Don’t get me wrong, Google Grants is an amazing “in-kind” gift for those qualified 501(c)(3) Nonprofits (especially for those who are utilizing it efficiently). However, times have changed since it’s inception in 2003 and considering the multi-device environment that we live in, Google should consider adapting their Mobile Network as a viable option for Google Grantees. Maybe call it (GrantsMobile)?
In this post, I will discuss the reasons why Google should revamp their Grants program to be more mobile app friendly.
Nonprofits have been “Going Mobile” for a while
The idea that Nonprofits have become “less savvy” as compared to “For-Profit” organizations is simply not true. Even though nonprofits may not have the big advertising budgets as do for-profit companies, they are savvy enough to “fish where the fish are” in trying to increase awareness, volunteerism and most importantly fundraising. In a Capterra Nonprofit Technology Blog article published back in 2014 entitled “The Essential Guide to Going Mobile for Nonprofits“, author Leah Readings talks about the importance for Nonprofits to be more mobile because it creates a wider range of communication between the organization and its members. Readings also states “Allowing for online donation pages or portals, or donation apps, makes it much easier for your members to donate—when all they have to do is click a few buttons in order to make a donation, giving becomes easier, and in turn will encourage more people to give.“
Need more convincing? In a 2013 article from InternetRetailer.com entitled “Mobile donations triple in 2012” (which was also mentioned in the Capterra article) the author goes on to quote from a fundraising technology and services provider Frontstream (formerly Artez Interactive) which states “nonprofits that offer mobile web sites, apps or both for taking donations generate up to 123% more individual donations per campaign than organizations that don’t.“
Why Google Mobile is Ripe for Nonprofits:
If you have ever done any mobile advertising within Google Adwords (formerly AdMob), you know that the system is pretty robust and is considered one of the best platforms to promote Apps on both Google Play and the iTunes store. Moreover, advertisers can easily track engagements and downloads back to their specific audience that they are targeting. The costs are also much more affordable than traditional $ 1-2 CPC offered to Google Grants accounts which can only run on Google.com.
Here are the Mobile App Promotion Campaigns by Google Adwords:
Universal App Campaigns:
AdWords create ads for your Android app in a variety of auto-generated formats to show across the Search, Display and YouTube Networks.
- Ads are generated for you based on creative text you enter, as well as your app details in the Play Store (e.g. your icon and images). These ads can appear on all available networks
- Add an optional YouTube video link for your ads to show on YouTube as well.
Mobile app installs
Increase app downloads with ads sending people directly to app stores to download your app.
- Available for Search Network, Display Network, and YouTube
- Ad formats include standard, image and video app install ads
Mobile app engagement
Re-engage your existing users with ads that deep link to specific screens within your mobile app. Mobile app engagement campaigns are a great choice if you’re focused on finding folks interested in your app content, getting people who have installed your app to try your app again, or to open your app and take a specific action. These types of ads allow flexibility for counting conversions, bidding and targeting.
- Available for Search Network and Display Network campaigns
- Ad formats include standard and image app engagement ads
A lot has changed since 2003 with the birth of Google Grants and Google needs to continue to be socially responsible and catch up to their own standards of the online world that they helped create. Nonprofits are now, more than ever, relying on the internet to drive awareness, volunteerism and fundraising. For Nonprofits, as well as everyone else for that matter, are getting their information from Facebook, Twitter, TV, Radio and (still Google) using laptops, tablets and mobile devices and it’s time for Google Grants to adapt to this new world.
As someone who has been fortunate enough to be a part both the Startup and Digital Agency World, it pains me to witness the many recurring mistakes that are happening by bringing these two worlds together. The Agency wants the business and the Startup wants the best and smartest people to “grow their baby”. It all sounds like a “no-brainer’ right? Well, this perfect situation can sometimes be clouded by one of the most bastardized words in the client-agency relationship – Expectations. In this post, I will highlight some of the misconceptions that could, at the very least, help the next Startup as they prepare to show their product/service to the world.
