Half Engineer / Half Business Guy

Starting Your Business And Becoming An Entrepreneur

Tag: Social Media

That Dumb Video Is Not A Viral Strategy

Viral Strategy is not, as the first few pages of Google’s results will have you think, a stupid video that gets 10M hits. Really amazing content can be viral…but is not strategy.

Viral means: Users will share your stuff.

Viral Strategy means: Figuring out how to influence people to share your stuff MORE.

Of course, the value of your product IS important. However, value is generally determined by the needs of your target audience and the ability of your team to create quality content. You’re not likely to completely change your target audience to try to influence virality, and you probably already strive for top content. I’ll talk more about value later.

The core of viral strategy is: There are 3 parties here: your company, sharer and recipient(s). The higher the benefit to the sharer and recipient(s), and the easier it is to share, the more viral you’re going to be.

The most important levers:

  1. Sharing Friction (Reach)
    1. How easy to share
    2. How many people reached per share
  2. Reciprocity (Drive Action)
    1. Can’t just help the company
    2. Must help sharer and recipient
    3. Drive action

Sharing Friction (Reach)

How difficult is it to share, and how many recipients are reached per sharing action?

Low Friction Per Share

One obvious example is YouTube, with its share button. Though the value of a funny video is debatable, hitting “share” and typing an email address or instantly posting to Facebook or Twitter is extremely simple.

Auto-tweeting for a user signing up with a twitter application is annoying, but it’s the ultimate in low-friction sharing. In fact, it’s negative friction (effort required NOT to share)! BTW – I’m not recommending this!

Low Friction Per User

Though it’s low-friction per share, an “email this” button may only reach a few recipients at a time. However, a Facebook share instantly reaches hundreds or thousands of users.

Ticket companies like TicketLeap are also at this end of this spectrum. It may take significant time and effort for an event organizer (the sharer) to select and set up a ticketing service, but when they send an event invite, it’s an instant share to every invitee and attendee (recipients), and TicketLeap (the company) reaches a huge number of potential customers.

Reciprocity (Drive action)

The real core of a viral strategy is that it incentivizes people to share your product, and incentivizes the recipient to act on the shared information.

A tweet may be shared with thousands of people instantly, but unless the viewer has a reason to, they won’t take action. The key is to make sure that your company isn’t the only party that benefits.

There are 3 parties here: your company, sharer and recipient(s). The higher the benefit to the sharer and recipient(s), the more viral you’re going to be.

In the graph below, I show a number of examples of highly viral companies, arranged by reciprocity (how many parties benefit). I’ve split this into two groups: “Need to Function” means the core product of the company requires sharing, and “Help Each Other” means the product can be used without sharing.

Viral Strategies 12Feb11 v2 1024x687 That Dumb Video Is Not A Viral Strategy

No One Benefits

A typical example of what’s NOT very viral is adding a “share this” button. Since it doesn’t necessarily help the sharer or the person receiving the link (only the company).

I Benefit

The sharer gets benefit by sharing. For example, Hipster recently got thousands of signups for beta testers, without anyone even knowing what they did. In order to receive a beta invite, you had to share a link to the site with at least 3 other people. The sharer received the benefit of getting closer to an invite – the value to the recipient was no more than a “share this” button.

You & I Benefit

Farmville (by Zynga) is a viral machine, and one of the key features of getting new users into the game is how they use invites. The game moves slowly so that in some cases, the only way to move ahead of the painful pace is to suck more friends in or pay extra!

To illustrate: once Jon realizes he has to get help from somewhere to advance in the game, the free way to do so is pull in a friend with the pre-worded invited: “Glenn – Jon just sent you a cow, will you help him out?”. Jon receives benefit from Glenn’s signup & future help, and Glenn feels an obligation to help out Jon, who’s already given him this free cow, and asked Glenn in public (on Glenn’s facebook wall!) to reciprocate. Don’t be a jerk, Glenn. Jeez.

Another interesting example is the file-sharing feature of Dropbox. In order for Glenn to send a file to Jon, he simply clicks “share”, enters Jon’s email address, and then Jon receives an email telling him to sign up as a Dropbox customer to receive the file. Both the sharer and recipient get value, and Dropbox gets its new user.

Many of You & I Benefit

This is a major factor that helped social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn take off.

