Leveraging Lean Analytics with social media monitoring (Guest post)

Posted on March 22nd, 2013 by John Nicholson

(This guest post was written by Ashley Verrill of Software Advice.)

It turns out the old adage “if you build it, they will come,” shouldn’t always apply to starting a business, or at least that’s what entrepreneur Alistair Croll would argue.

The Solve for Interesting founder and “Lean Analytics” author explained why this business model has it backwards during a Q&A video we shot at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival. Software Advice regularly reviews business intelligence and social media technologies, so we wanted to find out from Alistair how we could leverage these tools using the “Lean Analytics” concept.

“It should be ‘if they come, you will build it,’” he said.

Essentially, Croll suggests that companies test the riskiest part of their business idea first and fine-tune that concept, before they dump a bunch of money to build it out.

“Companies don’t know what they’re going to be when they grow-up, so until you’ve reached that point where you figure out what product you are selling to what market, the product is not the thing you sell, it’s the tool to find out what business you are in.”

To test an idea, Alistair said companies should identify one metric that matters most to the business — whether that’s site visitors, clicks or conversions — then leverage social and other data to test that metric against the most primitive version of your idea.

Seeing whether or not the needle moves, will tell you whether the risk in that idea is worth taking. Based on that response, you can make further changes and test again, then follow the same process until the right model is identified.

To describe how this works in practice, Croll cited the example of Airbnb’s professional photography. The rental-by-owner startup was growing fast, but still felt it could do better. So the founders came up with a hypothesis: if the rental properties had better, professionally-taken photos, they’d be rented more.

So the team created a curated “minimum viable product”—basically the very least they needed to do to try out the idea. They created something that looked like an actual feature, but behind the scenes, much of the work was done manually.

Then they analyzed the difference in rental rates between properties with professional photos and those without. As it turned out, those with better photos rented two to three times as much. Since their theory was proven by the data, they made it a part of the product, added more features to it, and hired full-time photographers.

Most investors’ concerns these days are less about whether you can build something—they probably believe you can—and more about whether anyone will care. By identifying the riskiest part of the business (which is usually whether you can garner sufficient attention) and then running experiments to overcome that risk, you’re much more likely to build a successful business and raise capital for your startup.


Ashley Verrill is a market analyst at Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.


Wanted: social media intern

Posted on August 11th, 2011 by John Nicholson

Know any college students interested in marketing or social media?  Please send them the job description below!


Marketade, an internet marketing and web development consultancy based in DC, is seeking 1-2 social media interns eager to gain real-world experience marketing companies through Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.

For each client we assign you to, you will play a key role in their social media efforts. Some of the things you’ll do are:

- Find informative articles and other content on the web and post about it on Twitter and Facebook
- Create Facebook pages from scratch
- Use Twitter search tools and techniques to find potential customers and engage in relevant conversations
- Think up ways to increase fans and followers
- Use social media tools to manage activities
- Use analytics tools to measure and report results

Some of the companies you might help:

- Home remodeler
- Regional gym chain
- Health care web app
- Food and beverage startup
- IT services company

We’re looking for someone who:

. . . can work remotely. We do have office space in the U Street corridor and we’d meet with you in person once in a while, but most of the time you’ll be telecommuting.
. . . likes working independently. This is a very hands-off role. We’ll give you guidance and goals, but for the most part we’re going to rely on you to make things happen.
. . . writes well and is not afraid of numbers.
. . . is passionate about social media marketing.
. . . is eager to gain real-world marketing experience and make a measurable impact.

The internship is unpaid, but the skills and experience you’ll pick up will be very valuable. Hours are flexible.

Interested? Please send your resume and a few sentences about why you’re interested to


How to respond to a negative review on Yelp: a quick case study

Posted on August 4th, 2011 by John Nicholson

A few weeks ago, one of our DC area clients received an extremely negative, 1-star review on Yelp.  This was worrisome because the company only has a few other reviews showing on its Yelp page — 2 of which are negative — and because its Yelp page ranks well on Google brand searches and gets a lot of traffic.

Within a couple weeks the customer of the 1-star review had removed it, and how this happened is a good case study in responding to negative reviews.  Here’s what we did:

1. Within a few hours we worked with the client company to craft and send a private response via Yelp.  The reviewer had gripes about the company’s lack of responsiveness to his inquiries.  The response, which came from a senior manager at the company, apologized authentically to the reviewer and thanked him for his feedback; this was in fact valuable feedback and we appreciated it.  The response then provided a number to call and requested that he respond with his number.

2. He responded within a day with his number.  The senior manager at the company called him a couple times and eventually connected, apologizing again and doing anything possible to help.  It turned out the reviewer didn’t need the company’s services, but he left the call with a much better impression.  The company did not ask the reviewer to change or remove the review.

3. We waited.

4. Within a day of the phone call, the reviewer removed the review and emailed the company via Yelp to say why he’d done so.

Notice that 1) in our initial contact, we did not respond publicly to the reviewer (as tempting as it was to do so), and 2) we did not push him to remove the review at any point in the process.  We first gave him a chance to decide to remove it himself.  What if he hadn’t removed it?  We might have reached out to him again via Yelp email after a week or two.  Or we might have replied publicly.  Or we might have done both.

For more on how to deal with negative Yelp reviews, see this blog post in the New York Times and this blog post on Yelp.


