Revolutionary Measures

Generating a network effect – why WhatsApp is worth $19 billion

As I’ve said before, the technical side of creating a new social network is relatively easy – and nowadays with cloud computing you have fast, cost-effective access to the resources you need to scale it in line with demand.

Diagram showing the network effect in a few si...

But how do you create the demand – for your social network or any other service in today’s complex and fast-moving world? Essentially you rely on the network effect – the fact that the more people use a service, the more valuable it becomes to each user. A classic example is the telephone. If one person is connected, it is worthless, but add more users and the positive effects increase dramatically – you actually have someone to call. It can also drive lock-in – if 80% of businesses use Microsoft Office there are compatibility issues for those that don’t, but who want to share documents with them.

Social networks are a classic example of the network effect in action – the bigger Facebook gets, the more people are on it who you know and supposedly want to communicate with. WhatsApp is another. It has built a base of 450 million users – 70% of whom are active on a daily basis. And as it allows free texts to be sent between users (and doesn’t cost to join for the first year), why wouldn’t you sign up to message your friends? No wonder it is predicted to hit the billion user mark in the relatively near future.

So how do you create the network effect and catapult your startup into the $19 billion bracket? There are six things I think are necessary

1              Word of Mouth
Obviously people have to know about your network or service, but traditional PR and marketing can only take you so far. What you need is people to recommend it to their friends, so start by researching and targeting the nodes of networks (i.e. those with lots of connections). If they join then their followers will as well. Approach these people and maybe even make them brand ambassadors to get them onside.

2              It has to be different
In open markets there is no point trying to simply copy what is already out there – if people are already using a service, the alternative has to be different or substantially better, if they are going to join. What issues/problems do people have that you can solve? In the case of WhatsApp it is removing the cost of sending text messages, so there is a clear advantage of moving to the service.

3              Make it easy to use (and free)
An obvious one, but if people log on and have to navigate through a maze of functions when they join, they are going to be put off. From registration to ongoing use, make things simple for people. And you have to understand and appeal to a mainstream audience – test it out on real people, rather than early adopters and fellow geeks. An intuitive user experience and comprehensive online support, including video and how to guides are a must if you are to grow. Put it where people will use it – on their mobile devices as well as PCs. And the basic package has to be free if you want to recruit major numbers of people.

4              Make it compelling
Just getting people to join is the easy part – network effect relies on them actively using the service. LinkedIn had this problem a few years back. Everyone had joined, but no-one was logging on, unless they were actively looking for a job. It changed this by adding in compelling content that aims to drive you back to the site – from the thoughts of business leaders to seeing what your peers are doing. You need to create reasons that drive people back to your site on a daily or even more frequent basis if you are going to build a solid user base. 

5              Think global from the start
When it comes to tech and the web, you need to think global. Does your proposition work in Delhi as well as Derby? The wider the target market, the bigger the potential user base, provided you make it appealing to a worldwide audience. Even if your site is initially just in English, the user experience has to be understandable by non-native speakers. As things grow you should quickly add other languages, dependent on demand.

6              Keep evolving
Nothing stands still – since its acquisition, CEO Jan Koum has announced that WhatsApp will offer voice calls on its platform, putting it in direct competition with Skype and traditional telecoms companies. You need to add new services and functions to both keep momentum going, ensure users return regularly and to recruit new ones.

The success of WhatsApp demonstrates it is less about the technology, and more about generating network effect if you want to attract a lucrative exit. Is it worth $19 billion? If it can continue its growth, introduce new paying services and bolster Facebook’s own platform it might just be.

Enhanced by Zemanta

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media, Startup | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spam goes social

No-spam

Most of us are painfully aware of the amount of email spam out there. According to Kaspersky Lab, 70% of emails sent in Q2 2013 were spam – a rise of 4% over Q1. But as software gets better at detecting spam, particularly malicious emails, criminals are moving into the social world.

A separate survey by Nexgate found that social spam rocketed by 355% in the first half of the year, meaning that one in 200 social media posts is spam. 5% of social media apps are also spam, according to the research.