When you first joined Facebook, it’s likely because you either wanted to see your friends’ pictures or what they were up to (content), or your friends asked you to join so they could follow you (more content). The more friends you have on Facebook, the more value it provides to you, so you try to get as many people 1) on Facebook and 2) actively sharing as possible.

This includes bugging people to post pictures and even the original “poke” to get them to respond and engage. “Likes” and “comments” on content are almost a goal in themselves, as people try to post valuable status updates or videos to get as many pats-on-the-back from the community as possible.

In the biggest examples of this model, the drivers tend to be the desires to increase content and get social approval.

We All Benefit

This is why Groupon is the fastest growing company ever. With Facebook, there is an unbounded problem: if more people share, you get a better experience. With Groupon, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – you know how many people are needed, and you know the reward.

Reasonable Goal-Setting: Imagine a boss saying “you’ll get paid more if you work hard for a long time” vs. “if you finish this blog post by tomorrow, I’ll give you $100”. It’s uncertain what the outcome is for the first request, but it’s pretty obvious what it would be for the latter.

Mutual & Broad Participation Required: Not only that, but you MUST share with a BUNCH of people NOW and you ALL get benefit. No one benefits if everyone doesn’t participate. Not only does the experience improve with more people, but if someone is asked to help, there’s an obligation not to ruin it for everybody.

Effective Customer Targeting: Furthermore, if a user is trying to get a deal on Groupon, he’s going to target the people most likely to sign-up for a particular promotion.

As you can see from all of these examples, there are a number of components to improving virality. In general, help both the sharer and recipient, and push them to act through some benefit and/or the desire for social approval.


…but I’d focus on Value Added.

This includes both the size of the audience (potential reach), and how much benefit do they get (quality).

Obviously, viral videos do well because they are quality (of some sort) content, that a huge number of people want to see. On the other end of the spectrum, a miracle drug for a serious, yet-unaddressed disease, doesn’t need a large sales force – those in need will find it.

Notes on value added:

  • It can be purely positive or anti-negative – Funny video vs. medicine
  • Narcissism adds value – “I like showing how awesome I am”
  • Giving adds value – “I feel good helping my friend” (or “I’ll get returns in the future”)
  • Value altered by timing – Send a link when a user needs the product


We’ve all heard about the usual suspects going viral with quality content, but I want to reiterate that Sharing Friction and Reciprocity are the unsung heroes of viral strategy.

While you’ve already determined your target audience and are striving to create quality content, eliminating friction and raising reciprocity can really boost your virality.

Have thoughts on what you think REALLY makes something viral? Good examples I should add? Let me know in the comments!

How To Start Building Your Personal Brand

adam about me How To Start Building Your Personal Brand

I’ve seen too many of my friends begin to build an online brand by signing up for twitter and following the CEO of Zappos, Barack Obama and the NYT, then writing one blog post about how they’re starting a blog, only to let both identities falter.

To build your brand, I highly suggest the following totally obvious (but usually overlooked) starting point:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish with your brand
  2. What do you need to show about yourself to accomplish that goal
  3. Get on the proper channels and use them in a complementary way


The first step of building your brand is to stop tweeting for a second and ask yourself: What am I really trying to do here? Don’t just write about your favorite sports team or trip to the Bahamas (unless that’s somehow related to your goal).

Examples of well thought-out goals:

  • Raise money for your startup
  • Get traffic
  • Hire a great team

This isn’t always so simple. For example, you may be trying to accomplish all of these things at the same time, while also trying to set yourself up for a job. You at least need to understand which goals you’re targeting, so they can help guide the topics of your tweets or blog entries.

As an example, at Catapulter, the founders have multiple blogs and twitter personalities.

First, we have our Catapulter Blog and @CatapultTravel, with which we show domain expertise and help out our users to drive traffic to our business. We also have a section of our company blog dedicated to what it’s like to be a part of our team, so that potential hires can check us out and understand what we’re about.

Separately, the founders have our own personal blogs to display a different side of us, more tailored to business relationships and just plain helping out the entrepreneurial community.


Now that you’ve figured out your goals, it’s important to figure out what you need to show about yourself to accomplish these goals.

For example, to get traffic, you’ll want to understand who are your target users (an entirely different issue), and what will get them to your site. As an example, our Director of Marketing, Jen, uses Catapulter’s blog and Twitter personalities to specifically target what is likely to get our audience of travelling students and young professionals to our site, and get us found via SEO. This includes posts on travel alerts, travel tips for major cities and travel providers, and the occasional light reading (e.g. crazy subway maps around the world).

