varying capacities.

How much of your business comes from the web, either via social media or via traditional web?

100% of our business comes from the web – more of it comes from traditional web, but a decent portion will come from coverage we’ve received on blogs, which would fall under the social media category I believe…even though some will say blogs are “soooo 2005″!

When did you start engaging in social media?

When we launched our 1st release in early 2009, we started getting active in social media as a company.

Who manages your social media efforts?

I quarterback them, and our product manager, JP, is also quite active, so we’ve got a team effort going.

What networks are you active on?

We are probably most active on LinkedIn, where we have a User Group, in addition to our personal accounts and networks. We’re also pretty active on Twitter, both from a personal and corporate standpoint.

Which have been the biggest drivers of business for you?

Traditional web methods are by and large the biggest drivers for us. Users will usually find us after reading about us somewhere – often from an industry source such as a blog, email newsletter, etc – then they’ll hop over to our site and check us out.

Describe any customer interactions that stick out in your mind

We have a support practice that always floors people – when they send in a support question or issue, we usually pick up the phone and call them back to help them personally. They usually fall out of their chairs that a real person actually called them back, and when we’re able to help them, they are extremely appreciative.

So for us, an “old school” social media tool, the telephone, has been a great way to connect with customers. In fact we offer free phone support in addition to email support, because we want to encourage people to pick up the phone if they want to chat live with us.

What software tools or web apps do you use in your social media efforts?

We use TweetDeck to manage our Twitter action – we’ll always monitor what’s being said about Chrometa, as we like to participate in those conversations. And then we use LinkedIn’s website for managing our user group and connecting with our users who have an LI profile. For support, we love GetSatisfaction, and we encourage users to head over to our GetSatisfaction page to post questions, ideas, etc. Finally we have a WordPress powered blog, that we primarily use to communicate product info.

For your business, what makes social media different from other channels?

It’s more personal – social media is all about personality. And people who use social media are easier to get a hold of and communicate with – for example, it’s usually much easier to connect with a blogger, than a writer for a more traditional type of publication.

What has been the most challenging part of dealing with social media?

It’s easy to spend A LOT of time on social media, so it’s always a challenge to make sure that we are not spending too much time on social media without generating value from it. It’d be easy to spend all day staring at the Twitter streams!

What are your social media plans for 2010?

We’re going to continue to use our blog to communicate product updates and future enhancements…people seem to enjoy that use. And we’ll continue to grow our user group, with LinkedIn being the central source of that activity. Finally we plan to continue to use GetSatisfaction, both for community based support, but also for aggregating and keeping track of product feature requests and ideas.

Much thanks to Brett for taking the time to talk to us, and be sure to check out Chrometa’s blog, join the LinkedIn group, and follow them on Twitter. We’re always looking for interesting companies and individuals to talk to, so if you know of anyone that would like to be profiled, please contact us.

Bookmark and Share

Real Companies Using Social Media: Aquapac Dives Into the Conversation

Real Companies Using Social Media: Aquapac Dives Into the Conversation

Aquapac Kitesurfer

This post is part of our series where we talk to real companies around the world to find out how they’re leveraging social media, how it has impacted their business, and what lessons they’ve learned. Today, we’re talking to Tim Turnbull, CEO of Aquapac. You can keep up with Aquapac on Facebook or follow then on Twitter here.

Tell me a little about your company, what you do, how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, etc.

We’ve been in business since 1983. We make a range of innovative waterproof cases that not only protect your iPhone, camera, eBook, etc but also allow you to actually use the gear normally while it’s in the case. We make other kinds of 100% waterproof cases too, such as backpacks and drybags. We currently employ 14 people in London, half of them doing the manufacturing, and we have a director in Oyster Bay, NY who runs our US sales. Read more »

Bookmark and Share

Real Companies Using Social Media: How SmartyCard Makes Kids Smarter

Real Companies Using Social Media: How SmartyCard Makes Kids Smarter

A satisfied SmartyCard user

This is the first post in our new series where we talk to real companies around the world to find out how they’re leveraging social media, how it has impacted their business, and what lessons they’ve learned. Today, we’re talking to Aaron Burcell, VP of Marketing for SmartyCard. Aaron has some interesting insights about both social media and customer development and how they’re using it as part of their mission to provide kids with high-quality games that are both fun and educational. You can keep up with SmartyCard on their blog or follow SmartyCard on Twitter here.

