I blog a bit and as a result, people share my writing on Twitter. I use Tweetdeck to surface these mentions, creating custom columns to search for tweets that contain “ryanhoover.me” or URL’s to guest posts I’ve written on PandoDaily, for example.
In return, I reply to each and every person, occasionally reviewing my feed to reply with gratitude:
A few weeks ago, I started experimenting with something new. After replying with appreciation, people often respond in kind. At that moment, I send a second reply with an ask:
If this looks foreign to you, you probably aren’t familiar with Twitter’s Lead Generation Cards. By simply including a link within my tweet, the card is embedded, giving users the ability to subscribe to my email list with a single click. It’s beautifully simple.
As a result, 60-80% of people convert. Why?
They’re primed. They have already shown an interest in my writing and the small sign of personal, human interaction (e.g. “@grantwebster thanks for sharing, Grant! :)”) compels people to reciprocate.
It’s damn easy. With a single click, they’re subscribed. They don’t even need to verify their email address. By reducing friction, conversion increase.
I know what you’re thinking. That takes a ton of time, doesn’t it? It can. Although entirely manual, this small personal touch is part of its charm and why it works; however, there’s certainly an opportunity to automate and perhaps productize this process. A more automated approach would also reduce chance of a potentially awkward, impersonal interaction - asking already subscribed to subscribe.
I have some other Twitter card experiments up my sleeve that I’ll reveal in the coming days. Subscribe to my email list so you don’t miss out.
Have some Twitter card hacks of your own to share? Let me know on Twitter (@rrhoover).
I recently wrote about email-first startups and the benefits of building and launching a product on this medium. The post generated a lot of discussion as others contributed their opinions and examples of startups founded with this approach.
As a follow-up, I’d like to explore SMS. The name itself sounds archaic - short messaging service - but SMS still has its place in the world. In fact, I argue that SMS is one of the most underutilized, under-appreciated mediums today.
SMS-first startups exhibit some of the same benefits as email-first startups - easier to build than a complete web or mobile app using services like Twilio; “fakeable” as asynchronous communication enables creators to delay building actual functionality; ubiquitous and accessible to anyone with a phone (even for the large population of non-smartphone users); and forces focus on a specific use case due to the medium’s inherent constraints.
But SMS products also have their own unique advantages, enabling startups to:
- Cut through the noise - the average smartphone user in the U.S. has 41 apps installed. As everyone else adds to the flood of push notifications and email, SMS startups have an opportunity to directly reach their users. When a user’s pockets buzzes, they respond as SMS is largely used to communicate with close friends and family.
- Connect more personally - the mobile phone is arguably the most personal consumer electronic device and arguably SMS is its most intimate form of communication. SMS startups have a direct line to their users and opportunity to build a more personal connection than other communication mediums.
- Bypass bandwidth and latency issues - the simplicity of SMS reduces the amount of data that is sent and received, decreasing user’s concerns of surpassing telecom bandwidth caps. Additionally, users don’t have an expectation of immediacy minimizing the need to build robust, responsive infrastructure.
- Reliably identify users - users rarely change their phone number, making it arguably the most permanent identifier available. SMS startups build a permanent connection with their users and unlike email, phone numbers are difficult to fake, reducing fraudulent and duplicate registrations.
- Own their network - SMS is an open protocol and doesn’t rely on a single platform provider. Startups building a network using phone numbers have a direct connection to their users and social graph, reducing dependency on third party platforms such as Facebook which is becoming increasingly unpredictable as it bans potentially competitive applications.
- Surprise users with rich media - most smartphones support video and images via SMS (well, technically MMS). The web, mobile apps, and even email is full of imagery and animation that we’ve come to expect it; however, SMS is not as it’s largely used for text messaging. SMS startups have an opportunity to delight their users with unexpected, rich media.
- Reach a broad audience - nearly everyone with a phone, smartphone or not, has access and knows how to use SMS. Simplicity engenders adoption.