How to Play the Digital Agency Game:
Don’t get me wrong. There are many highly reputable Marketing Agencies in the world that do not fit this description. On the other hand, there are some other Agencies that work on a different playing field that is not financially supportive of Startups. Most agencies take a 15% commission of Ad Spend regardless of performance or the companies financial situation. These agencies often provide a “Production Line” level level of service that question the actual time spend which leads to the overall client performance. Beware of agencies that promise GOLD and deliver pennies.
What Startups really need from an Agency:
- 100% transparency of where and how their money is being spent.
- Daily Direct communication with the Strategist/Marketer.
- Less than 24 hour turn-around times for typical updates.
- Level of ongoing Education on how the digital advertising world works.
Big Agency Regurgitation
I have witnessed many horror stories over the years from prospects/clients from either a performance or client relationship with a previous agency. The one thing that all of them had in common was the lack of achievable expectations. Situations such as poor communication, lackluster performance and just an overall bad experience have not only left a bitter taste in their mouth but also question the entire agency experience. Moreover, this feeling of being “burned” has motivated their thinking to bring the marketing “in-house” as the only alternative to reaching success. This is not a good thing….
As a big fan of conferences, they often open your eyes to a whole new world of innovation, prosperity and vision for business owners and that’s a great thing. However, it can sometimes backfire to the point of confusion and anxiety of what to focus on first. It is very easy for Entrepreneurs to get “over-excited” about the latest bells and whistles in software, automation and analytics. They are told that once they have these tools in their toolbox, they can turn their business into a fortune 100 company instantly.
Unfortunately, a reality check is needed to bring everyone down from this “high” and re-focus on the core issue at hand which is identifying, engaging and converting with their core audiences within a sensible budget. Remember, investing in Shiny Objects make you vulnerable, not successful.
The Misunderstanding of Monetization
In some instances, both advertisers and agencies, often forget to track every interaction point and that little oversight can be an unfortunate mistake. This assumed “low-hanging” fruit for tracking things other than traditional eCommerce/Lead Gen Forms such as (below) can completely skew overall performance and future optimization which could be devastating to startups as they hunger for continual growth.
- Contact Forms
- Email Newsletter Signups
- Live Chats
- Phone Calls
- Pageviews of a particular page can lead to
Mistrust of the Case Study
Case Studies are a great source for understanding the successes of a particular experience that allow the reader to adapt to new ideas and strategies. However, you need to be careful not put to put too much emphasis on the successes of these studies because of the substantiated factors which often lead inaccuracy. Here are some examples:
- Geography (Some of these studies reference a specific GEO area and not the wider population)
- Singular view and opinion. Often, these studies are done by a small group of people which may have biased opinions based on data collected.
- Case Studies are often used as a “Toot your own horn” strategy to generate more business. (Google is pretty good at that)
Don’t Bet the Farm
I can understand the anxieties of Startups where they want to launch their business with a big bang. However, spending too much too fast (especially in the PPC marketing world) can completely ruin their chances for steady sustainable growth. It’s imperative to start testing “right out of the gate” as well as identifying the quick wins and losses. Moreover, you will need to develop strategies to generate relevent traffic and awareness through alternative methods such as Social Media, SEO and quite frankly “word of mouth”. To prove this theory, just a take a look at these screenshots from SpyFu’s Monthly Trend function.
Outside Opinion Overload
Yes, it’s important to get as much feedback as possible when launching a new company. However, getting advice from people who think they know certain aspects of online marketing because they read an article or attended a conference, can be a slippery slope. Taking advice and/or criticism from someone “on the outside” that completely contradicts the vision of both your business partners and hired experts can be harmful to the business. This 3rd party opinion is often made without any understanding of what it takes to implement as well as its expected outcome. Whether it’s strategies about Landing Pages, Brand vs. Non-Brand, or even simple things such as Promotions and Offers can have a negative effect on revenue if not discussed by everyone on the team.
Solution: Soak up all of the feedback you can get, discuss with your team and agree to label these new ideas as “TEST” Campaigns and analyze the heck out of them.
Forecast Projection Failures
How many times have you seen someone simply create excel formulas which magically forecast the future of online marketing revenue based on a single monetary amount. (For example, if we increase our budget from $ 10,000 to $ 100,000 we will generate an additional $ 1 million dollars.) Yeah, I wish that were all true. However, that is not the case. The math may sound great to a Venture Capitalist/Investor, but it’s just not realistic.
