Monthly Archives: February 2010

Nine tips on how to run a great social media campaigns

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To Grow a Company, You Need to be Good at Killing Things

The hardest thing to do at a company is to kill things

Homer Companies are all about building things, not destroying them. When your company is growing, you add lots of things to build the company: employees, investors, products, features, meetings, benefits, processes, reports, code, and more. 

While it does not come natural for a company (or any organization) to toss things out, every so often you need to look at everything and focus on getting rid of things that are no longer needed, important, or helping the company grow.

Timing is also important.  Recognizing and throwing out things is hard enough, but doing so early truly difficult. The biggest flaw of most CEOs (including myself) is that they don’t kill things fast enough (or ever). 

Maybe every company over a certain size should have a CKO – a Chief Killing Officer.   That person’s entire job would be to look at everything the company does and try to kill it. 

Being able to kill things early is essential to the long-term growth and success of any company. But recognizing that you should be searching for things to kill is the first step to building a better company. 


Long-term benefits of killing things quickly

•    Save time and money – Getting rid of something early enough can save a company countless hours of headaches and resources. This is especially important for startups that have both time and financial constraints. It can also be the difference a between thriving company and a dead one.

•    Renewed clarity and focus – By continually re-visiting the various facets of your company, you will streamline not only resources, but also overall goals and strategies since it will force you to weigh the various pros and cons of what you do now and how to prioritize efforts moving forward.

LicensedToKell Going for the Kill
Here are some areas that every company should review and clean up regularly:

•    Products – A company can only do so many things well. For example, PayPal is great business that makes it safe for people to buy goods and services online.  But they initially developed and kept a Palm Pilot beaming application and supported it for many years, way past when they should have killed it.  This does not mean you shouldn’t start things – you can start lots of new things as long as you kill them.  Google recognized this when they killed Google Answers in 2006.

•    Features – Your products may have features once thought to be important, but are no longer necessary or demanded by customers.  Slay them.

•    Code – Software code is worth re-visiting because they can be optimized after their initial implementation. Also, not reviewing code regularly can cause setbacks and long debugging hours after a lot more code has been written on top. Rapleaf holds “Sweepleaf” days semi-monthly where engineers do nothing but cleaned up and streamline code.

•    People – Check-in on employees at set intervals to look out for bad hires or people that are not adding the value they once were. Doing so can help guide people back on track and save a lot of headache later on.  Never settle for “average” people.  As Reed Hastings is famous for saying: adequate performance deserves a nice severance package. 

•    Meetings – As companies grows, so does the number of internal meetings. Internal meetings are important for communication and to make decisions, but some are legacy meetings that were created for a particular past purpose but are no longer massively beneficial. Strive to kill these meetings. Only keep meetings that are very beneficial to all attendees. There is also attendance creep in meetings where non-essential people are often in attendance. Focus on keeping meetings short, on topic, and with as few people as possible.  

•    Reports – Sometimes the CEO or a board member asks for a report and it keeps getting produced for years after it is valuable. Work to kill these reports, even if they are automated. 

•    Investors — Even investors and board members should be on the chopping block. Some early-stage investors don’t add much value as your company grows.  Buy these investors out — many of them will be happy to give up their stock for a decent return. 

•    Processes – Many internal processes (like performance reviews) are really useful.  But many of these processes that once were important can later be burdensome.  Slay these processes before they kill your company. 

•    HR practices – A lot of HR practices are vestiges of the past or should have never been implemented in the first place.  Try to kill all non-essential HR policies and practices as these can be cancers which can turn your company from a fast moving start-up to a bureaucratic maze.  One of the first things to look at is all the forms a new employee has to fill out.   

You might be thinking “wow, we’re really in bad shape because we are really terrible at killing things.”  You’re not in as bad of shape as you think because very few companies are actually good at killing things.  So just by recognizing that this is important, you’ll have a leg up on many of your competitors.  

