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Testimonial link building: Using real experiences for success

July 18, 2020 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Link building is one of the most crucial yet most difficult aspects of SEO but testimonial link building can solve that problem for you.
  • Testimonial link building is seen as a great way to harness this raw strength of positive experiences by customers. 
  • Giving a testimonial to a company you have availed service from or purchased from can be a great way to get a link back to your site.  
  • It’s such a simple and straightforward method, which may be one of the reasons why your business should implement testimonials and reviews into your link building strategy. 

In this analytical age, brands are competing on the minutest details. Targeting the right keywords, creating campaigns targeting the right demographic, coming up with effective CTAs, and all those technicalities. However, amidst all that, there is still an element that cannot be measured using an existing tool. That’s where testimonial link building comes into the picture.

Word of mouth from customers can end up making or breaking all the efforts brands put in their campaigns. You as a brand can do everything right but a negative experience by a customer can create negative brand equity that’ll be hard to shed. In the same way, positive word of mouth can boost up your sales manifolds. This why testimonial link building is seen as a great way to harness this raw strength of positive experiences by customers. 

Continue reading below to learn what exactly is testimonial link building, how to get started, and what rules you need to abide by during the entire process. 

What is testimonial link building?

In laymen terms, testimonial link building is using a positive comment from customers that have used your service or product and featuring them on your website. At its core, testimonial link building is meant to provide genuine positive word of mouth for website owners in exchange for a link. In the end, everyone’s happy and it helps brands grow and gain brand recognition. 

There are some finer details involved too such as relevance. Think about it, if you’re a software company, do you want a testimonial from a café from a completely different country? Relevance is key. Just like textual content, you can’t overdo the use of testimonial link building as it’ll end up hurting both parties instead of helping them. There’s no perfect recipe for success in testimonial link building apart from ensuring clarity and relevance. 

Jayson Demers, CEO of Email Analytics says testimonials really fruitful strategy to build links,

“With every testimonial, you will receive Search Engine Crawlers will recognize that your site has an authority” 

Perfection on those true fronts will yield great results for both parties. So, how does it work, and more importantly, how do you get started? Continue reading below to learn more. 

How to build testimonial links 

Without beating around the bush, the whole process boils down to 5 crucial steps that anyone can follow. These are as follows: 

1. Create a target list of products/services

This is where you’ll need to do the most homework. I’d advise you to keep your range of targets as wide as possible but avoid venturing into irrelevant fields. 

Some other things to keep in mind include targeting solution-based products and services. The potential customers looking at this are already at a high engagement point and they’re more likely to convert. I’d also advise making sure you target products and services that you’ve actually used. It would be futile to skip this part as it is a legal requirement. You can still choose to move ahead with this but it’s unlikely any product or service will entertain your testimonial requests if you’re not an existing customer.

Jay Eckert, Founder of Parachute Design also recommends using testimonials for your services,

When you write honest reviews for products or services you are using, it is ultimately benefiting your website’s exposure and visibility in the form of backlinks or through Brand mentions”  

2. Find their contact information 

Once you’ve identified the best possible leads, it’s time to start contacting them. Again, this step requires a lot of elbow grease, so bear that in mind. However, some extensions and tools can help you in this regard and make your job a little easier. 

For instance, ’FindThatLead’ is a tool that  allows you to find your target’s contact details almost at a click of a single button. Just enter the domain you’re targeting and it’ll provide you the details of the right person to contact for your request. Some other similar apps include Hunter.io and Voila Norbert. 

3. Pitch your testimonial via email

This is a crucial part that a lot of people mess up. This is the point where you pitch your testimonial, do not send your testimonial. There is a clear difference between the two and it could save you a lot of time. 

You’re supposed to pitch the idea of giving them a testimonial on the site. While nothing is stopping you from writing up a testimonial and sending it to them, if they reject it, you’ve wasted all that hard work for nothing. 

Write a short and to-the-point email to pitch your testimonial and how it can add value to their overall site. 

4. Write a relevant testimonial

Once you’ve received a green-light to go ahead with a testimonial, you can start working on it. The intent of each testimonial matters a lot, so you must understand what the site owner’s intent is. For instance, if they’re a no-profit organization, they don’t want to sell anything but rather raise awareness. Similarly, a start-up would want to encourage a maximum of new customers. 

Tailor your testimonial based on what the intent of that testimonial on the site is supposed to be. 