Here are a few examples of SMS-first startups:
- Twttr - there’s a reason Twitter is limited to 140 characters per tweet. The service was born on SMS, a protocol restricted to 160 characters (the remaining characters are reserved for usernames). This limitation elegantly restricted the service to short-form messages, shaping the design of the service. Twitter arguably would not be what it is today without this constraint.
- ChaCha - users simply send a question via SMS to ChaCha (242242) and a human responds with an answer. ChaCha was able to relatively quickly build and validate its offering using manual processes without investing in sophisticated natural languages processing (NLP) or other costly technical functions.
- Dodgeball - this early location-based service enabled users to text their current location and in return, the service would respond with nearby friends. Dodgeball cleverly used SMS to connect people together in a pre-smartphone era.
- GroupMe - the group messaging service was born at the Techcrunch Hackathon and within 24 hours the team built a working prototype using SMS, garnering a fair amount of positive attention that eventually led to the formation GroupMe as we know it today.
- Venmo - this peer-to-peer payment service launched lean, leveraging SMS as a means to communicate and authenticate the exchange of money between friends with a simple text (e.g. “pay Bobby $3 for the delicious coffee”).
SMS certainly isn’t without its own challenges. Not everyone can send and receive SMS messages free of charge (that’s one of the primary drivers of the explosion of messaging apps). SMS startups have limited analytics, reducing their insight into the behavior (e.g. when did they view the message?) and context (e.g. what platform are they on?) of the user. Of course, the medium itself is very limiting and while this can be a good thing as I’ve argued, it also inhibits the capabilities of the product.
Despite these limitations, don’t discount SMS as an invalid strategy. Consider how your startup might use SMS to validate your product quickly and build something truly unique.
New innovations and platforms create new possibilities, often concealing opportunities hidden within familiar technologies. As everyone else looks in the other direction, consider how “old” technology can be used in your product.
P.S. if you enjoyed this post, you should follow me on Twitter (@rrhoover)
——— According to a Nielson study in May, 2012, the average smartphone user has 41 apps installed on their device. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say this has increased since then and is likely much higher for early technology adopters (a common audience for startups).
 In 2008 at the Future of Mobile Conference, Tomi Ahonen reported that 91% of mobile phone owners left their phone within 3 feet 24/7. Crazy but this isn’t far from my own behavior.
 MessageMe is the latest startup to receive Facebook’s almighty ban hammer due to its competitive threat.
 MyFaceWhen, Cinemagram, and others leverage SMS to share animated GIFs. What’s more awesome than receiving an unexpected animated GIF from a friend?
 GroupMe co-founder, Jared Hecht, shares his story of how the service came to be.
 GigaOm describes Venmo in its early days.
Special thanks to Stefano Bernardi and Alex Godin for providing feedback on early versions of this post.
Earlier this week Twitter announced an update to Twitter Cards, enabling mobile app developers to deep-link users to their app directly from a tweet. This could be used to simply launch the app, if already installed on the user’s device, or do something more creative by passing additional parameters into the app itself.
That’s right, Twitter just became a distribution platform for mobile apps but what’s even more interesting are the new possibilities this creates for mobile game developers.
New Interactions and Game Mechanics
Deep-linking enables creators to initiate custom events within their game when the user clicks the link. This opens up several new possibilities. Here are a few:
- Gifts and Rewards - unlock an item, virtual currency, or other game content to the referring or referred users.
- In-App Purchase Offers - present exclusive or discounted content available for in-app purchase.
- Invites - invites can be explicit (“play with me!”) or embedded within the core game loop as players post a challenge (“I just beat your score, sucka!”), inform friends it’s their turn (“your turn to draw something”), and other re-engagement mechanics.
- UGC - display a video replay, high-score, customized avatar, and other user-generated content. Although this is feasible by simply linking to the web, typically fidelity is often lost depending on the type of content shared, and referred users don’t have a means to interact with the content.