Tell me a little about your company, what you do, how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, etc.

SmartyCard is a startup incubated within Gazillion Entertainment — same founders as Gazillion — less than 20 employees. SmartyCard is both a supplemental education games service AND a flexible virtual currency that empowers kids to earn and access family-friendly virtual worlds, MMOGs, games, books, toys, DVDs and downloadable media from well-known brands like Club Penguin, WebKinz, Nickelodeon Games and iTunes. Read more »

Bookmark and Share

New Series: How Real Companies Around the World Do Social Media

New Series: How Real Companies Around the World Do Social Media

We’ve been talking to a lot of businesses over the last six months about how they use social media and what it’s done for their business. We’ve learned a lot, from what products we should build to how we should market them. We thought it might be interesting to share some stories and interviews with these companies and others we’ve found along the way. We hear a lot about how Fortune 500 companies are using social media, and we hear a lot in the echo chamber of the web industry, but what about the rest of the world? What about the mom-and-pop diner in Iowa, or the machine shop in Delaware? What about the dive shop in Belize or the artisanal garment factory in Paris? How has social media impacted their world?

The companies and individuals we’ll be profiling and interviewing represent a broad spectrum of commercial activity, from freelancers to small firms to large corporations. They come from many different industries, including health, non-profits, media, telecommunications, and more. They have two things in common: they’ve had positive results working with social media, and they handle their social media in-house, instead of farming it out to an agency.

The first of the interviews will be posted next week and we hope you enjoy them. If your company would like to be profiled or you know of a company that would be interesting to interview, please contact us. Thanks!

PS – We’d especially love to hear from more companies based outside of the US!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Bookmark and Share

Transparency is Bullshit; We Don’t Want to See Everything

Transparency is Bullshit; We Don’t Want to See Everything

This post is a bit of a rant, and definitely not me revealing something clever or novel. We all know this to be true, but someone apparently needs to say it.

Everyone has a private life. Things they keep from their friends, their family, even their spouse. I won’t go into details here, but use your imagination :) The thing is, secrets aren’t always bad. Sometimes we need to keep a part of ourselves hidden. It might be because we’re not ready to talk about it, or perhaps because others aren’t ready to hear it. Or maybe we just want something that’s ours, without dealing with everything that comes from sharing it with others.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs on the subject of social media lately, and I’m getting incredibly tired of hearing about how businesses need to be “transparent”. I’m not sure who started this meme, but it needs to die. In business, as in life, true transparency is bad.

I know, it sounds terrible, like a machiavellian scheme to hoard secrets for the purpose of power, to cover wrongs and sins for the purpose of pride, but bear with me.

Some things should be open to your customers. When you screw up, you should admit it openly and honestly, and what you’re doing to fix it. And it’s a great idea to have conversations with your markets about what their needs are and how you might be able to fulfill them. Most importantly, you should reveal things to your customers that they have a right to know, such as your return policies or how you handle their private data, or whether your product has certain shortcomings. But revealing too much about your business carries enormous risks:

1. It opens you up to liability – The sad truth is that we live in an increasingly litigious society, and even if you’re wrongfully sued and you end up winning, you’ll still spend an enormous amount of time, money, and attention defending yourself. And there are always lowlifes out there looking for reasons to sue, hoping for a quick settlement. Don’t give them more ammunition.

2. It’s highly likely to be misunderstood and damage your brand – This one will probably be controversial, but it’s my belief that customers don’t need (or often want) to know everything. Your strategic plans, financials, and other sensitive data are at best distractions, and at worst can turn customer sentiment against you. What if your product has 70% profit margins? That’s great for you, but a previously satisfied customers may now feel that you’re gouging them.

3. You risk divulging trade secrets to watching competitors – The barriers to entry for many industries keep dropping, making it easier for competitors to enter your market. Why help them out even more by telling them why it’s a great market and how to win in it?

Tell me this, how transparent are Apple, Google, and Microsoft? Do you know all about the inner workings? Do they let anyone in the company speak about anything they want at any time? Do you know what their plans are for the next year? Of course not, and ultimately, most people don’t care. They don’t care because those companies deliver. And that’s the real catch with transparency. The risks are enormous, but the advantages are few. If you deliver a great product or service and good customer experience, your customers won’t care if you’re secretive. But if you deliver crap, no amount of transparency will save you.