5. Create a video backing up that testimonial 

Okay, fair disclaimer, this last step is more of a bonus step. You can skip it if you want but I’d advise against it. There’s a pearl of old internet wisdom to be skeptical of everything you see on the Internet. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer. If you’re someone that’s looking at these testimonials, how do you know they’re real. Yes, they all sound convincing and they have the verification mark guaranteeing they’re real customers. However, there will still be an iota of doubt in their minds. This doubt can be the obstacle between a potential customer converting into an actual customer. You can use video or visual testimonial as well. 

Laws and regulations to consider

Even though testimonials present a tremendous opportunity to sell your product and service using your previous sales’ as proof, there are some strict guidelines on how you need to present them. 

The Federal Trade Commission has an entire set of laws on how businesses can use endorsements and testimonials in their advertising. I wouldn’t go as far as to call these to be stifling but they do require some strict criterion to be followed. The entire document can be found and studied here. 

But in case you’re looking for a short rundown of what this means, there are three things you need to be careful about when using testimonials. 

The context needs to be clear. You can’t throw in a testimonial that was given to you for a different version of the service or the app for instance. If you still want to use that testimonial then you’ll have to specify the details. This is primarily why on the App Store when reading reviews for apps, you’ll find reviews marked “review for a different version” 

In case the testimonials were for quid pro quo, you can still use them but you’ll have to provide all customers full disclosure. This means any behind the scenes deals to prop each other up by brands is a big no-no. 

This should go without saying, but all testimonials you choose to use must be genuine. If found guilty of cultivating fake testimonials, your brand can face heavy fines depending on which state you’re in. Steer clear of quantities when it comes to testimonials and focus on delivering quality and earning genuine, organic testimonials that you can use.

The post Testimonial link building: Using real experiences for success appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Search Engine Watch


Online reputation management: Seven steps to success

June 3, 2020 No Comments

30-second summary:

  • Apparently, it’s crucial to track your reputation in order to prevent PR crises. Moreover, monitoring your reputation enables you to discover valuable customer insights.
  • Founder and CMO at SEO PowerSuite and Awario, Aleh Barysevich, shares a strategy to tackle the challenges of online reputation management. 
  • Right from setting up your online reputation management (ORM) protocol to becoming proactive about getting reviews, there’s more to discover. 

There’s no need to explain the importance of reputation for businesses. The good word of your customers, potential or existing, is the best promotion tool you have. Meanwhile, scandals and criticism can ruin companies. Reputation becomes even more important during the times of crisis when emotions are heightened and any mistake can lead to a full-blown scandal. 

The internet really just amplified the importance of reputation: news and rumours travel fast, but on social media, they travel even faster (and reach more people). Who among us hasn’t checked the reviews before purchasing a product or hasn’t checked out a brand after seeing a friend praising it on social media?  No matter the size of your business, people are talking about you online, sharing their opinion on social media or leaving a review on Yelp and the likes of it.  

It would be wrong to think about online reputation as something separate from your “real-world” or offline reputation: with three billion social media users and counting your online reputation is simply your reputation, it affects purchasing decisions both online and offline.  

For example, Gillette’s polarizing campaign “The Best Men Can Be” gathered a lot of negative feedback (as well as some positive). Social media users publicly denounced the company and promised to stop buying Gillette razors. That wasn’t the first time a social media scandal led to calls for a boycott of the company, Nike and Uber being other notable examples.  

Besides the obvious need to track your reputation in order to prevent PR crises, monitoring your reputation enables you to discover valuable customer insights. Once you start paying close attention to your reviews and mentions online, you’ll learn what people love about your product, what they think you could improve, and what influences their decisions the most.  

All this makes reputation management more relevant than ever. You simply can’t ignore online conversations around your brand if you want to have a successful business. Luckily, the digital world gives us a lot more tactics and tools to monitor and actively improve our reputation than the offline world ever could. This article covers online reputation management step by step, giving you specific guidelines to follow.  

How to manage your reputation online 

Most businesses already conduct some type of online reputation management (ORM), for example, answering customers’ comments and posts where they were tagged. But to make your reputation crisis-proof, you need a robust workflow, and that’s what this article is all about. You can use these steps to revise your existing ORM workflow or build a new one from scratch. 