In comparison, my personal blog focuses on providing advice to new entrepreneurs, who have the same questions that frustrated me when I started out. Like most entrepreneurs, I take pride in helping out others (as other entrepreneurs have helped me) and that’s my primary goal. However, this blog is also useful to show my professional relationships how I think, who I am, and how we run our business.


Finally, now that you’ve decided what your goals are, and what you need to show about yourself or your brand to accomplish them, you need to use the right channels, and use them correctly.

A few key places to get started:

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook
  3. LinkedIn
  4. Blog
  5. Quora
  6. About.me


First, make a brief bio. Some people leave this blank, but it’s important to explain why people should listen to you.

As you begin to tweet – I admit this should be painfully obvious – try to be insightful and interesting, and share info your target audience wants to hear.

People won’t pay much attention to you if you are obviously selling (e.g. “Win a free iPad!”) or just writing about your day (e.g. “Back from the grocery store – Woo!”). One of my favorite blog posts on what not to do: 10 Reason I’m Not Following You On Twitter.

One of the best ways to figure out what you SHOULD tweet about is to follow folks in the community you want to be a part of, and understand what types of things are interesting to (and retweeted by) that community.

In addition, Twitter is a great place to share your more in-depth blog entries, and make it easy for people to share them (don’t forget to leave enough space at the end so people have room to retweet with “RT [your twitter name]” added!).


Facebook is, like Twitter, another place to share who you are, and in most cases, the same rules apply.

Most people already have a Facebook profile. As a result, since you’ve amassed 5 years of drinking pictures and family-unfriendly wall posts, you should go back and make sure that you share (through privacy settings or good old deleting) only what you would be ok with everyone in the world, including your target audience, seeing.

And don’t quit Facebook. It’s like storming out of the room and slamming a door during an argument – doesn’t help, and you probably should have stuck around and worked it out.


LinkedIn is basically a professional version of Facebook. It’s the place to put your resume online, and build up another social network. In addition, you connect with professional relationships through LinkedIn like you “friend” through Facebook (though LinkedIn etiquette suggests you actually know the person, slightly different than Facebook).

For your brand, it’s important to have this profile, so people can easily search for and find your professional experience. If potential investors, employees, partners, etc. want to check you out, they’ll be able to find your resume here, and any connections (even 2nd or 3rd degree) you have who they may be able to contact to learn more about you.


While you may share blog posts through other social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), your blog is a great place to let people learn about you more in-depth. Of course, continue to stick to your strategy of what you want to show about yourself.

It’s always nice to see your personality (a good place to do this is in your writing style), but if you’re writing a blog to get folks to your travel site and a quarter of your posts are about finance or politics, you’re probably not doing yourself any favors – just muddying up your message.

If you’re just starting, use one of the more popular, simple blogging services like Tumblr, Posterous or WordPress.

For tips on what to write and how to get started, I defer to this great post by blogger Jason Baptiste.


Quora is a service that lets people ask and answer questions, and answers can be voted up or down. It’s similar to Yahoo Answers except that Quora has a heavy bent toward entrepreneurship and a much higher quality of answers. In addition, you can follow topics, users or questions that interest you.

One of the most compelling reasons to use Quora is that if you write a response to a question, you already have an audience consisting of the question’s author plus anyone who searches for that question or similar keywords. It’s similar to getting your blog found with SEO, but Quora is more concentrated than search engines, and quality answers are user validated.

Interestingly, answers extend to recent events. For example, when about.me was purchased recently by AOL, there was a question on why the company had sold so early. The CEO/founder responded quickly.


Given so many online identities, the recently launched about.me is a great way to pull all of them together. It allows you to upload a representative picture of yourself, write a brief blurb on who you are, and link to all of your social identities and websites. Though it’s relatively new, it had 400,000 users four days after launch, and is already quite well known.


Finally, though I discussed staying on track with your messages and goals, this doesn’t mean you should be boring! Try to be entertaining and write about what you find interesting and important.

However, building your online brand is one of the most important things you will do as an entrepreneur, so just make sure you think through what you want to show about yourself (and filter out what you don’t want to share), and start your brand out strong.