A great example of this principle occurred last year where a blogger wrote a post about how the website for American Airlines sucks, and an AA employee was allegedly fired for talking to the blogger about the internals of the company and how they had tried to improve the website, but bureaucracy prevailed. The social media folks generally came down pretty hard on AA for this, which is understandable given the slant of the story, but the reality is that AA has a brand to protect and transparency in this case would do nothing but harm the brand. Yes, their website sucks. But there are three classes of users of that website out there:

a) the ones who like it
b) the ones who hate it
c) the ones who don’t care

By revealing that there are factions inside AA that dislike the site and are trying unsuccessfully to improve the site, what is the effect on those groups? Group A, the satisfied customers, are likely to now be less satisfied. Group B, the ones who hate it, are now probably even more upset at AA because they can’t get their act together. And Group C either still doesn’t care, or now dislikes the site and the company as well because of this fiasco. So AA did the rational thing and fired the guy for breaching his NDA in promotion of transparency.

It may sound like I’m advocating companies firing folks to stay opaque, but that’s not my point. My point is that AA has not delivered a great product, so transparency in this case actually makes the situation *worse*. And if they had delivered a great product, we would never be having this conversation in the first place and no one would care whether they’re transparent or not.

There’s a limit to transparency, and going beyond that limit is incredibly foolish. I think our goal should instead be translucency.

Translucency says that I have enough respect for myself and my customers to know that they (and my competitors) don’t need to know some things.

Translucency values longevity and competitive advantage. Customers aren’t served by my company going under.

Translucency is ultimately about having a two-way relationship of trust, where your customers believe that they have the relevant information and that you’re not trying to mislead them. The subtle assumption behind too much transparency is that your brand or company can’t be trusted, so you should reveal everything.

Translucency is about honesty, and having the confidence that your brand represents enough goodwill that your customers will trust that what you’re telling them is what they need to know. That trust is difficult to build and maintain, but worth its weight in gold. Translucency is hard, but sustainable.

Transparency is just bullshit.

Photo by NataliaEnvy

Bookmark and Share

What Did the Tortoise Believe In?

What Did the Tortoise Believe In?

There’s a personal finance blog that I enjoy reading called “Get Rich Slowly“. The name reminds me that like the goal of building a startup, the goal of building wealth is a difficult one that may take many years before it comes to fruition. A couple of unrelated blog posts I read today got me thinking about this subject and how startups can take practical steps to win in the long run:

1. Find something to believe in - Tony Wright of RescueTime wrote this fantastic post about how startups have to offer a lot of intangible benefits to retain great talent, but the greatest one that can be offered is a mission that inspires people.

But what if you’re not trying to change the world? I think that’s ok, as long as you’re doing something you care about or believe in. For example, my neighbors are opening a cookie shop. They’ve been baking incredible cookies for years and after a lot of hard work and perseverance, they’re finally fulfilling their dream of opening a shop. I’m sure they’ll be successful, because they’ve already demonstrated that they have the tenacity to keep their dream moving forward over the long-term.

There are a lot of great companies that are doing something very important in a non-world-changing-space, but Zappos is one of my favorites. Zappos started as an online shoe company, but they’ve grown into a thriving organization that believes that its mission in life is to “deliver happiness”. That’s an incredible brand, and one that can prompt people to sacrifice a lot to be part of it. I can’t wait to see what kinds of things Zappos does with such a powerful brand.

2. Remember that large successes begin with small stepsNate at Inkling Markets writes about how great things are the result of patience and discipline. 37 Signals is another great success story here, as they spent a decade slowly building their brand, their beliefs, and their skills, all of which enabled them to blow up over the last few years. But without having plodded along day-in and day-out for all those years, they wouldn’t be what they are today. It’s always humorous when someone dismisses them as being successful just because they have a popular blog. Well, how do you think they got that blog? They didn’t inherit it; they built it over the course of years.

Another of my favorite stories in this area is Carbonmade. You can read more about their journey here, but essentially they spent years just taking small baby steps towards (and occasionally away from) their goal and now they have hundreds of thousands of active users. Of course, there are tons of other stories of startups like this who have quietly built something very impressive without giving up (we’d love to hear them, btw).

The bottom line is that entrepreneurship is very difficult at times, but it’s been enormously helpful for us to keep watching those who have come before us and learn from them, manage our expectations, and just keep walking.