Step one: Set up your ORM protocol

Before you even start going through your online reviews, you need to establish some guidelines. These will help you and your team to know when to respond to reviews, do it appropriately and quickly, and know the best way to act if there’s a threat of a reputation crisis. This protocol can be as thorough as you like depending on how much you are synced with your team, but here are some questions to answer to figure out the guidelines: 

  • How fast should you answer? Obviously, the quicker your response, the better, but it’s a good practice to establish the minimum response time required for your team members. 
  • How transparent are you willing to be? This will help you determine if you want to go into all the nuances when responding to a customer or simply reassure them that you’re working on the issue. The recent trends prove that transparency is very much appreciated by customers.  
  • What tone of voice should you use? This, of course, will depend on your brand. Should you be cordial or professional and straight-to-the-point? Can you make jokes? Oftentimes a funny response to a complaint can go viral. For example, Oatly is one of the brands that heavily uses negative reviews in its marketing putting an ironic spin on them. But would it fit your brand’s image? 
  • Who will be the spokesperson(s) in case of a crisis? If the need arises, who will be giving the official statements on behalf of your brand? Is it the CEO, or the PR manager? Again, you can decide on the answer based on your company’s image — if you’re trying to build authentic relationships with customers and/or have a charismatic leader, it’s only logical that your CEO will do the talking.  
  • Should you automate your responses? Automation cuts your response time to seconds and allows you to save on staff, but can you be sure it won’t anger your customers? In the example below, the customer grew frustrated after trying to solve their problem on Twitter and getting the same scripted message from Amazon. 

  • Should you always respond? Some brands take their pride in the “always respond rule”, and for smaller brands, it’s actually a must — the more engagement you get, the higher your brand awareness, especially on social media. But once you start getting a ton of mentions at once, you might need to start prioritizing. Besides, sometimes negative reviews can just become trolling — and if there’s one rule you need to learn on the Internet, it’s “Don’t feed the trolls”.  

By answering the questions, you should have a clear outline of dos and don’ts for your social media, community, and PR managers. 

Step two: Choose and set up a monitoring tool

You could try tracking your online reviews and mentions manually, but without a specialized tool, it’s practically impossible. Online reputation management tools enable you to find mentions of your company on social media, in the news, and on review aggregator websites. There is an array of monitoring tools for different needs and budgets, such as AwarioBrandwatchReputology, and others. How do you choose the right one? 

As with the previous step, there are some questions you could ask yourself and your team to decide which tool to settle on: 

  • Platforms it covers. Of course, when we are doing online reputation management, the more feedback we find, the better. But for some businesses specific websites or social media platforms are crucial: for example, TripAdvisor for tourist guide companies or Instagram for clothing brands.  
  • Sentiment analysis. Sentiment analysis is one of the core features in ORM. It helps you focus on dealing with negative reviews first and see the overall share of negative and positive mentions of your brand.  
  • Special features. Are there any particular requirements that your team might have? Do you need influencer analytics to quickly prioritize reviews with the biggest reach first? Or do you maybe need a tool that could easily be integrated with your CRM/task manager?  
  • Pricing. Reputation management tools vary greatly in pricing going from Enterprise-level analytical powerhouses that cost thousands of dollars, to much more affordable options for mid- and small-sized businesses. Make sure the core features you’re looking for are available in the plan you’re ready to pay for! 

Most tools offer either free trials or demos to get you acquainted with them, so you can investigate before you are ready to invest. 

Once you settle on a tool, you need to set it up to start monitoring. You can monitor your brand name, the name of your products, the names of key public figures in your company. Don’t forget to include common misspellings of these words and phrases – it’s a common mistake that brands make when monitoring their reputation which results in missing a lot of feedback. 

setting online reputation management tool

Most tools allow you to choose some filters for your monitoring efforts: to find reviews only in a certain language, from certain countries or platforms.  

If there’s a topic that causes particular concern for your reputation (for example, Shell and oil spillage), you can create a separate monitoring alert for it using a Boolean search mode.  

Most reputation management tools have a notification settings tab where you can choose when and how you want to receive notifications. 

Now that you’re finished with your setup, it’s time to check your online reputation! 

Step three: Check sentiment analytics and mention spikes

The first thing to do every time you go to your online reputation management tool is to look at the dashboard. This is typically where all your analytics are visualized so you can notice if something is out of the ordinary right away.  

sentiment graph - online reputation management (ORM) tool

First, look at your overall sentiment and see the shares of positive and negative mentions. This will give you an understanding of your overall reputation. You can select different time frames to get a closer look at a certain moment in your company’s history, or vice versa choose as big of a time frame as you want to get a historical perspective.  

mentions graph

Other important graphs here are the number and reach of mentions, specifically, sudden spikes in it. A sudden spike in the number of mentions means that a lot of people are talking about you (hopefully, for a good reason) and a sudden spike in reach can also indicate that some influential account or website mentioned your brand. A lot of stories nowadays emerge on social media and paying attention to spikes allows you to get on top of the story right away.  

