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Experts Down on Marketing

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Guy Kawasaki moderated a panel of some innovative web community founders at the CommunityNext Conference, and the video is fascinating. It’s not often I get a 1 hour video and watch it all the way through, but I’ve already watched this one twice.


1. Akash Garg of hi5
2. Sean Suhl of Suicide Girls
3. Max Levchin of Slide
4. James Hong of HotorNot
5. Markus Frind of PlentyofFish
6. Drew Curtis of Fark

Now, some of that may be because I‘m about to moderate a panel myself on User Gen, and I want to emulate Guy’s success here, but it’s also because I loved finding out how these guys created such viral communities.

Funniest comment:

Drew said they were taking alot of flack from the Washington Post because one of their headlines had said Anna Nicole Smith’s condition was *upgraded* to dead.

Most interesting:

None of these guys planned to go where they are with these companies, they followed their users ideas and they went with the natural flow of what was necessary. In fact, Sean said, in effect, the planning has to be loose, and you can’t just follow the rules.

Most consoling:

Turns out fear is ok. When I think about this blog or anything I’ve created, I always wonder when it’s all going to end. I know I’m not alone as so many entries on the blogosphere (and off) have to do with ‘the bubble bursting’, but I was consoled that Max says he’s often terrified that it will all disappear too. Made me feel better to know there was someone else out there that was obsessive about it.

Most exciting:

James says passion is everything. Just like I say about blogging that you won’t succeed if you don’t like what you are doing (ie pick a topic you love), James says you have to love what you do as an entrepreneur. If you can’t be passionate and love your product, then find something you can love and go with it.

The ‘duh moment (that everyone needs to understand):

Listen to your users. Passionate users know your product, even better than you do. When they talk you need to listen. Slide would be an entirely different product without user suggestions.

Although, I’d insert the fact that Markus says some users should NOT be listened to. Use your brain, and think about where your bread and butter is. Don’t implement stuff just because it was asked for… Some features are not helpful and could actually destroy the community you have created (ie chat rooms full of married people on a dating site).

On Marketing:

Most of these guys said that marketing was of little value to them (gasp). They said the viral things that really made them successful was an accident. Sure you can come up with a great idea, but the real truth is that if your company is doing something cool, people will talk about it.

HotorNot said that by the end of day one they had 40K unique users, and within a week they were seeing millions of page views per day. They showed it to cube-locked geeks (Intel workers, ironically) and they passed it around immediately. Sean from Suicide Girls says they spent tons of energy on a CSI episode in which their girls were featured, with no result and got a ton of result from a column on their site and from a YouTube video one of their girls uploaded (she was lipsyncing to a Hall and Oats song).

Now, as a marketing consultant, I want to disagree, but I can’t… Communities are where it’s at, and marketing has to make their job showcasing the communities that have evolved naturally and making them more user-friendly (off-site buys+clear, directioned thinking involving on-site assets). Marketing isn’t dead, but it’s way different than it was just last year.

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