Overwhelmed By WordPress Plugins? Start With These 19 Essentials

When I first set up my self-hosted WordPress blog, I had no idea how many plugins I’d actually need to just get up and running with some standard functionality (e.g. a live twitter feed and RSS sign-up), Google Analytics, and SEO basics.

I started out by finding dozens of “Top WordPress Plugins” posts clogging up search engines, and many of them list cool plugins, but are hardly complete. I’ve tried to gather a well-rounded set of plugins that you should load when you start your blog, to:

  1. Set up killer SEO
  2. Track traffic
  3. Engage readers
  4. Fill in feature gaps

You’ll be able to find more plugins later that are interesting to you, or make your life easier. In fact, many of these plugins are meant to work with very little input, particularly with respect to SEO. More customizable plugins exist, with many more features, though they can also be quite a bit more complex.

Here, I’ve tried to avoid bells and whistles, and just cover what I find to be the most important stuff.

Improving SEOThese plugins will help you get found in search engines

  1. All In One SEO Pack – This creates a new box in each post page for you to put the Title, Description and Keywords you want crawled by search engines. You may want to have a separate title for search engines (e.g. in the form of a question someone would type into Google like “How do I XYZ?”) while you want to have a pithy, interesting title on the actual post to draw someone in. Also, search engines will otherwise just take the first few sentences of the post as a description, while you can optimize much better for SEO by doing so manually
  2. Google XML Sitemaps – This helps major search engines better index your blog
  3. Efficient Related Posts – It’s important to have more links to other places in your site, to keep folks on your site longer. This puts context-based related posts at the bottom of each post
  4. W3 Total Cache – One of the things that can help your blog out with SEO is making sure it’s as quick to load as possible. Caching plugins like this one can decrease loading time significantly
  5. SEO Smart Links – Automatically links keywords and phrases between posts in your blog, based on context
  6. SEO Friendly Images – Automatically adds alt and title attributes to your images
  7. Redirection – When you change something like a post name or permalink formatting, this plug-in will keep track of your changes and automatically redirect the links you’ve already created, on your site and others. (This will happen more than you expect when you’re tweaking for SEO)
  8. Broken Link Checker – Not many things are more lame than links to nowhere (hurts SEO as well). This plugin checks your site and emails you if a link breaks

Tracking AnalyticsYou need to track how people use your blog to understand how to improve it

  1. Google Analyticator – You’ll need a way to setup your blog with Google Analytics. If it’s good enough for Google to give a shout-out, it’s good enough for me. It’s also really simple – just pop in your Google Analytics ID and that’s basically it. You can also exclude authors from being counted as visitors

Getting others to shareOne important way your blog gets traffic is by engaging others and encouraging them to follow you and share with friends

  1. Sexy Bookmarks – By Shareaholic, an excellent way to let folks share via any one of dozens of social networks or email. Looks great
  2. Subscribe Widget – If not already included in your theme, add RSS, twitter, etc. subscription buttons as a widget
  3. Feedburner FeedSmith – Your WordPress theme may not be optimized to show up well as an RSS feed. Once you sign up for a FeedBurner feed (which optimizes posts to be read as RSS), this plugin will redirect your “www.yourblogname.com/feed” link to FeedBurner. (Download it on Google’s site)
  4. Disqus – Becoming the standard for comments. Used on many major blogs like TechCrunch, Chris Dixon, Fred Wilson, etc.

Why wasn’t this a default feature? – There are a number of plugins that you really shouldn’t have to load yourself…but you do!

  1. WordPress Database Backup – Backup is not an option. Use this simple plugin to download or email yourself backup files on a (very) regular basis. Accounts do get hacked, and hosting services can go down
  2. Image Widget – If this doesn’t come with your theme, you’ll want it to add picture links in the sidebar, like a linked company logo
  3. WordPress Importer – You’ll need this if you’re moving your blog from a free “yourblog.wordpress.com” blog to a self-hosted wordpress blog
  4. AmberPanther Favicon for WordPress – If you don’t want an ugly default Favicon (the little picture in the web browser tab next to your site name) get this to personalize yours
  5. Wickett Twitter Widget – A clean, simple widget to post your Twitter feed. I find many competing Twitter widgets are over-designed (don’t expect bells and whistles here)
  6. WP Mobile Detector – If your WordPress theme isn’t mobile-ready, this plugin auto-detects a mobile device and provides simple mobile theme

Happy blogging!