Step four: Deal with the social media mentions

Now that you’re sure that there are no reputation crises unfurling at the moment, it’s time to deal with individual mentions. I suggest focusing on social media first since it’s the media with the biggest “sense of urgency”, that is, the medium where people expect you to answer the quickest. According to the study by The Social Habit, 42% of social media users expect a brand to respond in 60 minutes or less.  

Most tools have some kind of a feed that gives you access to individual mentions. For now, filter out everything but the mentions from social media platforms: we will deal with the rest a bit later.  

Usually, social media mentions are sorted by date with the newest mentions displayed first. You can filter them to see negative mentions only to make sure you respond to the unhappy customers first, and then take a look at the neutral and positive mentions, thanking users and sharing favorable posts. Testimonials are an extremely powerful way to promote your brand, so don’t neglect the positive reviews you get, use them. 

The mentions, both positive and negative, can be a great source of customer insights as well. Pay attention to constructive feedback, you can even tag them to come back to them later or share them with your colleagues. 

Step five: Check review sites

Now that social media are dealt with, let’s move on to other types of review platforms: Google My Business, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon, and any industry-specific platforms you might come across.  

To find these reviews, do the opposite of what we did in the previous step: filter out all the social media mentions as well as the news. Some tools like Awario even offer a whitelist feature which is used to prioritize certain domains — this could come in handy if you want to make sure you’re getting mentions from specific websites popular in your industry. 

Most websites allow you to respond to reviews once you verify your brand’s account — as with social media, start with the negative ones. You can also share the positive reviews on your website and social media through plugins or screenshots. 

If you allow reviews on your own website (if you’re running an eCommerce business, for example), now is a good time to go through them as well. 

Step six: Check mentions from the media 

Granted you haven’t noticed a sudden change in the sentiment or number of mentions at the third step, media outlets and blogs can wait until you’ve dealt with social reviews. Of course, if you’re in the midst of a PR scandal, the news becomes a much more important source. Also, these steps could be tackled by different teams – social and reviews sites can be taken care of by community managers and news and blogs can be handled by the PR professionals. Nevertheless, they will still be using the same online reputation management tool. 

Filter out everything but mentions from news and blogs. Then the workflow is pretty much the same: check the negative articles first, then the rest. You can reach out to bloggers and journalists to try to swing their opinion in case of negative coverage or thank them and possibly build lasting relationships.  

Step seven: Become proactive about getting reviews

Some communication specialists may treat reviews as a headache: the truth is people are much more likely to leave negative reviews than positive ones. This discrepancy can create a feeling of despair when it comes to online reputation management, but this only means that you need to become more proactive about getting reviews from your customers. 

The secret to getting more reviews is asking for them! You need to set up a consistent system of encouraging your customers to leave reviews on social media and review platforms. You can do it manually or use automation tools (Buffer, Mailchimp, Delighted) to schedule social media posts and emails encouraging users to leave reviews and add review-requests plugins to your website. Resharing positive reviews on social may also encourage other users to post praises to your business. You can even run a social media contest focusing on positive reviews as the main challenge for your followers. Get creative! 

To sum up

With proper preparations, online reputation management becomes a piece of cake. Once you have clear guidelines in place (which can be perfected over time) and set up a reputation management tool, there should be no trouble for you to make your reputation crisis-proof. 

Aleh Barysevich is Founder and CMO at SEO PowerSuite and Awario.

The post Online reputation management: Seven steps to success appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Spark fast follows with a $25M Series B round into customer success platform Catalyst

April 28, 2020 No Comments

The world has been turned upside down the past few weeks, but one lesson of business remains as important as ever: treating your customers well is the best avenue to future business strength, particularly at a moment of extreme stress.

As businesses come to terms with the economic crisis underway, executives are moving resources from customer acquisition to customer retention — and that’s proving very lucrative to startups that service the customer success market.

Case in point: New York City-based Catalyst, which I profiled just last summer following its $ 15 million Series A led by Accel’s Vas Natarajan, has seen huge revenue growth the past few months. The data-driven customer success platform has seen its revenue grow by 380% since the Series A financing according to CEO Edward Chiu.