In many ways this is a logical development – better spam detection technology and heightened awareness mean that email is less effective at getting through to the gullible. With social media it is easier to reach a mass audience with a single tweet or post, and if you can unwittingly persuade people to share it, peer recommendation helps spread it even further and faster.

Essentially people need to apply the same levels of suspicion to social media as they do to other channels such as email – if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. And they also need to be careful what they say online. Cyber criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, harvesting information from social media (such as your children’s names or favourite football team) and using those to crack banking passwords. While this takes a lot longer than whacking out an email telling you your PayPal account has been limited, the rewards are potentially much greater, and there are plenty of people with the time and technology to build up enough of a profile to access your details.

So what should people be doing about it – and how can marketers make sure that their valuable and targeted communications reach the right audience and their brands don’t get hijacked? A lot of it is common sense. Don’t connect to people that you don’t know without checking them out and be careful what you share (and with whom). It is the 21st century equivalent of not leaving your wallet unattended or giving your address to strangers. Make sure you understand your privacy settings and bear in mind the default is normally set to open.

For marketers, there’s a double problem. Firstly, they need to increase engagement with target audiences so that their emails make it through spam filters in the first place (and even more importantly aren’t then deleted unread) and that they use the data available around the web to deliver insight into what customers want, without being accused of cyberstalking. And secondly, they need to protect their own brand against being hacked, particularly on social media. Who has the login details of your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages and are they regularly changed? What is your social media policy – and how do you ensure that all your staff protect their passwords when it comes to business networks such as LinkedIn? All it takes is one person at a multinational company to be hacked and their account used to send spam and your reputation is in serious trouble.

So, the moral of the story is, be vigilant and remember that your online presence is now responsible for the majority of your personal or corporate brand reputation. Protect it on social media like your wallet in real life or you’ll suffer the consequences.

 

 

 

 

October 2, 2013 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bringing Silicon Valley to the UK

Silicon Valley comes to the UK

Silicon Valley comes to the UK (Photo credit: Cabinet Office)

Looking out at an another chill autumnal morning, the lure of Silicon Valley’s sunshine is increasingly powerful. But there’s a lot more to the success of tech companies in the US than simply climate. The question is what is it and can we in the UK learn how to replicate that success here?

That’s one of the key missions of Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (SVC2UK), a programme of events across the UK that brings across leaders from US companies such as Google, LinkedIn and Facebook to help, nurture and assist local entrepreneurs and their companies. Originally a Cambridge event it has now spread across the UK, covering London and Oxford as well. The theme of this year’s programme is scale – addressing the fact that while the UK and US are pretty evenly matched when it comes to starting up businesses on a per capita basis, the UK’s scale up rate is less than half that of the US.

Another strand of the programme is looking to uncover the next generation of startups through intense bootcamp events. The most interesting one of these is the Future Business weekend being held in Oxford and running in collaboration with SVC2UK.

It is looking to build on the research strength of the UK by providing access to existing patented technologies and essentially allowing teams to generate new ideas and innovative businesses around them. It’s often said that not enough research makes it out of the lab, and the event aims to change this by taking scientific intellectual property and making it available, along with support and mentoring.

Held between 9-11 November the weekend will be run by the Oxford Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OxCEI) together with the Future Business Pre-Incubator (FBPI) and Silicon Valley Comes to UK (SVCUK). The aim is bring together entrepreneurs, scientists, technologists and mentors to generate ideas and new companies to take existing patented technology to market.

The event uses the proven Idea Transform methodology, which underpinned the extremely successful Idea Transform weekend in Cambridge back in April 2012, providing structure and support to teams through mentoring, team creation, inspiring speakers and networking. And the good news is that selected projects from the event will then be supported through the Future Business Pre-Incubator with access to facilities, resources and ongoing mentoring.