Guy Kawasaki’s social media tips

Posted on June 2nd, 2011 by John Nicholson

Last week I went to a half-day Guy Kawasaki seminar in northern VA put on by Hiscox and Entrepreneur Magazine.  The first half covered themes from his latest book Enchantment.  The second half was an in-depth look at how Guy uses social media.  It was a great seminar, and I left fired up to both read Enchantment and more aggressively use Facebook and (especially) Twitter for our clients.  Guy uses a lot of guerrilla-like social media tactics that I’ve cringed at in the past; hearing someone as credible and thoughtful as Guy articulate their benefits changed my perspective.

Here are some of my notes from the social media session, which focused on Twitter:

  • Use Google search to prospect for Twitter followers — i.e. to follow targeted people likely to follow you back — by focusing on keywords in their Twitter title and bio.   If you have a photography-related business, you could use these searches on Google: intitle:”photographer* on twitter” and intext:”bio * photographer”
  • Use Twitter search’s geo-targeting feature to prospect for followers and customers.  If your photo business is in DC zip code 20001, you could search for posts with “photography” within 25 miles with this search: “photography” near:”20001″ within:25mi
  • Twitter = link economy.  Facebook = photo economy.  In Guy’s experience, links to articles and other information work great on Twitter, but on Facebook, photos drive much more interaction than links and text posts.
  • When looking for useful articles to post on Twitter, rely on sites that aggregate top current articles by category.  Guy likes StumbleUpon, SmartBrief (human-curated), and Alltop.
  • Don’t use all 140 characters in your tweets.  Shorter tweets give people more room to add their own comments when they retweet or reply.
  • Use Twitter’s advanced search or search tools in other platforms like TweetDeck to monitor and respond to tweets about your company or related to your business.  Use filters to weed out retweets and other tweets that aren’t critical to monitor.
  • Promote your business or products when you “earn the right” with other relevant, engaging content (the NPR model).  Run promotional posts 5% of the time as a guideline.
  • Make Twitter responses personal.  Look at a person’s profile before responding and find something about them to incorporate.  This doesn’t take long and works much, much better than canned responses.
  • Quizzes are a great way to drive interaction on Facebook.
  • If you run a contest on Facebook (e.g. photo contest), use popularity to get the finalists, then manually pick the winner.  This avoids getting stuck with a lame winner who rigs the voting to get a prize.


Nielsen’s findings on college students and social media

Posted on March 4th, 2011 by John Nicholson

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen and team recently conducted a study on how college students use the Web.  There are a number of interesting takeaways from the research but the big one for me was that students aren’t as enraptured by social networking as most people think.

Yes, virtually all students keep one or more tabs permanently opened to social networking services like Facebook.  But that doesn’t mean they want everything to be social. Students associate Facebook and similar sites with private discussions, not with corporate marketing. When students want to learn about a company, university, government agency, or non-profit organization they turn to search engines to find that organization’s official website. They don’t look for the organization’s Facebook page. (emphasis added)


Urban Igloo case study

Posted on November 10th, 2010 by John Nicholson

DC apartment finder Urban Igloo was Marketade’s first real client, and we’ve had a great time growing with them.  We’re excited to share a case study that discusses some of the keys to success of our partnership. Here’s the summary:

Marketade worked with Urban Igloo, a DC apartment finder service, to implement an online strategy that drove a 900% increase in customer leads — in less than a year with no paid advertising. How? By acting like a partner, avoiding short cuts, engaging with outsiders, embracing metrics, and focusing on conversion.

Read the full case study here.


BusinessWeek on the growing demand for social media directors

Posted on August 16th, 2010 by John Nicholson

Last week’s BusinessWeek covers corporate America’s “rush” to hire social media directors:

Across the country, companies like Petco are going through a two-step process. First, they scramble to hire social media officers. Second, they figure out what it is, exactly, that social media officers do. Blending departments—promotion and marketing, customer service and support—and requiring the ability to be shameless boosters while maintaining a light, self-aware tone, the job category is experiencing a boomlet as companies try to keep up with the new media world. The chief social media officer may be supplanting the chief branding officer as the zaniest human resource innovation in memory.

These articles always make me cringe a bit, but you can’t blame big companies for wanting to be active in this space. Towards the end of the piece the topic of metrics comes up:

Metrics used to evaluate success in corporate social media might include: number of Tweets; number of re-Tweets (a Twitter message that’s resent by a follower); instances of “customer recovery,” in which an irate civilian is successfully mollified; an increase in the number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers; and the number of photos of your product that have been posted online.

What about website visits from Facebook and Twitter activity? Or leads or sales? Those seem much more relevant than number of Tweets.


NY Times small-business guide to using Facebook

Posted on November 12th, 2009 by John Nicholson

A few good tips from “How to Market Your Business With Facebook” from the NY Times:

  • Identify a short list of goals before you begin.

  • Show some personality in your page.

  • Don’t shill. Use your page to engage-and trust that sales will follow.

  • Use Facebook data to analyze your customer demographics.


Claim your Facebook username tonight

Posted on June 13th, 2009 by John Nicholson

Earlier this week Facebook announced that users will be able to claim usernames starting at tonight at midnight. If you’re a company with registered name, however, you can claim your Facebook now using this form. Why is this potentially important? Your FB username will serve as the last half of your FB URL, e.g.

It’s in Facebook’s interest to have these URLs appear high in the results for Google name searches, and for many of you, it’s in your interest to have your URL appear high when someone is searching for you. More from CNET here.


WSJ on Web 2.0 marketing

Posted on May 20th, 2009 by John Nicholson

If you’re venturing into social media, this article from the Wall Street Journal has a few good points to keep in mind.