Steep revenue growth is (unsurprisingly) attractive to investors, and in a moment of fortuitous timing, the company signed a $ 25 million Series B term sheet with Spark Capital just as the COVID-19 crisis was getting underway.

Chiu said Catalyst wasn’t seeking the investment, having much of its Accel round still in the bank, but he ultimately decided that having the extra capital in hand through a looming economic recession was the right decision. The capital officially hit the bank account at the end of March, and was led by the firm’s growth investor Will Reed.

While the company didn’t disclose the valuation, a source with knowledge of the matter quoted a valuation of $ 125 million. That’s a serious valuation for a company that launched just two years ago in April of 2018.

Outside of more funding, the core story of the company’s product remains the same. Catalyst wants to bring together all the data sources and team members who interact with customers — everyone from designers and engineers to customer success managers — into one dashboard to ensure that everyone has accurate and up-to-date access to all the information they need on the health of every customer.

The one airbrush: the company’s previous URL of getcatalyst.io has become catalyst.io, and officially re-launched this morning.

One growth area that the company is exploring outside of the B2B space of its existing customers is in healthcare, where the company has seen some inbound interest. Chiu says that Catalyst is exploring the steps required to reach HIPAA compliance with its platform, and hopes to expand to more sectors over time with the capital from its Series B.

The Catalyst team. Photo via Catalyst.

When we last checked in with the company, Catalyst had 19 employees and was targeting 40 employees by July 2020. Chiu said that Catalyst is already at 35 employees, and will likely hit 60 to 70 employees by the end of the year.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Methods for PPC Success in Times of Uncertainty

March 27, 2020 No Comments

This blog covers methods to aid digital advertisers as they navigate through this period of uncertainty so they are prepared once the industry normalizes.

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


Why An Omnichannel Strategy Is The Key To Facebook Ads Success

March 6, 2020 No Comments

Conversions aren’t linear anymore. They’re complex, unique and ever-evolving. Get the full view of your customer journey with an Omnichannel Facebook strategy.

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero



Catalyst raises $15M from Accel to transform data-driven customer success

July 30, 2019 No Comments

Managing your customers has changed a lot in the past decade. Out are the steak dinners and ballgame tickets to get a sense of a contract’s chance at renewal, and in are churn analysis and a whole bunch of data science to learn whether a customer and their users like or love your product. That customer experience revolution has been critical to the success of SaaS products, but it can remain wickedly hard to centralize all the data needed to drive top performance in a customer success organization.

That’s where Catalyst comes in. The company, founded in New York City in 2017 and launched April last year, wants to centralize all of your disparate data sources on your customers into one easy-to-digest tool to learn how to approach each of them individually to optimize for the best experience.

The company’s early success has attracted more top investors. It announced today that it has raised a $ 15 million Series A led by Vas Natarajan of Accel, who previously backed enterprise companies like Frame.io, Segment, InVision, and Blameless. The company had previously raised $ 3 million from NYC enterprise-focused Work-Bench and $ 2.4 million from True Ventures. Both firms participated in this new round.

Catalyst CEO Edward Chiu told me that Accel was attractive because of the firm’s recent high-profile success in the enterprise space, including IPOs like Slack, PagerDuty, and CrowdStrike.

When we last spoke with Catalyst a year and a half ago, the firm had just raised its first seed round and was just the company’s co-founders — brothers Edward and Kevin Chiu — and a smattering of employees. Now, the company has 19 employees and is targeting 40 employees by the end of the year.

Team Photo

In that time, the product has continued to evolve as it has worked with its customers. One major feature of Catalyst’s product is a “health score” that determines whether a customer is likely to grow or churn in the coming months based on ingested data around usage. CEO Chiu said that “we’ve gotten our health score to be very very accurate” and “we have the ability to take automated action based on that health score.” Today, the company offers “prefect sync” with Salesforce, Mixpanel, Zendesk, among other services, and will continue to make investments in new integrations.

One high priority for the company has been increasing the speed of integration when a new customer signs up for Catalyst. Chiu said that new customers can be onboarded in minutes, and they can use the platform’s formula builder to define the exact nuances of their health score for their specific customers. “We mold to your use case,” he said.

One lesson the company has learned is that as success teams increasingly become critical to the lifeblood of companies, other parts of the organization and senior executives are working together to improve their customer’s experiences. Chiu told me that the startup often starts with onboarding a customer success team, only to later find that C-suite and other team leads have also joined and are also interacting together on the platform.