Silicon Valley Comes to the UK starts on 15th November with an event at the Houses of Parliament – to find out more visit the website at http://www.svc2uk.com/

Enhanced by Zemanta

November 7, 2012 Posted by | Cambridge, Startup | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social media and the sales funnel

Due to its massive growth companies are flocking to social media. In today’s world you can’t be a self-respecting marketer without a Facebook page, Twitter handle, YouTube channel, LinkedIn profile, blog, Pinterestboard etc.

facebook

facebook (Photo credit: sitmonkeysupreme)

This is all very well – social media provide a completely new channel that lets your brand interact with consumers in a genuine conversation. However there’s not a lot of thought (or rigour) going into the social media presence of a lot of companies. Some are simply chasing follower numbers, despite the fact that these can be easily bought and others are launching campaigns (like the Waitrose Twitter hashtag project) which seem doomed to attract only ridicule.

Companies need to take a step back and work out where social media is going to help them. If you’re selling a toilet cleaner is it worth having a Facebook page – will people really think it is cool to Like a bottle of bleach? It is time for marketers to put their puppyish enthusiasm to one side and look at some basic marketing and sales concepts.

When it comes to generating sales there’s a well recognised marketing acronym called AIDA, standing for:

  • Attention/Awareness – i.e. attracting the consumer
  • Interest – piquing their interest by focusing on benefits
  • Desire – making them want what you’ve got
  • Action – getting them to take a positive step such as purchase

Essentially lots of social media marketing is focusing on the first point, but doesn’t have a strategy to move people through the rest of the process. I think marketers are getting confused by the speed and accessibility of social media to think that you can skip the middle sections and go straight to Action. In some cases consumers do work like that – a tweet with a special offer on a new film/book/CD is a straightforward transaction, but these are the exception rather than the rule and merely replicate what you are doing through other channels.

Building interest and engagement with your brand takes time – you need to create a community, listen to your consumers and deliver sustained benefits to them. A money off voucher may be good for short term sales, but isn’t building long term loyalty (and who’s to say they wouldn’t have bought your product anyway?)

So marketers need to take a step back and ask themselves an honest question. Do consumers want to have a conversation either with or about your brand? Would they talk about it positively down the pub or is it just something that they buy because the toilet needs disinfecting? It could be that you don’t need that all singing, all dancing Facebook page and you should focus on other offline channels. Less sexy (and not as exciting on your CV) but there could well be better ways of connecting with consumers and driving sales.

MicroSocial?

There are a lot of people convinced that what the world needs is another social network. After all technically they’re pretty simple to set up and if half the world is on Facebook, there’s still plenty of opportunity to recruit members.

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

I’m being flippant, but in a week that saw Microsoft launch two forays into social networks, I think that’s time for a reality check in the area. To be fair to Microsoft, the mooted $1bn acquisition of social enterprise platform Yammer is a logical move. It means it can add collaboration and social network style features to Microsoft Office, helping tighten its grip on enterprise desktop software. Essentially it’s meeting the continuing corporate desire to help share information and enable collaboration that has been going on since the launch of Lotus Notes and intranets 20 years ago. So, social network yes, Facebook competitor no.

Microsoft’s other new social network So.cl is a lot more difficult to fathom. Described as ‘an experiment in open search’ it is designed to be a layer on existing social networks, with a particular focus on social search (something that Microsoft’s Bing search engine is also majoring on). All a bit confusing and really lacking a killer reason to sign up. I can only guess that successful bits of So.cl will be integrated into Windows Live and Bing – but that really relies on people using the service to test it and see if it works.

I’ve talked before about how any technology (including social networks) has to cross the chasm into the mainstream from early adopters if it is to be a lasting success. Another useful bit of business development thinking is that in mature markets there are essentially four positions to be in. You can be the market leader (Facebook), the follower (LinkedIn), the challenger (Google+) or successfully own a niche (such as Twitter). Outside these four it is difficult to build the scale you need to succeed as a decent sized social network – it really relies on getting people to sign up and use the service on an ongoing basis. As Apple has found with its Ping music social networking service, which is rumoured to be closing, brand name and access to a potential audience isn’t enough to get people to sign up.

So whether you are marketer or a social network startup take a good look at the business development textbooks before you launch and ask yourself does the world really need your social network?