- Take in account the following scenarios:
- Market Saturation Levels
- Seasonality Highs/Lows
- Potential Technical issues
- Search Engine Algorithm changes
- Increased Competitor landscape
“Off the Mark” Target Audiences
Hate to say this, but I have witnessed startup companies that thought they new their audiences and it wasn’t until they over-spent their PPC dollars and countless Landing Page A/B test to come to that realization. Selling a product or service requires more than just a few hours of typical market research. When it comes to online marketing, either hire a PPC Consultant or purchase PPC Competitive Research Software such as SpyFu.com to see some of these invaluable competitor information:
- Monthly Budget Trends
- PPC and SEO Keywords
- Top Text Ads
- Their own PPC and SEO Competitors
- Review monthly and seasonality trends
- Compare up to (3) three competitors and see which terms they are all bidding on.
Here’s an example:
Whether you are building a Startup company or growing an existing one, the agency experience should be a positive one. However, dealing with the “dog eat dog” agency world when it comes to trust, expectations and continual growth is unfortunate and should never happen. I hope this blog post, at the very least, has provided some insight into preventing these situations as well as learning from them. Finding the right agency partner is just as important as finding the right target audience.
Instagram has never truly failed at anything, but judging by modest initial view counts, IGTV could get stuck with a reputation as an abandoned theater if the company isn’t careful. It’s no flop, but the long-form video hub certainly isn’t an instant hit like Instagram Stories. Two months after that launched in 2016, Instagram was happy to trumpet how its Snapchat clone had hit 100 million users. Yet two months after IGTV’s launch, the Facebook subsidiary has been silent on its traction.
“It’s a new format. It’s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time,” Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told me. “Think of it this way: we just invested in a startup called IGTV, but it’s small, and it’s like Instagram was ‘early days.’”
It’s indeed too early for a scientific analysis, and Instagram’s feed has been around since 2010, so it’s obviously not a fair comparison, but we took a look at the IGTV view counts of some of the feature’s launch partner creators. Across six of those creators, their recent feed videos are getting roughly 6.8X as many views as their IGTV posts. If IGTV’s launch partners that benefited from early access and guidance aren’t doing so hot, it means there’s likely no free view count bonanza in store from other creators or regular users.
They, and IGTV, will have to work for their audience. That’s already proving difficult for the standalone IGTV app. Though it peaked at the #25 overall US iPhone app and has seen 2.5 million downloads across iOS and Android according to Sensor Tower, it’s since dropped to #1497 and seen a 94 percent decrease in weekly installs to just 70,000 last week.
Instagram will have to be in it for the long haul if it wants to win at long-form video. Entering the market 13 years after YouTube with a vertical format no one’s quite sure what to do with, IGTV must play the tortoise. If it can avoid getting scrapped or buried, and offer the right incentives and flexibility to creators, IGTV could deliver the spontaneous video viewing experience Instagram lacks. Otherwise, IGTV risks becoming the next Google Plus — a ghost town inside an otherwise thriving product ecosystem.
A glitzy, glitchy start
Instagram gave IGTV a red carpet premiere June 20th in hopes of making it look like the new digital hotspot. The San Francisco launch event offered attendees several types of avocado toast, spa water and ‘Gram-worthy portrait backdrops reminiscent of the Color Factory or Museum of Ice Cream. Instagram hadn’t held a flashy press event since the 2013 launch of video sharing, so it pulled out all the stops. Balloon sculptures lined the entrance to a massive warehouse packed with social media stars and ad execs shouting to each other over the din of the DJ.
But things were rocky from the start. Leaks led TechCrunch to report on the IGTV name and details in the preceding weeks. Technical difficulties with Systrom’s presentation pushed back the start, but not the rollout of IGTV’s code. Tipster Jane Manchun Wong sent TechCrunch screenshots of the new app and features a half hour before it was announced, and Instagram’s own Business Blog jumped the gun by posting details of the launch. The web already knew how IGTV would let people upload vertical videos up to an hour long and browse them through categories like “Popular” and “For You” by the time Systrom took the stage.