An interesting dynamic for the company is that it does its own customer success on its customer success platform. “We are our own best customer,” Chiu said. “We login every day to see the health of our customers… our product managers login to Catalyst every day to read product feedback.”

Since the last time we checked in, the company has added a slew of senior execs, including Cliff Kim as head of product, Danny Han as head of engineering, and Jessica Marucci as head of people, with whom the two Chius had worked together at cloud infrastructure startup DigitalOcean.

Moving forward, Chiu expects to invest further in data analysis and engineering. “One of the most unique things about us is that we are collecting so much unique data: usage patterns, [customer] spend fluctuations, [customer] health scores,” Chiu said. “It would be a hugely missed opportunity not to analyze that data and work on churn.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Social chat app Capture launches to take a shot at less viral success

July 17, 2019 No Comments

At first glance launching a new social app may seem as sensible a startup idea as plunging headfirst into shark-infested waters. But with even infamous curtain-ripper Facebook now making grand claims about a ‘pivot to privacy’ it’s clear something is shifting in the commercial shipping channels that contain our digital chatter.

Whisper it: Feeds are tiring. Follows are tedious. Attention is expiring. There’s also, of course, the damage that personal digital baggage left out in the open can wreak long after the fact of a blown fuse or fleeting snap.

Public feeds have become vehicles of self-promotion; carefully and heavily curated — which of course brings its own peer pressures to keep up with friends’ lux exploits and the influencer ‘gram aesthetic that pretends life looks like a magazine spread.

Yet for a brief time, in the gritty early years of social media, there was something akin to spontaneous, confessional reality on show online. People do like to share. That’s mostly been swapped for the polish of aspirational faking it on apps like Facebook-owned Instagram. While genuine friend chatter has moved behind the quasi-closed doors of group messaging apps, like Facebook-owned WhatsApp (or rival Telegram).

If you want to chat more freely online without being defined by your existing social graph the options are less mainstream friendly to say the least.

Twitter is genuinely great if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to find interesting strangers. But its user growth problem shows most consumers just aren’t willing (or able) to do that. Telegram groups also require time and effort to track down.

Also relevant in interest-based chat: Veteran forum Reddit, and game chat platform Discord — both pretty popular, though not in a way that really cuts across the mainstream, tending to cater to more niche and/or focused interests. Neither is designed for mobile first either.

This is why Capture’s founders are convinced there’s a timely opportunity for a new social app to slot in — one which leverages smartphone sensors and AI smarts to make chatting about anything as easy as pointing a camera to take a shot.

They’re not new to the social app game, either. As we reported last year, two of Capture’s founders were part of the team behind the style transfer app Prisma, which racked up tens of millions of downloads over a few viral months of 2016.

And with such a bright feather in their cap, a number of investors — led by General Catalyst — were unsurprisingly eager to chip into Capture’s $ 1M seed, setting them on the road to today’s launch.

Point and chat

“The main idea behind the app is during the day you’ve got different experiences — working, watching some TV series etc, you’re sitting in an arena watching some sports, or something like that. So we imagine that you should open the app during any type of experience you have during the day,” says Capture co-founder and CEO Alexey Moiseenkov fleshing out the overarching vision for the app.

“It’s not for your friends; it’s the moment when you should share something or just ask something or discuss something with other people. Like news, for example… I want to discuss news with the people who are relevant, who want to discuss it. And so on and on. So I imagine it is about small groups with the same goal, discussing the same experience, or something like that. It’s all about your everyday life.”

“Basically you can imagine our app as like real-time forum,” he adds. “Real-time social things like Reddit. So it’s more about live discussion, not postponing something.”

Chat(room) recommendations are based on contextual inferences that Capture can glean from the mobile hardware. Namely where you are (so the app needs access to your location) and even whether you’re on the move or lounging around (it also accesses the accelerometer so can tell the angle of the phone).

The primary sensory input comes from the camera of course. So like Snap it’s a camera-first app, opening straight into the rear lens’ live view.

By default chats in Capture are public so it also knows what topics users are discussing — which in turn further feeds and hones its recommendations for chats (and indeed matching users).

Co-founder and CMO Aram Hardy (also formerly at Prisma) gives the example of the free-flowing discussion you can see unrolling in YouTube comments when a movie trailer gets its first release — as the sort of energetic, expressive discussion Capture wants to channel inside its app.