Photo by Leo Reynolds

Bookmark and Share

Got Customers, Part 2: The One in Which We Save the Startup but Lose Our Souls

Got Customers, Part 2: The One in Which We Save the Startup but Lose Our Souls

A couple months ago, I wrote about how we built MightyBrand without ever talking to potential customers about what we were building and whether they’d use it. Fortunately, a wise advisor offered us the cure of Customer Development before the disease was terminal (that’s what great advisors do for you!). So off we went.

Our advisor was actually very active in this area for us as well, both talking to people he knew about our product and connecting us with other companies who might be potential users of our service.

The big conclusion we got from the customer development process were that most companies were far too early in their social media marketing efforts to need a dedicated monitoring solution.

Shit.

However, as we continued to research, we found a bright spot: agencies. Marketing and PR agencies were actively looking for a solution like ours, really liked our product, and had money to spend on it. In fact, we consistently got feedback from agencies that we were charging too little relative to the other options in the market.

Elated at having finally identified a set of eager customers willing to pay for our service, we set to adapting our product to their needs and pursuing deals. Over the next month or two, we landed a couple decent sized agreements and were well on our way to being profitable before the end of the year.

During this time, we started seeing a few things about our new direction that concerned us, but we were following the Customer Development playbook to the letter, so we pressed on.

However, it was right around this time that Ben flew out to San Francisco (he lives in CO) and we sat down to do something important that we had neglected up to this point: figure out our mission and values. Ben and I have very strong beliefs about business and what we want this company to be. We’ve been very strongly influenced by the Virgin empire and what Richard Branson has created. We felt that it was important to define our own vision and commit it to paper. Over the course of a week, we spent time talking about the future and discussing what we want to grow this company into. I’ll talk more in-depth later about what mission and values we came up with, but suffice it to say for now that we’re passionate about helping companies create authentic and personal connections with their customers.

Having come to some valuable conclusions during this process, Ben flew back to CO and we went back to work on landing deals with agencies. It took us a few days to figure it out, but we finally realized that what we were doing was pretty much in direct contradiction with the mission and core beliefs we had just come up with. Here’s why:

  • As you can imagine from our name, creating a strong brand is very important to us. But we were creating white-label platforms for the agencies, which means our brand was effectively invisible.
  • Our passion is to especially help small businesses and startups learn how to use social media to engage with their customers. We started the company because the existing players were way too expensive for small companies. Raising our prices to match the market price took away a lot of what made us special.
  • I’ll have a lot more to say about this later, but we fundamentally disagree with the agency approach to social media, and what agencies are doing to the medium. Our passion is helping companies connect directly with their customers, not helping agencies convince companies to outsource that connection to them.

Having realized this, we spent a couple days talking about it, and we decided to immediately shift our strategy to reflect our mission, which meant a) no more deals with agencies, and b) examining our pricing and product features to ensure that we’re headed in the right direction. We also changed our Customer Development efforts to be more focused and targeted so that the information we’re getting informs our mission, rather than flailing about with no purpose. We’ve spent the last few months making some large changes to better reflect both our mission and the lessons we’ve learned from our ongoing Customer Development efforts. We hope they pay off, but at the end of the day, our big realization was that we’d rather try and build something we believe in and fail than build something shitty that makes money. YMMV.

One of the common comparisons I hear is between Customer Development and “vision-driven” development. But after our experience, I’m not sure that these have to be in conflict. Customer Development is an incredibly valuable tool for learning *how* to build your company so that customers want what you’re selling, but it can’t tell you the *why*. It can’t give you the heart and soul of your company for you. It can’t tell you what you care enough about to make the sacrifices you’ll have to make. And it can’t tell you what will make you happy if you had to do it for free.

Only you can do that.

Image thanks to Al_fred

Bookmark and Share

Can citizens love the government?

Can citizens love the government?

I just wrote a guest post over on GovFresh.com about the idea of citizens being as passionate about their government as consumers are about Apple or Google. In the post, I explored the lessons of customer development and how they might be applied in the context of government as a kind of “citizen development” model. It’s my belief that social media offers a unique opportunity for governments to engage with their constituencies in a direct and scalable way. The result will be better services and products, more efficiency, better customer service, and a much better relationship between governments and citizens. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Four Steps to the (Gov 2.0) Epiphany: Better Government Through Citizen Development

Disclosure: The founder of GovFresh.com is a personal friend and I helped him create the first version of it, but I have no financial interest in the site.

US Capitol Building image by David Iliff

Bookmark and Share