And we’ll see a gazillion
of other (more) creative mechanics. Many of these will be repurposed from traditional Facebook games in addition to new innovations unique to the Twitter platform.Closing the Loop - Measuring WOM
Freemium gaming, the increasingly dominant business model in games
, is driven by analytics. Unfortunately, word-of-mouth is notoriously difficult to measure in the closed app ecosystem.
Deep linking enables creators to include additional parameters within the link, passing this information into the app itself.
The game developer can now better measure the ROI of social sharing on Twitter, attributing downstream retention, monetization, and other contributors to lifetime value driven from the original tweet and referrer. This data provides new insight to feed back into product design decisions. Without this insight, it’s difficult to evaluate effectiveness these efforts and justify the investment.Twitter as a Platform for Gaming
Facebook owes much of its early success and growth to gaming, driving their efforts to increase their penetration into the mobile game market. It is wise for Twitter to do the same adding games, a $9 billion market
, to its expanding media platform.
The unique difference between the two platforms is that Facebook is a place to connect with people you know where as Twitter is a place to connect with people you want to know. Its open network enables users to engage with anyone and find others that share similar interests using hashtags. While this may lead to more noise, it also facilitates more connections, serendipity, and arguably a more curated experience based on trusted people and shared interests.
What do you think? Is Twitter the next big gaming platform?
——— The user must have the app installed when the link is clicked to capture custom events and tracking parameters. Users that download the app and launch it from outside the link will not include the necessary information.
 Everyplay and Kamcord are fairly new technologies that enable players to seamlessly record and share their gameplay.
 It’s no secret that Twitter is evolving into a media platform with its acquisition of Vine, development of its own photo-sharing, and continued additions of new media embedded within Twitter Cards.
This was originally posted on Quora, Inside the Product, on 1/19.
I’ve been playing with Twitter’s new app, Vine, since it’s launch last Thursday. So far I’ve really enjoyed it. It may be the first mobile video app I actually use consistently.
Here are my initial impressions:
Designed for Mobile
Since Instagram blew up, several players have attempted to recreate its success with video (e.g. Socialcam, Viddy) although I would argue that not enough thought was put into how users want to create and consume video content on a mobile device/context.
Vine is designed for mobile. Videos are short (6 seconds max), instantly consumable (a la animated GIFs), non-disruptive (sound isn’t a requirement), and easy/enjoyable to record videos (like Snapchat, simply hold to record).
Reliable Distribution Channel
Like social gaming in the early years of the Facebook platform, previous mobile video apps leveraged Facebook’s Open Graph to generate massive distribution and virality. Unfortunately for them, Facebook giveth and taketh away (and history repeats itself).
Fortunately for Vine, they have a large distribution channel they control - Twitter. Vine also aligns with Twitter’s increasingly obvious strategy to become a media destination.
A Marketers Dream
It’s hard to create good video content. While Vine certainly isn’t perfect, it substantially lowers the barrier, giving marketers the opportunity to create instant product demos, sneak peaks, and behind-the-scenes videos. Like Instagram and Facebook before it, Vine has the potential to become the next big marketing channel.
Here’s one great expample from the guys at Noodle Cake Games, showing off a new character in their mobile game, Happy Jump. As this demonstrates, if a picture says 1,000 words, a video says 1,000,000.
Although it’s hard to say this early if Vine will flourish or die on the vine (*rimshot*), it certainly has potential and having a clear value for businesses certainly helps.
Update (1/27/2013) #1 - I noticed Gary Vaynerchuk (as you might expect) is experimenting with micro wine reviews. Check it out (#vinelibraryTV)
Update (1/27/2013) #2 - TechCrunch posted an article pointing out early marketing experiments from Ritz, Trident, and Dove.