“It’s exploding,” he says. “People are throwing those comments, discussing it on YouTube, on web, and that’s a real pain because there is no tool where you can simply discuss it with people, maybe with people around you, who are just interested in this particular trailer live on a mobile device — that’s a real pain.”

“Everything which is happening around the person should be taken into consideration to be suggested in Capture — that’s our simple vision,” he adds.

Everything will mean pop culture, news, local events and interest-based communities.

Though some of the relevant sources of pop/events content aren’t yet live in the app. But the plan is to keep bulking out the suggestive mix to expand what can be discovered via chat suggestions. (There’s also a discovery tab to surface public chats.)

Discovery 1

Hardy even envisages Capture being able to point users to an unfolding accident in their area — which could generate a spontaneous need for locals or passers by to share information.

The aim for the app — which is launching on iOS today (Android will come later; maybe by fall) — is to provide an ever ready, almost no-barrier-to-entry chat channel that offers mobile users no-strings-attached socializing free from the pressures (and limits) of existing social graphs/friend networks; as well as being a context-savvy aid for content and event discovery, which means helping people dive into relevant discussion communities based on shared interests and/or proximity.

Of course location-based chatting is hardly a new idea. (And messaging giant Telegram just added a location-based chats feature to its platform.)

But the team’s premise is that mobile users are now looking for smart ways to supplement their social graph — and it’s betting on a savvy interface unlocking and (re)channelling underserved demand.

“People are really tired of something really follower based,” argues Moiseenkov. “All this stuff with a following, liking and so on. I feel there is a huge opportunity for all the companies around the world to make something based on real-time communication. It’s more like you will be heard in this chat so you can’t miss a thing. And I think that’s a powerful shot.

“We want to create a smaller room for every community in the Internet… So you can always join any group and just start talking in a free way. So you never shared your real identity — or it’s under your control. You can share or not, it’s up to you. And I think we need that.

“It’s what we miss during this Facebook age where everybody is ‘real’. Imagine that it’s like a game. In a game you’re really free — you can express yourself what way you want. I think that’s a great idea.”

“The entry threshold [for Twitter] is enormous,” adds Hardy. “You can’t have an account on Twitter and get famous within a week if you’re not an influencer. If you’re a simple person who wants to discuss something it’s impossible. But you can just create a chat or enter any chat within Capture and instantly be heard.

“You can create a chat manually. We have an add button — you can add any chat. It will be automatically recognized and suggested to other users who are interested in these sort of things. So we want every user to be heard within Capture.”

How it works

Capture’s AI-powered chatroom recommendations are designed to work as an onboarding engine for meeting relevant strangers online — using neural networks and machine learning to do the legwork of surfacing relevant people and chats.

Here’s how the mobile app works: Open the app, point the camera at something you view as a conversational jumping off point — and watch as it processes the data using computer vision technology to figure out what you’re looking at and recommend related chats for you to join.

For example, you might point the camera around your front room and be suggested a chatroom for ‘interior design trends and ideas’ , or at a pot plant and get ‘gardeners’ chat, or at your cat and get ‘pet chat’ or ‘funny pets’.

Capture app

Point the camera at yourself and you might see suggestions like ‘Meet new friends’, ‘Hot or not?’, ‘Dating’, ‘Beautiful people’ — or be nudged to start a ‘Selfie chat’, which is where the app will randomly connect you with another Capture user for a one-to-one private chat.

Chat suggestions are based on an individual user’s inferred interests and local context (pulled via the phone) and also on matching users across the app based on respective usage of the app.

At the same time the user data being gathered is not used to pervasively profile uses, as is the case with ad-supported social networks. Rather Capture’s founders say personal data pulled from the phone — such as location — is only retained for a short time and used to power the next set of recommendations.

Capture users are also not required to provide any personal data (beyond creating a nickname) to start chatting. If they want to use Capture’s web platform they can provide an email to link their app and web accounts — but again that email address does not have to include anything linked to their real identity.

“The key tech we want to develop is a machine learning system that can suggest you the most relevant stuff and topics for you right now — based on data we have from your phone,” continues Moiseenkov. “This is like a magical moment. We do not know who you are — but we can suggest something relevant.

“This is like a smart system because we’ve got some half graph of connection between people. It’s not like the entire graph like your friends and family but it’s a graph on what chat you are in, so where are you discussing something. So we know this connection between people [based on the chats you’re participating in]… so we can use this information.