As your company grows, you’ll have more things – both big and small – that either weigh down growth or are not core to long-term success. The companies that work proactively to get rid of these issues and devote resources to the areas that matter are the ones that will be able to remain nimble, innovative, and win.

Special thanks to Michael Hsu for his thoughts and edits. 

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Random Idea: Putting Product Names and Model Numbers on Accessory Products

Two years ago, I bought a headset for my phone — I finally found one that works.  It worked great!   Then, one day, I dropped it and it broke — so I had go buy a new one.  However, I forgot the model number of the headset and for some odd reason the information was not actually written on the headset.  You would think that the company would print it on the headset so I could tell my friends about it, etc.  Maybe even print the web site in small type.  But no — the headset just had a few weird characters.

Luckily, I remembered I bought the headset on Amazon and Amazon captures the complete history of all my transactions — so I was able to find it and reorder it (which is another great thing about Amazon).

I have a little laptop sleeve that I love.  One of my friends was admiring it and wanted to buy one but, amazingly enough, there is no brand on the sleeve anywhere.

For those manufacturers of cords, accessories, and more: please brand it with the make and model.  The little things (in this case, really little) go a long way.

Friendships: the Not-so-secret Solution to Increased Customer Engagement

For consumer-facing companies, one of the most influential predictors of user engagement is user friend counts on your site.  Customers who have many friends also using your product tend to be significantly more involved and engaged than customers who have few or no friends supporting your company.

Learning from the Best
If you are trying to increase customer engagement, your number one priority should be to get them connected to other customers. The clearest examples of this are social networks and services that heavily rely on social networking. The success of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and social gaming companies like Zynga can all be traced to their ability to connect their users.

This seems fairly obvious: the more friends a user has, the more people he can interact with. And with these interactions comes updates, online activity, and overall higher engagement.

But friend connections work for much more than social media companies. In any scenario you want people to engage, it is important to build connections.  Retailers, travel sites, review sites, service-oriented companies, and others can all benefit from an increasing number of customers growing their friendships.

The Friend Curve

In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between friend count and engagement.

Through our working with dozens of social sites at Rapleaf, we’ve found that for users with little to no friend connections, engagement tends to be low.  However, as friend count increases, engagement also grows quickly before leveling off later (the elbow of the curve is generally between 3 and 25 friends). The reason the rate of engagement per friend (the slope of the curve) drops with high friend counts is because users with hundreds and thousands of friend connections only yield marginal value from having a few more friends.

Numbers are Important, but Speed Matters More

For consumer-facing social companies, your goal is to push users along the friend curve by helping them build, sustain, and improve the quality of friend connections.  And the faster you can get customers up this curve, the more engaged you can expect them to be.

In a recent analysis of the site engagement of new Facebook users, Mira Burke, Cameron Marlow, and Thomas Lento found that newcomers who built friendships faster were not only much more engaged, but engaged for far longer.

With that in mind, here are some steps you can take to increase user activity and retention rates quickly:

Ways to Build New User Friend Connections Quickly

•    Friend Acquisition Promotions

One way to help users build friendships is by offering them shareable discounts that increase in value based on the number of their friends that also sign up. This way, they get friends and more benefits while you get new customers and increased engagement and retention.

•    Email address book imports

Another way to find friends for new customers is to see who they’ve been in contact with.  Many social networks have used this to effectively help new sign ups connect with existing users.

•    Friend suggestions right after sign up (using services like Facebook Connect)

Instead of just finding online connections, the social graph of social networks may be better indicators of actual friendships. With Facebook Connect now allowing developers to import Facebook identities and friendships into external sites, connecting your users has never been easier.  (Circle of Moms, for instance, grew to nearly 1 million users in under 2 months leveraging Facebook Connect.)

•    External sources

For companies looking for friend connections in addition to Facebook, there are other services (like Rapleaf) that also allow social network friend connections to be imported and used in external sites.

Special thanks to Michael Hsu and Michael Hard for their edits.