LearnDon't Let Your Baby Die – How to use Social Capital to Market Your Web App


writes on June 16, 2009

There’s a worryingly high web app mortality rate right now. I think the primary cause is the lack of marketing knowledge and how to apply it to web apps.

I spoke at FOWA Tour Leeds on this subject so I’m going to summarize the major points below for you. You can also watch the complete video which is synced with my slides.

Marketing has Changed Forever

As recently as one year ago, everyone worked hard at making sure their brand was portrayed in a positive light. The message was tightly controlled and as a customer, you had very little power to express your love or hatred of a product.

As you all know, that’s impossible now. You could spend $10,000 on banner advertising for your new web app, proclaiming it to be “The World’s Best Solution for XXXX”, only to be ripped apart on Facebook, Twitter and the blogs.

It’s not about advertising anymore. It’s all about Conversation and Empowerment.

Get the Conversation Started

All of us are cynical and disloyal. To be honest, I don’t really care what you tell me about your product. Let me try it out and I’ll decide what I think. Then I’ll probably Tweet about it. It’s what happens then, that really matters.

Are you there, ready and excited to enter into conversation with those folks? If they hate your product, it’s even more important you get in touch. If they love it, say hello and that you appreciate them spending their valuable time and effort using your app.

Here’s the key: Be a real, accessible, honest person. Don’t spin the truth or try to trick people.

We’re trying out CoTweet right now, and I really like it. Essentially, it allows everyone in the company to log in and see mentions of Carsonified or our products on Twitter, and respond accordingly. Everyone else in the company can see when tweets have been responded to and what was said. You can also ‘assign’ tweets to others on the team and see who’s ‘on duty’ and should be responding to tweets.

screengrab of cotweet screen

View full size

Empowering Your Users

The important thing to remember is this: No one cares about your company. They’re into their journey. Let me quote Kathy Sierra on this topic (it’s lengthy, but definitely worth the read):

… building community is both tricky and time-consuming. But if you’ll forgive me for using lolcatspeak– if it takes two years, “ur doin it wrong”. The painful, least-effective way to ‘build community’ is to hire a Community Manager who tries to connect users with the company. Far quicker/better to hire a “Director of Kicking Ass” whose sole job is to help users get better and better at whatever it is you can help them do, and to connect users to other users who share that passion and can help.

A look through Gary’s WineLibraryTV comments shows why he is so successful… it’s not because Gary is the guy everyone wants at their dinner party–it’s because he helps his *viewers* become the guy everyone wants at a dinner party.

Some community managers appear to have a strategy modeled after: “Get users to want to party with you.” More sustainable (and do-able) might be: “Give users a reason to party… *without you*”

Meetups and beer are awesome — especially when they’re about connecting users with other users. Our job as community builders is to not so much to connect with our users, but to give them more and more compelling reasons to connect with one another. And the best way to do that is through helping them learn and grow and ultimately–kick ass. The “at what?” doesn’t matter nearly as much.

I agree that the marketing budget could be far better spent on community–especially when community means putting the user–not the company–at the center of a passion-fueled ecosystem. Even things like openness/transparency matter *only* to the extent that they dramatically support (or potentially harm) our users’ ability to do whatever it is we’re helping them do.

Think about some of the things that truly make your life more interesting, engaging, productive, etc. — and most of us can find things where the product, service, support, user community is so damn useful that we really don’t even notice (let alone care) that the company isn’t “engaged”. In the end, we’re just not that into The Company. And a community manager that tries to change that is in for a long, painful, ultimately disappointing journey.

We are “into” our own journey, and any company that helps us do it–either directly through products/services that help us kick ass — or indirectly through sponsored community efforts that help us learn/grow/kick ass at something (even entirely unrelated)– will win our hearts. Excitement for a company/product is simply a wonderful side-effect of a company/product that helps us do something amazing. When a community manager makes passion for the company as a goal, two years or even ten will likely never be enough.

God I love this topic, Ryan. Thanks.

The Basics

There are number of analytics basics (we use Google Analytics) that you need to be doing when it comes to marketing your web app. If you’re not doing this stuff, then you’re just asking to fail:

  1. Measure your conversions religiously.
  2. A/B test every page on your site. 
Read bit.ly/ab-testing.
  3. Use words like ‘View prices & plans’ 
instead of ‘Free trial’.
  4. Visits should be increasing by 10% per month.
  5. Spend at least two hours a week on your analytics.

Building Social capital

We’re big fans of The Whuffie Factor here at Carsonified. Tara’s primary point is that the most powerful way to do marketing in this day and age is to build ‘social capital’. It’s a lot like Karma: do good and help others and it will come back to you.

