When I started my first site, there were two ways for people to find it – by landing on the main site itself or by finding it on its iTunes podcast page. The main medium for the content was MP3 audio lessons that could be downloaded and listened to on your iPod.
Later, users asked if I could provide them with a PDF transcript of the lessons. That became the start of the subscription model – free audio and pay for PDF transcripts.
A couple of years later, the iPhone was released and subsequently, apps started appearing for it. People asked for a CLO app, so we created one for it.
Later, it became clear that YouTube was a big source of users, so we created a CLO YouTube page with some intro videos there. Since some users like to learn using video, I have recently started offering a CLO video course on Udemy.
In this day and age, it’s become clear that in order to expand our market, instead of driving users to our main site, we have to push our content to other platforms. So we have started to become more active on Facebook and Twitter.
Obviously there are other formats we could expand to. We have an empty Google+ page and still don’t have an Android or an iPad app, even though both have been requested.
Assuming that you have an existing winning product, your users will expect you to be where they are and provide them the formats they expect. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools available to help with this process and let you manage multiple social networks at once. It still up to you to take the initiative and put your brand out there. If not, then your competition will gladly fill the void.
Freeloaders are common in most businesses. They are the ones who collect all the freebie samples you give out, but yet never return to buy the full product. They are the ones who go into bookstores and spend all day reading without buying. They attend free seminars but never purchase anything there either. They consume all the content you provide them, but never upgrade to a paid membership. They download free apps, but never upgrade to the full ones.
What can you do about this?
We live in a society of free. Why pay for things when there is so much available for free already? News can be read online for free. Blogs can be read for free. Podcasts can be downloaded for free. Wikipedia can be read for free. So many apps are free. Can you blame people for wanting things from you for free?
The trick is to change your business model to embrace freeloaders. What can you do to benefit from them? By emphasizing the following aspects of your business, you can actually get them to increase your business revenue.
1. Social Media
Encourage your users to share your links on twitter, like you on Facebook and join your fan page. These are all activities that don’t cost anything, but end up promoting your product to other potential paying members.
2. Ratings and Reviews
Ratings and reviews of your products can be crucial for generating future sales. From time to time, I’ve put apps on sale for free to get more downloads, which lead to more ratings and reviews. Obviously this strategy can backfire if your product isn’t worthy of a good review.
3. Recommend to a Friend
Make it easy for users to recommend your products to other friends of theirs. This could be through social media links, or through email templates with your product link already in them.
4. Provide feedback
If you are receiving negative reviews on your product, it is in your interest to find out why. Respond to support emails promptly. Even after solving any issues you may have, maintain your relationship with the user. If they took the time to point out an issue to you, they may be willing to provide feedback on other aspects of your product. I’ve used this strategy several times with my mobile apps.
Even though you may not directly benefit from freeloaders monetarily, it is in your interest to continue publishing free content to them through freemium type models. Their engagement in your product is what will introduce it to the real paying customers who will be following behind.
“Social media is not a marketer’s platform. It belongs to consumers.”
Marketers used to control their message. They created their own ads, and shaped them how they wanted to be seen. However, since the rise of social media, consumers now control the message. Viral messages can be positive or negative about a brand, and no single person can control it. Users are no longer passive and can now publicly engage with brands, creating new stories in the process.
The brands who are successful now are those who adapt their strategies and embrace social media platforms, rather than ignoring or worse – fighting them.
The toughest part, when starting a business, is right at the beginning. For most people, just getting started itself is a big step. You may be spending a lot of time trying to get your business plan just right, getting all your ducks in a row, or waiting for the stars to align perfectly before you begin. My advice – unless you have a brand reputation you’re trying to protect – go with the simplest strategy to begin with so you can get started quickly. That in itself is a huge challenge to overcome, and if you can get that far, you’re already ahead of most people.
The next stage though might be a long one. You now need to build yourself a customer base, reputation and a following. This requires a lot of discipline on your part to stay the course. A clear vision of where you want to be is the key here, as that is what will get you through the days where you don’t feel like working or start to wonder if this is all worth it. Even if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, ensure that what small steps you do take, are leading you in the right direction.
The customers you have at this stage are the early adopters. They are the ones that set the stage for the masses who will hopefully arrive after them. Engage with them – how did they hear about your product? What do they like about it? What could you improve about it? Encourage them to leave product reviews and testimonials. Join forums that users of your product spend time on. Listen in and contribute where you can (without spamming). Early adopters love to be included in the development process, so do that and cultivate them into becoming evangelists for you.
This stage may be the hardest, since it requires a lot of effort on your part for very little immediate reward. Use this time and opportunity to continue tweaking and improving your product. Appreciate that you’re able to do so now with a small user base that is engaged in the process and therefore more patient and less demanding with you. The later masses you’re hoping for won’t be so kind.
If you’ve put in your dues and used your time wisely, then your efforts will pay off handsomely. You are now ready to market your product to the masses. But you should do so only if you’re confident that the masses will rate your product well. If not, then try to prolong the previous step until you have more confidence in your product. The last thing you need is a viral campaign of users upset with your product, or scores of negative reviews.
Even if your users are happy with your product, you have a different set of problems to manage now. Can your website handle a large user base without problems? Do you have the resources to field more support requests? Key changes that you could easily make before now affect more users, so be prepared for complaints or increases in support issues with each new update. Pay attention to comments you make on your blog or on Twitter as you are now in the spotlight. You worked hard to get this far, don’t blow it with a reckless comment that could go viral. If there are any issues whatsoever, then see what you can do to limit your growth until things have stabilized.
Being aware of these stages and what is required of you to move from one to another will go a long way towards building your business successfully. It is even more imperative to do so in our age of social media tools that put your business in the spotlight (whether you like it or not) – enhancing what you’ve done right, while also magnifying your mistakes.