Enhanced by Zemanta

June 18, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Farcebook and internet bubbles

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve found it difficult to watch the recent Facebook flotation, subsequent drop in share price and clamour of litigation without shouting “I TOLD YOU SO” at the top of my voice. Way before the flotation many analysts queried Facebook’s $100bn+ valuation given its relative lack of revenues but their voices were drowned in the hype. Just look at the number – with 1 billion users that’s a hefty premium per subscriber.

Obviously the growth statistics behind Facebook are impressive and there is still potential for it to grow in different areas around the world and by offering new services. But this is all potential rather than actual. A good comparison is Google – when it IPO’d in 2004 it had a valuation of $23 billion. Most of the services we now know Google for simply hadn’t been introduced, and the stock was priced according. Google has since increased its share value six-fold, giving it a market value of  $196 billion, helped by annual revenue of $39 billion.

There’s a decent chance that Facebook can ‘do a Google’ and monetise its users, probably through services that Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t even thought of yet. But equally it could languish in limbo in the same way as LinkedIn post-IPO without really demonstrating a vision for charging customers without losing them.

The bigger worry for me is that Facebook is continually held up by the likes of David Cameron as a posterboy for what British tech businesses should aspire to. And consequently we have a move to create frothy, social media driven businesses without clear business models, inevitably HQ’d in Tech City. It reminds me a lot of first generation dotcoms and the bandwagon that became. While some of these businesses may succeed, we need to look at what will create real value in the UK tech scene (the likes of ARM, CSR and Sage all spring to mind) and focus the best minds on solving real business problems rather than simply another cute network without any revenues.

So if the Farcebook float can change people’s perceptions that user numbers are good, revenues are not essential, then I think that’s a price that the gullible should have to pay. As the old saying goes, if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

Enhanced by Zemanta

May 24, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

California Dreaming

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There have been innumerable attempts to understand and replicate how Silicon Valley has become the centre of the tech industry – with Tech City being the latest one in the UK. What is the secret sauce that makes California in particular and the US in general such a fertile breeding ground for innovation? 

It’s something I’ve often wondered about, so it was great to hear a first hand account of a learning journey to Silicon Valley. Speaking last week at CamCreative, Liz Weston of Weston Marketing talked about what she’d learnt on an organised trip that saw her visit the likes of Google, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com and Stanford University. She shared four big lessons from the tour:

1              The difference between an opportunity and an idea
Everyone has a different take on what makes an idea viable, from an addressable market to a strong founding team, but the big difference between the UK and US is the willingness to have a go, fail and come back stronger. If we can change attitudes in the UK to say it is better to try and then fail rather than fail to try at all, it will radically shift how companies operate for the better. 

2              Four key opportunities for business development
Execs in Silicon Valley outlined the environment, security, human health and digital/infrastructure as key markets for growth. Anything that reduces complexity in these areas and makes people’s lives easier has potential. Probably not a surprise to most people but worth bearing in mind when pitching any business ideas to investors. 

3              Look at the relationship between the customer and your product/services
It isn’t about the technology per se, but finding an emotional trigger with your customers. Serve a purpose and do it in a way that delights your customers and turns them into your advocates. So, in the same way that when Orange launched in the UK it positioned itself as the cool brand you wanted to be part of, LinkedIn offers the chance to be part of a cloud of intelligence, rather than simply positioning itself as a jobs site. 

4              The importance of innovation
Next year’s revenue won’t come from this year’s cash cow. So everyone in the business needs to be innovating – which can involve changing people’s mindsets. Encourage ideas and capture them – while they may not be immediately useful, they could be in the future. 

I’m sure most people have either heard or tried to put into action some of the lessons above. For me, the main takeaway (and potentially the big difference between the US and UK) is always be open, always be learning and don’t be afraid to take risks. This may not be Silicon Valley’s secret sauce but it is a better way to run a business.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

April 2, 2012 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Startup | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Disconnecting at LinkedIn?

LinkedIn Centipede Participants in the 2010 IN...