“What I’m most proud of is that Instagram took a stand and tried a brand new thing that is frankly hard to pull off. Full-screen vertical video that’s mobile only. That doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Systrom tells me. It was indeed ambitious. Creators were already comfortable making short-form vertical Snapchat Stories by the time Instagram launched its own version. IGTV would have to start from scratch.
Systrom sees the steep learning curve as a differentiator, though. “One of the things I like most about the new format is that it’s actually fairly difficult to just take videos that exist online and simply repost them. That’s not true in feed. That basically forces everyone to create new stuff,” Systrom tells me. “It’s not to say that there isn’t other stuff on there but in general it incentivizes people to produce new things from scratch. And that’s really what we’re looking for. Even if the volume of that stuff at the beginning is smaller than what you might see on the popular page [of Instagram Explore].”
Instagram forced creators to adopt this proprietary format. But it forget to train Stories stars how to entertain us for five or 15 minutes, not 15 seconds, or convince landscape YouTube moguls to purposefully shoot or crop their clips for the way we normally hold our phones.
That should have been the real purpose of the launch party — demonstrating a variety of ways to turn these format constraints or lack thereof into unique content. Vertical video frames people better than places, and the length allows sustained eye-to-lens contacts that can engender an emotional connection. But a shallow array of initial content and too much confidence that creators would figure it out on their own deprived IGTV of emergent norms that other videographers could emulate to wet their feet.
Now IGTV feels haphazard, with trashy viral videos and miscropped ports amongst its Popular section alongside a few creators trying to produce made-for-IGTV talk shows and cooking tutorials. It’s yet to have its breakout “Chewbacca Mom” or “Rubberbanded Watermelon” blockbuster like Facebook Live. Even an interview with mega celeb Kylie Jenner only had 11,000 views.
Instagram wants to put the focus on the author, not the individual works of art. “Because we don’t have full text search and you can’t just search any random thing, it’s about the creators” Systrom explains. “I think that at its base level that it’s personality driven and creator driven means that you’re going to get really unique content that you won’t find anywhere else and that’s the goal.”
Yet being unique requires extra effort that creators might not invest if they’re unsure of the payoff in either reach or revenue. Michael Sayman, formerly Facebook’s youngest employee who was hired at age 17 to build apps for teens and who now works for Google, summed it up saying: “Many times in my own career, I’ve tried to make something with a unique spin or a special twist because I felt that’s the only way I could make my product stand out from the crowd, only to realize that it was those very twists and spins that made my products feel out of place and confusing to users. Sometimes, the best product is one that doesn’t create any new twists, but rather perfects and builds on top of what has been proven to already be extremely successful.”
A fraction of feed views
The one big surprise of the launch event was where IGTV would exist. Instagram announced it’d live in a standalone IGTV app, but also as a feature in the main app accessible from an orange button atop the home screen that would occasionally call out that new content was inside. It could have had its own carousel like Stories or been integrated into Explore until it was ready for primetime.
Instead, it was ignorable. IGTV didn’t get the benefit of the home screen spotlight like Instagram Stories. Blow past that one orange button and avoid downloading the separate app, and users could go right on tapping and scrolling through Instagram without coming across IGTV’s longer videos.
View counts of the launch partners reflect that. We looked at six launch partner creators, comparing their last six feed and IGTV videos older than a week and less than six months old, or fewer videos if that’s all they’d posted.
Only one of the six, BabyAriel, saw an obvious growth trend in her IGTV videos. Her candid IGTV monologues are performing the best of the six compared to feed. She’s earning an average of 243,000 views per IGTV video, about a third as many as she gets on her feed videos. “I’m really happy with my view counts because IGTV is just starting” BabyAriel tells me. She thinks the format will be good for behind-the-scenes clips that complement her longer YouTube videos and shorter Stories. “When I record anything, It’s vertical. When I turn my phone horizontal I think of an hour-long movie.”
Lele Pons, a Latin American comedy and music star who’s one of the most popular Instagram celebrities, gets about 5.7X more feed views than on her IGTV cooking show that averages 1.9 million hits. Instagram posted some IGTV highlights from the first month, but the most popular of now has 4.3 million views — less than half of what Pons gets on her average feed video.