It’s that time of year where everyone blogs about 2012, reflecting on the past year. Instead of writing some “insightful” piece on the progression of technology and startups, I’d like to simply share some of my most loved apps of the year:
Time travel exists! Every day I look forward reliving moments shared years ago through Timehop. No other app delivers nostalgia (and often, joyful embarrassment) like this.
I’ve finally stopped living in browser tab. Before Pocket, I would have an average of 50 browser tabs open at all times. “I’ll go back and read that”, I said. But I rarely did. Pocket has freed me from tab/article fatigue. The mobile app is a huge help for catching up on the bus or walk home.
Instagram, the mobile-first/photo sharing poster child, is a joy. As Nir Eyal describes, Instagram has changed my behavior as the go-to service for sharing things that I see. It’s one of the few services that I use primarily for creative expression and documenting my experiences. This living scrapbook will be priceless when I’m 50.
I first signed up out of curiosity, not because it solved a specific pain that I had; however, after a month of use, it’s changed my behavior and encouraged me to share a lot more on Twitter. Buffer has helped enable more conversation with interesting people. I also find the analytics fun and (vainly) interesting.
You may have heard of it. I’ve been using Twitter for several years (Tweetdeck is still my preferred client) but unlike most other social networks (*ahem* Facebook), I’m finding more value from it over time. IMO, Twitter is the best way to connect with other people in the tech/startup space. I’ve created many “real” relationships through conversation and in-person meetings that started from 140 character interactions.
Probably the least known brand on this list, Quibb is a site for sharing and discussing newsworthy articles on tech and startups. Its founder, Sandi, has done an excellent job at maintaining a high-quality experience by strictly limiting who gets in. Like Twitter, I’ve discovered excellent content and made several good connections using the service. I encourage you to apply for membership and follow me.
I love love love podcasts and listen to 1-3 hours daily. Up until six months ago, I would regularly sync my favorite podcasts to my iPod Nano. Although I still do so on occasion (only to spare my Sprint bandwidth), Stitcher has created a simple way to listen to the newest podcasts on-the-go and discover new ones. My only complaint is the mediocre, uninspired UI.
Here are a few others that I’ve more recently began
Message Me - Still in beta, Message Me is the first messaging app that’s sucked me in. It incredibly responsive and well-designed. Excited to see it’s public debut in 2013.
Svbtle - As an avid blog reader, Svbtle is one of the best aggregated networks of top tech/startup bloggers. It’s minimalist design is also very refreshing.
Tapestry - Tapestry is the TED Talks of literature. I won’t be able to do it justice so just download it and read Robin Sloan’s essay, Fish.
What are your most loved apps of 2012?
Feedback is the lifeblood of startups. Without out it, you’re running blind.
At PlayHaven, we gather feedback and data in several ways. We take our partners to lunch, survey customers, analyze metrics at a macro and micro level; experiment with a/b tests; read industry and competitor news; review social media and blog comments; and monitor how partners use our product.
The more feedback, the more insight, the greater the chance we’ll build something people want.
One of the best under-utilized sources of feedback is Twitter. Almost every startup has a fixed search of their company name but few actively listen to their audience. For the past few months I’ve gradually built a Twitter list of mobile game developers, marketers, product managers, and others in the industry. With the help of Tweetdeck, I have a persistent pulse of our market. Every day I learn about:
- what they love
- what they hate
- the tools they use
- their opinions on the industry
- what they’re reading
- who they’re talking to
- new games they’re working on
Of course this chatter goes both ways as I actively engage and try to provide value where I can. To be clear, my goal isn’t to sell but to better understand their needs. I’ve had the opportunity to meet several face-to-face or via Skype, building a stronger relationship with individuals and the community. Through these interactions, I’m able to gather even more feedback.
It takes time to generate this list but it will become an everlasting source of feedback, the pulse of your customer.
I just noticed this today in my Quora notification feed. Neat idea and the first example I’ve seen of a site using activity from a 3rd party service to re-engage its users.