Three amazing examples of this are Stack Overflow, Baby Centre and Wiggly Wiggler’s Wiggly Podcast (try to say that three times fast).

Screenshot of Stack Overflow website

Stack Overflow is a site where programmers can ask a question and other people answer it. The answers are voted on and the person who asks the question picks a ‘winner’.

Here’s the crazy thing: StackOverflow.com is getting 3.5 million unique visitors per month … and it only launched nine months ago. That’s right, nine measly months ago.

So what’s the catch, and what can we all learn from it?

Facilitating Ass Kicking

The simple reason why Stack Overflow is growing at an astronomical rate is this: It helps programmers kick ass – and they love the site for it. Here are just a few of the literally hundreds of Tweets declaring undying love for the site:

Stack Overflow is awesome. Period.

Stack Overflow is freaking awesome!

If you haven't already, check out Stack Overflow. It's awesome!

Stack Overflow is awesome. Posted a question and got tons of helpful advice in no time

And it goes on and on …

So what does Joel Spolsky, one of the founders of Stack Overflow, do with all of the social capital he’s building with the site? He’s using it to launch Stack Overflow DevDays, a one-day conference for developers (which we’re helping him with). He’s going to be speaking at every one, and he’s going to mention that they’ve just launched a new version of FogBugz, their bug-tracking web app.

All five cities quickly sold out (at the original 300 seats – we’ve since found bigger venues) and we’ve launched five more cities. It’s insane. The Stack Overflow audience is passionate, opinionated and most of all, powerful. I can guarantee you that the audience will be more than happy to hear about FogBugz because Joel has earned their respect and loyalty.

Baby Centre & Wiggly Wigglers Podcast

Two other great examples of sites that are building a huge amount of social capital are Baby Centre and Wiggly Wigglers.

Baby Centre is an amazing resource for Mothers and Fathers. It’s like the Stack Overflow for babies. So why are they putting so much time and effort into the site? Well, it’s owned by Johnson & Johson who sell baby-care products. I can guarantee that readers of Baby Centre are definitely going to check out J&J products next time they’re at the grocery store.

Wiggly Wigglers sell gardening products and they have a fabulous free podcast. It’s packed with tips, hints and opinion on gardening. It’s won several awards and is respected by a huge number of gardeners. Again, they’re building social capital, which will be cashed in next time you’re looking to order gardening products online.

So Now What?

I hope we’ve inspired you to think about how you can build social capital to market your web app. Please share your methods and ideas in the comments below!

The Video and Slides

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/grufnik

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If you enjoyed, this article, feel free to re-tweet it to let others know. Thanks, we appreciate it! 🙂


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0 Responses to “Don't Let Your Baby Die – How to use Social Capital to Market Your Web App”

  1. It’s really a great article, maybe sometime u want to share with me 🙂

  2. It’s posts like this that make me appreciate blogs so much. Your feed has a new subscriber! 😉

  3. Awesome post and some great examples with stackoverflow.
    When it comes to getting conversations started I think twitter is always the first suggestion on most peoples mind. Personally I'm not a twitter fan, I use a million other social platforms and just can't bring myself to include it as well. That being said, it can be done without twitter as well so I think for all of you who like myself are not active on twitter its important to remember that Ryan's suggestions can easily be implemented on any number of social platforms out there.

  4. @Ryan: Great topic! Most marketing agencies that were considered great are struggling with this paradigm shift; I interact with ad agencies with really creative ideas but they are almost always limited to TV, Radio or print. They are all about conveying a message. But as you said, social marketing is about conversations.

  5. I agree with you that today it is most important to develop a sense of community and social presence if one is attempting to market or influence potential clients on the web. People tend to trade with those that they have a relationship with and a warm lead is more likely to give referrals to you as well. Thank you for the insight.

  6. Yes i totally agree to the post. The marketing is going to a lot of changes and it is quite necessary to changes our strategy according to the market. So what is important now is to have good relation with your clients as relations if good can bear u fruits.

  7. discussions _about_ stackoverflow go on uservoice (http://stackoverflow.uservoice.com)

  8. Hey Ryan! This was a great read (as usual!) but one point in particular popped out at me: why do you recommend using “View prices & plans” over “Free Trial”? Is this based on your own conversion data or something else? I’ve been using the word Free partly because so many marketing books recommend it, but i’d love to hear your experiences.


  9. Thanks for this Ryan. Great article!

    Interestingly, StackOverflow actively prevent you from discussing StackOverflow on the site. There is also nowhere else provided to have a discussion. My personal opinion is that this is a mistake, but their figures are proving me wrong.

    The site they have built has a great dynamic due to the way they have built incentives for their users. Maybe keeping the focus on the answering of questions has helped make the site so popular?


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