Fitness guides from Katie Austin averaged just 3,600 views on IGTV while she gets 7.5X more in the feed. Lauren Godwin’s colorful comedy fared 5.2X better in the feed. Bryce Xavier saw the biggest differential, earning 15.9X more views for his dance and culture videos. And in the most direct comparison, K-Pop dancer Susie Shu sometimes posts cuts from the same performance to the two destinations, like one that got 273,000 views in feed but just 27,000 on IGTV, with similar clips fairing an average of 7.8X better.
Again, this isn’t to say IGTV is a lame horse. It just isn’t roaring out of the gates. Systrom remains optimistic about inventing a new format. “The question is can we pull that off and the early signs are really good,” he tells me. “We’ve been pretty blown away by the reception and the usage upfront,” though he declined to share any specific statistics. Instagram promised to provide more insight into traction in the future.
YouTube star Casey Neistat is less bullish. He doesn’t think IGTV is working and that engagement has been weak. If IGTV views were surpassing those of YouTube, creators would flock to it, but so far view counts are uninspiring and not worth diverting creative attention, Neistat says. “YouTube offers the best sit-back consumption, and Stories offers active consumption. Where does IGTV fit in? I’m not sure” he tells me. “Why create all of this unique content if it gets lower views, it’s not monetizable, and the viewers aren’t there?”
For now, the combination of an unfamiliar format, the absence of direction for how to use it and the relatively buried placement has likely tempered IGTV’s traction. Two months in, Instagram Stories was proving itself an existential threat to Snapchat — which it’s in fact become. IGTV doesn’t pose the same danger to YouTube yet, and it will need a strategy to support a more slow-burn trajectory.
The chicken and the IG problem
The first step to becoming a real YouTube challenger is to build up some tent-pole content that gives people a reason to open IGTV. Until there’s something that captures attention, any cross-promotion traffic Instagram sends it will be like pouring water into a bucket with a giant hole in the bottom. Yet until there’s enough viewers, it’s tough to persuade creators to shoot for IGTV since it won’t do a ton to boost their fan base.
Meanwhile, Instagram hasn’t committed to a monetization or revenue-sharing strategy for IGTV. Systrom said at the launch that “There’s no ads in IGTV today,” but noted it’s “obviously a very reasonable place [for ads] to end up.” Without enough views, though, ads won’t earn enough for a revenue split to incentivize creators. Perhaps Instagram will heavily integrate its in-app shopping features and sponsored content partnerships, but even those rely on having more traffic. Vine withered at Twitter in part from creators bailing due to its omission of native monetization options.
So how does IGTV solve the chicken-and-egg problem? It may need to swallow its pride and pay early adopters directly for content until it racks up enough views to offer sustainable revenue sharing. Instagram has never publicly copped to paying for content before, unlike its parent Facebook, which offered stipends ranging into the millions of dollars for publishers to shoot Live broadcasts and long-form Watch shows. Neither have led to a booming viewership, but perhaps that’s because Facebook has lost its edge with the teens who love video.
Instagram could do better if it paid the right creators to weather IGTV’s initial slim pickings. Settling on ad strategy creators can count on earning money from in the future might also get them to hang tight. Those deals could mimic the 55 percent split of mid-roll ad breaks Facebook gives creators on some videos. But again, the views must come first.
Alternatively, or additionally, it could double down on the launch strategy of luring creators with the potential to become the big fish in IGTV’s small-for-now pond. Backroom deals to trade being highlighted in its IGTV algorithm in exchange for high-quality content could win the hearts of these stars and their managers. Instagram would be wise to pair these incentives with vertical long-form video content creation workshops. It could bring its community, product and analytics leaders together with partnered stars to suss out what works best in the format and help them shoot it.
The cross-promo spigot
Once there’s something worth watching on IGTV, the company could open the cross-promo traffic spigot. At first, Instagram would send notifications about top content or IGTV posts from people you follow, and call them out with a little orange text banner atop its main app. Now it seems to understand it will need to be more coercive.
Last month, TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong spotted Instagram showing promos for individual IGTV shows in the middle of the feed, hoping to redirect eyeballs there. And today, TechCrunch researcher Matt Navarra found Instagram getting more aggressive by putting a bigger call out featuring a relevant IGTV clip with preview image above your Stories tray on the home screen. It may need to boost the frequency of these cross-promotions and stick them in-between Stories and Explore sections as well to give IGTV the limelight. These could expose users to creators they don’t follow already but might enjoy.
“It’s still early but I do think there’s a lot of potential when they figure out two things since the feature is so new,” says John Shahidi, who runs the Justin Bieber-backed Shots Studios, which produces and distributes content for Lele Pons, Rudy Mancuso and other Insta celebs. “1. Product. IGTV is not in your face so Instagram users aren’t changing behavior to consume. Timeline and Instagram Stories are in your face so those two are the most used features. 2. Discoverability. I want to see videos from people I don’t follow. Interesting stuff like cooking, product review, interesting content from brands but without following the accounts.” In the meantime, Shots Studios is launching a vertical-only channel on YouTube that Shahidi believes is the first of its kind.
Instagram will have to balance its strategic imperative to grow the long-form video hub and avoid spamming users until they hate the brand as a whole. Some think it’s already gone too far. “I think it’s super intrusive right now,” says Tiffany Zhong, once known as the world’s youngest venture capitalist who now runs Generation Z consulting firm Zebra Intelligence. “I personally find all the IGTV videos super boring and click out within seconds (and the only time I watch them are if I accidentally tapped on the icon when I tried to go to my DMs instead).” Desperately funneling traffic to the feature before there’s enough great content to power relevant recommendations for everyone could prematurely sour users on IGTV.
Systrom remains optimistic he can iterate his way to success. “What I want to see over the next six to 12 months is a consistent drumbeat of new features that both consumers and creators are asking for, and to look at the retention curve and say ‘are people continuing to watch? Are people continuing to upload?,’” says Systrom. “So far we are seeing that all of those are healthy. But again trying to judge a very new kind of audacious format that’s never really been done before in the first months is going to be really hard.”
Differentiator or deterrent?
The biggest question remains whether IGTV will remain devout to the orthodoxy of vertical-only. Loosening up to accept landscape videos too might nullify a differentiator, but also pipe in a flood of content it could then algorithmically curate to bootstrap IGTV’s library. Reducing the friction by allowing people to easily port content to or from elsewhere might make it feel like less of a gamble for creators deciding where to put their production resources. Instagram itself expanded from square-only to portrait and landscape photos in the feed in 2015.
“My advice would be to make the videos horizontal. We’ve all come to understand vertical as ‘short form’ and horizontal as ‘long form,’” says Sayman. “It’s in the act of rotating your phone to landscape that you indicate to yourself and to your mobile device that you will not be context switching for the next few minutes, but rather intend to focus on one piece of content for an extended period of time.” This would at least give users more to watch, even if they ended up viewing landscape videos with their phones in portrait orientation.
This might be best as a last-ditch effort if it can’t get enough content flowing in through other means. But at least Instagram should offer a cropping tool that lets users manually select what vertical slice of a landscape video they want to show as they watch, rather than just grabbing the center or picking one area on the side for the whole clip. This could let creators repurpose landscape videos without things getting awkwardly half cut out of frame.
Former Facebook employee and social investor Josh Elman, who now works at Robinhood, told me he’s confident the company will experiment as much as necessary. “I think Facebook is relentless. They know that a ton of consumers watch video online. And most discover videos through influencers or their friends. (Or Netflix). Even though Watch and IGTV haven’t taken the world by storm yet, I bet Facebook won’t stop until they find the right mix.”
There’s a goldmine waiting if it does. Unlike on Facebook, there’s no Regram feature, you can’t post links, and outside of Explore you just see who you already follow on Instagram. That’s made it great at delivering friendly video and clips from your favorite stars, but leaves a gaping hole where serendipitous viewing could be. IGTV fills that gap. The hours people spend on Facebook watching random videos and their accompanying commercials have lifted the company to over $ 13 billion in revenue per quarter. Giving a younger audience a bottomless pit of full-screen video could produce the same behavior and profits on Instagram without polluting the feed, which can remain the purest manifestation of visual feed culture. But that’s only if IGTV can get enough content uploaded.
Puffed up by the success of besting its foe Snapchat, Instagram assumed it could take the long-form video world by storm. But the grand entrance at its debutante ball didn’t draw enough attention. Now it needs to take a different tack. Tone down the cross-promo for the moment. Concentrate on teaching creators how to find what works on the format and incentivizing them with cash and traffic. Develop some must-see IGTV and stoke a viral blockbuster. Prove the gravity of extended, personality-driven vertical video. Only then should it redirect traffic there from the feed, Stories, and Explore.
YouTube’s library wasn’t built overnight, and neither will IGTV’s. Facebook’s deep pockets and the success of Instagram’s other features give it the runway necessary to let IGTV take off. With 1 billion monthly users, and 400 million daily Stories users gathered in just two years, there are plenty of eyeballs waiting to be seduced. Systrom concludes, “Everything that is great starts small.” IGTV’s destiny will depend on Instagram’s patience.
The challenges faced by parents of kids with special needs are always unique, but in one way they are surely much alike: making sure the kids are getting what they need from schools is way harder than it ought to be. ExceptionAlly is a new startup that aims to help parents understand, organize and communicate all the info they need to make sure their child is getting the help they require.
“There are millions of parents out there trying to navigate special education. And parents with special needs should have access to more information than what one school tells them,” said ExceptionAlly co-founder and CEO Rayford Davis. “Those with the means actually hire special education attorneys, but those are few and far between. We thought, how can we democratize this? So we’re trying to do what TurboTax did for CPAs: deliver a large percentage of the value for a small percentage of the cost.”
The company just emerged from Y Combinator and is pursuing full deployment ahead of this school year, with a visibility push during the usual back-to-school dates. It’s still early days, but Davis tells me they already have thousands of users who are taking advantage of the free and paid aspects of the service.
Just because a parent has a kid with dyslexia, or a hearing impairment, or a physical disability, doesn’t mean they suddenly become an expert in what resources are out there for those kids — what’s required by law, what a school offers voluntarily and so on. Achieving fluency in these complex issues is a big ask on top of all the usual parental duties — and on top of that, parents and schools are often put in adversarial positions.
There are resources out there for parents, certainly, but they’re scattered and often require a great deal of effort on the parents’ part. So the first goal of the service is to educate and structure the parents’ information on the systems they’re dealing with.
Based on information provided by the parent, such as their kid’s conditions or needs, and other information like school district, state and so on, the platform assists the parent in understanding both the condition itself, what they can expect from a school and what their rights are. It could be something as simple as moving a kid to the front row of a classroom to knowing how frequently the school is required to share reports on that kid’s progress.
Parents rarely know the range of accommodations a school can offer, Davis said, and even the schools themselves might not know or properly explain what they can or must provide if asked.
For instance, an IEP, or individual education plan, and yearly goals are required for every student with special needs, along with meetings and progress reports. These are often skipped or, if not, done in a rote way that isn’t personalized.
Davis said that by helping parents collaborate with the school and teacher on IEPs and other facets of the process, they accomplish several things. First, the parent feels more confident and involved in their kid’s education, having brought something to the table. Second, less pressure is put on overworked teachers to produce these things in addition to everything else they have to do. And third, it either allows or compels schools to provide all the resources they have available.
Naturally, this whole process produces reams of documents: evaluations, draft plans, lesson lists, observations, reports and so on. “If you talk to any parent of a child with special needs, they’ll tell you how they have file cabinets full of paperwork,” Davis said.
ExceptionAlly will let you scan or send it all these docs, which it helps you organize into the various categories and find again should you need them. A search feature based on OCR processing of the text is in development and should be in place for the latter half of the coming school year, which Davis pointed out is really when it starts being necessary.
That, he said, is when parents need to keep schools accountable. Being informed both on the kid’s progress and what the school is supposed to be doing lets the resulting process be collaborative rather than combative. But if the latter comes to pass, the platform has resources for parents to deploy to make sure the schools don’t dominate the power equation.
“If things progress that way, there’s a ‘take action toolkit’ to develop communications with the school,” Davis said. Ideally you don’t want to be the parent threatening legal action or calling the principal at home. A timely reminder of what was agreed upon and a nudge to keep things on track keeps it positive. “It’s sort of a reminder that we should all be on ‘team kid,’ if you will,” he added.
Schools, unfortunately, have not shown themselves to be highly willing to collaborate.