LinkedIn Centipede Participants in the 2010 ING Bay to Breakers (Photo credit: smi23le)

We’re clearly doing much more of our business networking online, so why isn’t LinkedIn more of a success? Obviously it has a huge number of registered users (over 150 million globally according to some figures) and revenues last quarter of $167 million, but it doesn’t seem to be able to take centre stage in the same way as Facebook. People use it, but in many cases more out of duty than desire.

So what’s LinkedIn doing wrong? Here’s three key things I’ve picked up, with additional points from an entertaining Pitch and Mix discussion on LinkedIn a few weeks back.

Just not clever enough
Having the CVs and career details of 150 million people should allow LinkedIn to both suggest serendipitous connections and also flag up relevant jobs to members. Yet I tend to get the same new connections suggested, simply based on my existing network. Putting a bit of intelligence behind it how about suggesting people based on my interests, location and profile, rather than just the groups I belong to? And, while this may just be me, the jobs that are flagged bear no relation to my experience level – unless LinkedIn really believes I should start again as a PR account executive?

Push to monetise subscribers
Obviously LinkedIn isn’t a charity, it’s a public company, but over the last year I’ve seen a creeping change as the network tries to push people more towards premium subscriptions. Less information is available for free and all you can see on many profiles are basic details. It doesn’t encourage me to expand my network if I can’t tell if someone would be a good contact or not.

Spam, spam, spam
LinkedIn Groups are a great resource to discuss relevant issues with like-minded people. Or they would be if they weren’t regularly invaded by spammers and people trying to sell me a new website. Ditto random invitations from people within groups that I’ve had no interaction with at all. I know a lot of this is down to those that run the groups but it is LinkedIn that suffers as people abandon potentially useful groups and consequently don’t log on as frequently.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe LinkedIn is a great resource. It just has to focus on its users and their needs if it is continue to grow and provide the right service to the B2B community.

Enhanced by Zemanta

March 20, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bubble trouble?

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Tomorrow (Thursday) sees the much trumpeted flotation of LinkedIn, which is tipped to value the company at £2.6 billion. And it is likely to be followed by a host of other social media sites, from Facebook and Twitter to the likes of Groupon and Zynga, with similar stratospheric valuations. You’d be forgiven in thinking the global recession was over as investors seem to be scrambling to throw money at anything vaguely social.

It does remind me a lot of the previous dotcom bubble (yes, I am that old) where the likes of Lastminute.com in the UK achieved market valuations greater than unfashionable bricks and mortar businesses such as British Airways.

The question a lot of commentators are asking is – are we in another bubble and what happens when it pops? I’m not an economist but when you look at LinkedIn, which has said it won’t make a profit in 2011 and see that it values it at 17 times 2010 revenues (Google by contrast is at six times revenue) I’d worry. Essentially you are taking a punt on LinkedIn extending its offering and delivering future profits to match the valuation and while it has a strong, differentiated, brand things can change quickly in social media. Just look at the plummeting fortunes of early stars MySpace and Bebo……………..

Enhanced by Zemanta

May 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social media – the ultimate contacts book

Follow me on Twitter logo

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve blogged at length about how social media gives PR people in particular, and companies in general, an unparalleled chance to engage directly with the end users/buyers of products and services. It opens up conversations in a very democratic way – there’s no place for preaching or talking down if you want to build a rapport with your customers.

For those that don’t get it, or feel their audiences are still not on social media, the other powerful argument for platforms like Twitter is that this is where more and more journalists find stories and information. And this is backed up by recent research by PR agency Brunswick, who surveyed just over 1,000 business journalists on the increasing importance of social media.

Globally 43 per cent said that blogs/Twitter and message boards had become more important to them over the last year. Nine out of ten journalists had been prompted to investigate an issue after seeing it on social media. While only 14 per cent of stories actually originate solely from social media, it is clear that Twitter et al now have a firm place in a journalist’s little black book of contacts. So for those hesitating on the social media brink, now is the time to jump in – or miss out on the important conversations.

Enhanced by Zemanta

March 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers