One way I’ve used to growth hack a business

There’s nothing complicated about this method. It simply involves the following elements:

  1. A copy of your latest business plan, or a similar document.
  2. A day or half day according to your availability.
  3. The desire to align your marketing and overall business aims and objectives.

In the successful example working with curry snack food retailer Mindi’s I created a half day workshop using the business model canvas approach, and focused on a social model canvas version, which aligned with their business objectives. To note they hadn’t got a detailed business plan to work with, even though their business was already up and running.

Anyhow the results speak for themselves. Since the June 2013 workshop PR coverage rocketed, and the business has gone from strength to strength. I don’t claim credit for their hard work or product innovation, simply for the approach in aligning their marketing and business model canvas, to create a simple shared understanding between the co-founders of what needed to be done.

13 or so startups to watch

A great list of rising startups from Mashable, highlighted for the creative ‘geekfest’ that is SXSWi 2014; I’ve just numbered them for you so you can more easily spot the one you want to follow. For me its #11, based in London, its YPlan.

  1. Mulu, a company that currently offers ad plugins that allow products to be bought directly on a webpage. Mulu was started in 2011 and is led by CEO and founder Amaryllis Fox.
  2. Dapper looks to simplify men’s fashion in much the same way as Cool Guy by creating shoppable outfits for various occasions. Dapper launched on Feb. 24, making it among the youngest apps in attendance.
  3. Of course it’s not just about making the sale. Customers must be retained if a business is to survive. Windsor Circle, founded in 2011 and based in Durham, N.C., was started to track sales, analyze data and execute retention strategies to make one-time buyers into loyal customers.
  4. Enter Kiwi Wearables, a Canadian startup that is taking preorders for its first product. Kiwi Move is a small, nondescript wearable that attempts to link together just about anything in your life. The company, which was founded in mid-2013, claims its wearable will be able to understand gestures and track your activity level and even control voice-operated appliances.
  5. Wearables also offer a unique opportunity to do away with the dreaded password. Bionym‘s wearable bracelet uses your heartbeat to determine your identity. The company believes it does not need to stop at passwords, and could even do away with keys and even credit cards.
  6. Bionym was started in 2011 and joins a burgeoning field of biometric security startups like FST21and Microlatch.
  7. Active Protect has developed clothing that can detect falls and deploy small airbags to protect the hip bone, an area that is particularly susceptible to injury for older people.
  8. Kinsa is going after the other end of the age spectrum with a thermometer that plugs into smartphones to help parents track the health of their children.
  9. Start-ups from around the world will be at SXSWi in unprecedented numbers. Companies from 74 countries will take part in the festivities, up from 57 in 2013. Denmark is represented by The Eye Tribe, which seeks to bring affordable eye tracking to smartphones and tablets.
  10. AddSearch, from Finland, stays true to its name, adding a fast, effective search option to websites.
  11. YPlan was formed in the busy nightlife scene of London. It wants to help you find local events and pay for tickets in as few taps as possible.
  12. Eyeris is an emotion recognition company that can look back on webcams and read facial expressions to determine how a person reacted to a video.
  13. Large companies have been taking notice of the appeal in eye-controlled software. Facebook bought a similar company, GazeHawk, in 2012.


The power of thinslicing applied to social media and community

A hard problem to solve

One of the hardest problems faced by clients and agencies alike is how to match up social media activity with bottom line business results. Part of that is because you can’t always easily see a straight cause and effect between levels of engagement on Facebook for example, and numbers of purchases. But perhaps the reason isn’t for lack of effort. Perhaps it helps to think about how customers make purchasing decisions, and how best to capture that? Certainly that’s what I focused on at Sony EU and it led me to move away from the simple numbers game, to include the qualitative.

To explain why I like the term thinslicing to tackle this question of how best to connect with customers using social data first take a look at the cool piece about data interpretation written by Lithium’s Dr Michael Wu, including this neat illustration:

The power of thinslicing

Identifying the value of thinslicing lies in the elegant and powerful way the term thinslicing connects the approach to data analytics to the behaviour that creates that data - namely with the thinslicing of online consumers who “tend to ignore most information available and instead ‘slice off’ a few relevant information or behavioral cues that are often social to make intuitive decisions,” as Brian Solis puts it. 

In other words by thinslicing, rather than using intuition to make decisions, I mean adopting a strategy which is based on the understanding that by connecting the means of analyzing the data with the way the data is created by customers.

The question then is why? While it may be clever to see a way which logically connects the way to analyse data with the way it’s created, why is that potentially so useful to a business? Now there’s a good question! The obvious answer is that by aligning the analytic method used by your business, with the way the data is created by your customers, you are going to produce better results in terms of both better quality actionable recommendations which also produce an increase in ROI. How does that sound?

Less is more

National Express Victoria Coach Station

“Click which photo better represents this place” – foursquare allows people to rank pictures

Not surprising in the gaming world this understanding is already paying serious dividends. A leading example is gaming company wooga which has carefully built its business by monitoring the data gathered by user responses, to tweak aspects of its online games to help boost engagement and thus ROI. In effect they are able to leverage user behaviour to give them what they want. By thinslicing social data effectively, figuring out what matters by understanding what customers want and ignoring the rest, the same benefits are available to your online business too. So by reducing the amount of data provided, you’re actually able to make better decisions about your customers, and you’re able to better understand how they making purchasing decisions online. It’s as simple as that.

CBA vs ROI (cost benefit analysis vs return on investment)

A great table and explanation of the difference uses and value of the two forms of measurement for social marketeers, from Angie Schottmuller in Search Engine Watch:

Cost-Based Analysis (CBA) Return on Investment (ROI)
Formula Benefits – Costs ( Benefits – Costs ) / Costs
Example $12,000 B – $1,000 C
= $11,000 CBA
$61,000 B – $50,000 C
= $11,000 CBA
($12,000 B – $1,000 C) / $1,000 C
= 11 or 1100% ROI
($61,000 B- $50,000 C) / $50,000 C
= 0.22 or 22% ROI
Format Dollar Value Percentage or Ratio
Purpose Analyze estimated cost impact. e.g. make a profit, break-even, take a loss. Analyze investment effectiveness for generating a profit.
Focus Profit Investment Return
Common Use Compare options using a common currency and justify bottom-line feasibility of spending. Assess profitability as a basis for continuing and prioritizing future investments.
Answers… Will we come out ahead? How effective were we at coming out ahead? What kind of payback did we get for the investment?

Note: An ROI of 1 or 100% implies you’d get back what you put into it, while CBA, also sometimes known as Cost-Benefit Analysis, has a $0 “break even” point.

Notice how in the examples above, the CBA for two different tactics with very different costs could be the same, while respective ROI sheds further light on the investment effectiveness.

Anyhow that’s not all from Angie, in the post there’s also a very helpful section on different calculation formulas which comes with the following presentation including said formulas for social SEO among others:

My social commerce Q&A today

Your amount of commercial experience in a senior eCommerce role?

>Running e-commerce & content for global startup MedicExchange for 18 months (mid 2006 – end 2007) and heading up e-commerce in terms of marketing and SEO at eBay Inc’s UK for 15 months (June 2010 – Sept 2011); most recently in an innovative social commerce analytics role (contract) for Sony EU.

Your level of PPC Account Management and Optimisation skills?

>Ran the PPC campaign for MedicExchange to promote the site globally to specialists in the US, EU and Asia; monitored the results and altered the bidding and budget accordingly to optimise results; site estimated worth of $15m when I exited in 2007)

Your multichannel marketing (Print, Display, PPC, SEO, Mobile, Affiliate) experience?

> was a truly multi-channel marketing role, working with BallouPR to create print-based marketing in the form of a shopper survey in the Metro, and working with the Sun to run a Xmas mercy story for example; I worked in close collaboration with the PPC manager at to maxmise our ROI based on my previous experience at MedicExchange; in SEO I took the lead for building backlinks through blogger outreach, for undertaking an audit of on-page technical fixes including keyword optimisation and removal of duplicate content issues; on the mobile side we used CRM to promote our mobile app to our customers; I took the lead to build the affiliate network by building a relationship with independent consumer organisation Which? including taking free guides on our site, and for example working with 3M to promote a mobile app ‘Shopping Genius’ which was powered by our affiliate feed.

Your level of Google Analytics & Adwords experience?

>I’ve used Google Analytics to measure the success of standard web analytics social SEO initiatives in numerous roles, and used Adwords to research keywords for both PPC and social SEO purposes.

That you have a track record of improving conversion, sales or other metrics?

>Most recently I’ve contributed to the success of Sony EU Q3 marketing metrics by setting up a social dashboard with partner Socialbakers to capture performance against agreed KPIs and feeding that back into improved performance in the order of a 5-10% improvement in both UK and DE.

Despite tough competition UK maintained a steady visitor rate throughout 2011 of 1.5m visits every day, with 17m qualified leads delivered to merchants each month, despite the impact of Google Panda’s algorithm changes.

In terms of the ratio of orders to clicks UK returned a broadly steady 1.5% conversion in Q2 and Q3 2011, achieving sixth place out of the top ten comparison sites in the marketplace.

If you have any Product Management experience?

>After being headhunted to set up the ICAEW community, working with Microsoft UK, I was given a product management role as the community platform was the very first iteration of the code by the software builders. More recently at Sony EU the role involved product managing a social dashboard, starting by crowdsourcing metrics from across EU social media managers, and creating a multi-data driven dashboard from providers including Reevoo, Socialbakers, and Radian6.

Google’s 2010 social search patent

Go straight to the patent: US20110106895

This approach is very different from the earlier search
model of using authority as a measure of trust. In a
document-based world (such as the early days of
the Internet when only web pages existed), trust was
measured by how credible a document was. The
credibility was measured by how many citations (links)
a web page received. This is why link building is such
an important aspect of SEO. Web pages need links to
improve their credibility or “trust” in the eyes of the search
engines. This, in turn, improves their rankings.

But, as the patent states, in a social environment, you
don’t measure trust by authority; instead, you measure it
by intimacy. For example, if a family member recommends
a good restaurant, you’re more likely to believe them than
an anonymous reviewer online. That’s because you know
your family member, and because of that relationship/
closeness, you have trust.

Social search represents considerable opportunity for
search engines because they want to deliver more
personalized search results. But in order to do so, they
need to understand who you know and how well you
know them. Tapping into your online social signals allows
them to do just that.

Here’s a reminder of what Google said about social search in 2011:

Check out my Shorty interview

The Shorty Interview with Stuart G. Hall

What’s your best tweet?

My Jim Carrey reply after the film ‘No’ maybe, but I’ll let you know:-)

What are six things you could never do without?

My sixth sense, and the other 5.

How do you use Twitter in your professional life?

To connect with likeminded professionals and to discover new information that can benefit me.

What’s your favorite Twitter app?


Twitter or Facebook?

Twitter, it’s simpler!

What was the funniest trend you’ve seen?

King Richard III discovered in my home town of Leicester.

What feature should Twitter add?

A 140-character busting feature for use once in a while!

Who do you wish had a Twitter feed but doesn’t?

The head of MI6?

What are some words or phrases you refuse to shorten for brevity?

Sensitive dependence on initial conditions:-)

Is there someone you want to follow you who doesn’t already? If so, who?

Richard Branson, so I can tweet the inside stories of the VIPs with Galactic tickets:-)

Have you ever unfollowed someone? Who and why?

No one specific, just to free up follower space!

Why should we vote for you?

Because it’s time..

Terms you wish would start trending on Twitter right now?


What’s the most interesting connection you’ve made through Twitter?


Hashtag you created that you wish everyone used?

#thinslicing (I even added it to my blog title)

How do you make your tweets unique?

Base them on connections in my past, present and future.

What inspires you to tweet?

The right time, place and inspiration all rolled up together.

Ever get called out for tweeting too much?

Not really, I am quite a conservative Tweeter.

140 characters of advice for a new user?

Start off slowly, read other tweets, re-tweet, and join in when you feel you have something to share.

How long can you go without a tweet?

A day or so, but no more!

What question are we not asking here that we should?

Good question!

How do you imagine Twitter changing?

More fun features;-)

Who do you admire most for his or her use of Twitter?

@John_Rice for the eccentric marketing style;-)

Who is the funniest person on Twitter that you follow?

Jim Carrey!

What is one of the biggest misconceptions of Twitter?

It’s a complete waste of time, when it’s really not that bad:-)

Why should people follow you?

To get unusual inspiration.

Can you name some one-of-a-kind Twitter accounts that you follow?

@sunnysingh_nw3 for an insider’s perspective of Indian culture, from the safety of west London:-)

How do you decide what to tweet?

I wait for inspiration, and a live issue, to come together.

How do you use social media to motivate yourself or others to live a healthier life?

I’ve worked in public health so I guess I’d have to have a serious answer for that but I don’t!

How has social media helped bring your family closer together and #keepgoodgoing?


Why’d you start tweeting?

I was setting up communities for accountants and it seemed like a cool way to relax at the time.

Has Twitter changed your life? If yes, how?

Still waiting for Twitter to do it’s magic. Though I really liked my answer to a Jim Carrey joke after watching the film ‘No’.

What do you wish people would do more of on Twitter?

Make me smile:-)

How will the world change in the next year?

That’s a secret:-)

What are some big Twitter faux pas?

er, tweeting like no one is watching.

What will the world be like 10 years from now?

The same, but smaller.

Take the Shorty Interview at Shorty Awards, the awards honoring the best of social media.

How to be a genius in a low status job

‘How to be a genius in low status job’ was the cheeky title of a quick blog post I wrote in 2006 after working at Headshift (now part of the Dachis Group, who specialise in employee advocacy) and just before beginning work at a startup which I helped take to $15m value (well at least on paper:-). Here’s the post:

So you’re near the bottom of the corporate ladder; use this to your advantage in the following ways:

1. Find out what’s really going on.

2. Look up some clever ideas on what this really means.

3. Figure out how to incorporate these ideas with your own day to day activities.

4. Change the organisation from the inside out.

5. Write a blog about it, maybe.

6. Finally, stop dreaming, wake up and go to work!


Update 13 Feb, 2013. This individual approach, systematically applied to improve innovation within the enterprise for example, is now titled ‘employee advocacy’ and measured with tools such as ‘eNPS’. A brand new tool to help make this happen, by giving all employees access to common content to publish on their social networks is called Addvocate:

Imagine you could join the conversation your employees are having about your brand, figure out who they are, and validate them for it. Addvocate makes it easy to track the social voices of your business, foster a sense of community, and empower that community to be heard.

It’s currently in ‘paid beta’ – as of 22nd January – launched by the former head of social at Salesforce, Marcus Nelson, with the added benefit that you choose how much you want to pay pay per user. And “Addvocate will honor that price for the next 6 months”. A similar platform (“Klout for employees of a brand”) is offered by Dachis. Called ‘Employee Insight’, it’s features include:

  • Profile, which showcases each employee’s brand-related social activity, including posts, followers, sentiment, and echoed signals.
  • Message Center, which helps brands mobilize their teams by featuring news, sharing best practices, and sending invites.
  • Leaderboard, which identifies and ranks top employee accounts, tracking signals, audience, conversation, and strength.
  • Portal, which mobilizes employee social efforts with best practices, social policies, program updates, invitations, and leader boards to accelerate participation.

I was just reminded about these employee advocacy services this morning in a discussion on the community manager forum e-mint about whether the good old days of community management were over. My reply was to the effect that far from over, the role of the ‘CM’ is expanding as a result of their supporting role with such expanding employee advocacy programmes:

The benefits of employee advocacy cannot be underestimated: Ramping community management up to the levels required to effectively engage millions of customers who are trying to interact with a company socially just can’t work. Using automated engagement tools instead actually kills the point (and much of the benefit) of being socially connected with the marketplace. And, as invaluable as community managers are, they have their own point of view that can’t possibly represent the entirety of the company. No, to accomplish this, employees themselves must be externally engaged in a proactive and strategic manner that maximizes the benefits of becoming a social business.

Apart from the value of such a programme to a ‘social business’ strategy it appears to me worth considering ways to start such an initiative with something more tactical, for example how that employee social content can benefit SEO. For this go no further for a good outline of the value of employee content to raising your site visibility than a recent e-book from Boston-based Catalyst:

While your content should live on your website, it should
also be shared across your social networks. Your set-up needs to identify who will share your content. While at least one person should be responsible for it, don’t overlook the potential to leverage employees in your content sharing efforts. This group is often overlooked for this purpose, yet these individuals are ideal because they care about your industry, have a vested interest in helping your company succeed, and are easily contacted. Try to have these folks share your content with their audience to help you get the viral ball rolling.

However, you have to be careful with tapping into
employees for this purpose. Not all employees will be
willing to share work-related content with their personal
networks. That is why a clear social media sharing policy
must be in place before your campaign starts.

So there are a number of cautionary notes to consider before undertaking employee advocacy. For instance, compare my 2006 post with this 2013 employee advocacy update. The former about ‘How to be a genius in a low status job’ is ‘bottom up’ in style, and the second clearly ‘top down’. Ideally, to have both ‘belt and braces’ you have the two approaches working in partnership. Otherwise, there’s always the risk the approach will back fire, create resentment and diminished performance, and end up on the scrap heap of failed ‘management/internal comms initiatives’:


So clearly before implementing such a potentially valuable initiative, even within a company with a very entrepreneurial-style culture like eBay, there are a few basic issues worth considering:

1. Is employee advocacy right for your company, are there ways to reach customers within more conventional means worth considering first so it’s an evolutionary process?

2. If you already have a well supported social media programme, and consider employee advocacy is the right next step have you got the necessary policies, and procedures in place?

For employee advocacy to stand the best chance of succeeding it’s my belief that a development approach which includes both senior management and employees would yield the the best results, and spot potential problems earlier rather than later. To what degree does your strategy have that approach built-in from the start? Be honest with yourself, are employees simply consulted about the advocacy initiative, or are they actually invited to participate in its design and build? After all, as Naz Madjm, of SoMazi points out in a recent e-consultancy post on advocacy through social media, “winning the confidence and social voices of your staff, while a complex and delicate undertaking, is one of paramount importance in our interconnected world”.

Disclaimer: I worked with Naz Madjm on an employee advocacy proposal for News Corps. in early 2013.