“We spent about six months talking to over a hundred schools and districts. What we found was not a lot of energy to provide parents with any more information than what the school was already providing,” Davis explained.
The sad truth here is that many schools are already neck-deep in administrative woes, the teachers are overworked and have new responsibilities every year and the idea of volunteering for new ones doesn’t strike even the most well-intentioned schools as attractive. So instead, ExceptionAlly has focused on going directly to parents, who, confidently and well-armed, can take their case to the school on their own.
“Listen, we’re not getting ready to solve all of education today with our solution. We’re going to find that one mom who says, ‘I know there’s more out there, can someone help me find it?’ Yes, we’re going to help you do that,” he said. “Could that put pressure on the system? As long as it does it legally and lawfully, I am perfectly okay with advocating for a child and parents’ legal rights and putting pressure on the system to give them what they by law deserve.”
After the official launch ahead of this school year, the company plans to continue adding features. Rich text search is among them, and deeper understanding of the documents could both help automate storage and retrieval and also lead to new insights. At some point there will also be an optional program to submit a child’s information (anonymously, of course) to help create a database of what accommodations in which places and cases led to what outcomes — essentially aggregating information direct from the source.
ExceptionAlly has some free content to peruse if you’re curious whether it might be helpful for you or someone you know, and there are a variety of paid options should it seem like a good fit.
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Because there is so much value in basing one’s PPC tests on statistically significant data, here we provide you with several tools and examples of how to do it.
Read more at PPCHero.com
Not to get too philosophical, but that’s one of the big challenges of building a culture of growth and optimization: getting the word out. That’s why a data storyteller is one of the key members of any testing team.
In fact, “communication and data storytelling” was noted as a critical skill for a person who leads testing and optimization efforts, according to a survey of marketing leaders who conduct tests and online experiments.1 The must-have skills rounding out the top three were leadership and, the obvious, analytics.
A data storyteller is part numbers-cruncher, part internal marketer, and part ace correspondent from the testing trenches. He or she is someone who can take the sheer data of testing — the stacks of numbers, the fractional wins and losses, the stream of daily choices — and turn it into a narrative that will excite the team, the office, and (especially) the C-suite.
Storytelling doesn’t just mean bragging about successes. It can also mean sharing failures and other less-than-optimal outcomes. The point is not just to highlight wins: it’s to reinforce a culture of growth, to generate interest in experimentation, and to explain why testing is so good for the company.
“Our test success rate is about 10%,” says Jesse Nichols, Head of Growth for Nest. “We learn something from all our tests, but only one in 10 results in some kind of meaningful improvement.” That means that a big part of the data storyteller’s job is to keep people interested in testing and show them the value.
Watch our on-demand webinar “Test with success — even when you fail” to hear more testing and optimization tips.
If you’re the data storyteller for your team, here are three points to remember:
- Take the long view. Gaining support for testing is like rolling a rock up a hill: slow going at first, but once you cross the summit the momentum will take over fast. It takes time, so lay the groundwork with lots of short reports. Don’t wait to make formal presentations: Look for chances to drop your message into weekly wrap-ups and other group forums. In short, don’t be afraid to over-communicate.
- Be specific. It’s better to present one great number than 10 so-so ones. Think mosaic rather than mural: Look for specific stories that can represent your larger efforts and broader plans.
- Keep your eye on the bottom line. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. You may be thrilled that a call-to-action change from “see more” to “learn more” increased clicks by .03%, but what will really get the CMO and other executives interested is moving the profit needle. As a litmus test, ask yourself, “So what?” If your story doesn’t clearly answer the question in terms the audience cares about, consider giving it a rewrite.
And remember that it won’t always be small victories. “The things you’re so sure are going to work are the ones that go nowhere,” says Jesse. “Then you do a throwaway test and it makes the company an extra $ 500,000.” That’s a story that everyone will want to hear.
Download our eBook How to Build a Culture of Growth to learn more best practices on testing and optimization.
1Source: Google Surveys, U.S., “Marketing Growth and Optimization,” Base: 251 marketing executives who conduct A/B tests or online experiments, Oct. 2016.
Posted by Casey Carey, Director, Platforms & Publisher Marketing
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