“Imagine this is somehow sort of a graph. That’s a really key part of our system. We know these intersections, we know the queries, and the intersection of queries from different people. And that’s the key here — the key machine learning system then want to match this between people and interests, between people and topics, and so on.

“On top of that we’ve got recognition stuff for images — like six or seven neural networks that are working to recognize the stuff, what are you seeing, how, what position and so on. We’ve got some quite slick computer vision filters that can do some magic and do not miss.

“Basically we want to perform like Google in terms of query we’ve got — it’s really big system, lots of tabs — to suggest relevant chats.”

Image recognition processing is all done locally on the user’s device so Capture is not accessing any actual image data from the camera view — just mathematical models of what the AI believes it’s seen (and again they claim they don’t hold that data for long).

“Mostly the real-time stuff comes from machine learning, analyzing the data we have from your phone — everybody has location. We do not store this location… we never store your data for a long time. We’re trying to move into more private world where we do not know who you are,” says Moiseenkov.

“When you log into our app you just enter the nickname. It’s not about your phone number, it’s not about your social networks. We sometimes — when you just want to log in from other device — we ask you an email. But that’s all. Email and nickname it’s nothing. We do not know nothing about you. About your person, like where you work, who’s your friends, so on and so on. We do not know anything.

“I think that’s the true way for now. That’s why gaming is so fast in terms of growing. People just really want to share, really want to log in and sign up [in a way] that’s easy. And there is no real barriers for that — I think that’s what we want to explore more.”

Chatroulette

Having tested Capture’s app prior to launch I can report that the first wave chat suggestions are pretty rudimentary and/or random.

Plus its image recognition often misfires (for instance my cat was identified as, among other things, a dog, hamster, mouse and even a polar bear (!) — as well as a cat — so clearly the AI’s eye isn’t flawless, and variable environmental conditions around the user can produce some odd and funny results).

 

Capture app

The promise from the founders is that recommendations will get better as the app ingests more data and the AI (and indeed Capture staff performing manual curation of chat suggestions) get a better handle on what people are clicking on and therefore wanting to talk with other users about.

They also say they’re intending to make better linkage leaps in chat suggestions — so rather than being offered a chatroom called ‘Pen’ (as I was),  if you point the Capture camera at a pen, the app might instead nudge you towards more interesting-sounding chats — like ‘office talk’ or ‘writing room’ and so on.

Equally, if a bunch of users point their Capture cameras at the same pen the app might in future be smart enough to infer that they all want to join the same chatroom — and suggest creating a private group chat just for them.

On that front you could imagine members of the same club, say, being able to hop into the same discussion channel — summoning it by scanning a mutual object or design they all own or have access to. And you could also imagine people being delighted by a scanner-based interface linked to custom stuff in their vicinity — as a lower friction entry point vs typing in their directions. (Though — to be clear — the app isn’t hitting those levels of savvy right now.)

“Internally we imagine that we’re like Google but without direct query typing,” Moiseenkov tells TechCrunch. “So basically you do the query — like scanning the world around you. Like you are in some location, like some venue, imagine all this data is like a query — so then step by step we know what people are clicking, then improving the results and this step by step, month by month, so after three month or four month we will be better. So we know what people are clicking, we know what people are discussing and that’s it.”

“It’s tricky stuff,” he adds. “It’s really really hard. So we need lots of machine learning, we need lots of like our hands working on this moderating stuff, replacing some stuff, renaming, suggest different things. But I think that’s the way — that’s the way for onboarding people.

“So when people will know that they will open the app in the arena and they will receive the right results the most relevant stuff for this arena — for the concert, for the match, or something like that, it will be the game. That’s what we want to achieve. So every time during the day you open the app you receive relevant community to join. That’s the key.”

Right now the founders say they’re experimenting with various chat forms and features so they can figure out how people want to use the app and ensure they adapt to meet demand.

Hence, for example, the chatroulette-style random ‘selfie chat’ feature. Which does what it says on the tin — connecting you to another random user for a one-to-one chat. (If selfie chats do end up getting struck out of the app I hope they’ll find somewhere else to house the cute slide-puzzle animation that’s displayed as the algorithms crunch data to connect you to a serendipitous interlocutor.)

They’re also not yet decided on whether public chat content in Capture will persist indefinitely — thereby potentially creating ongoing, topics-based resources — or be ephemeral by default, with a rolling delete which kicks in after a set time to wipe the chat slate clean.

“We actually do not know what will be in the next one to three months. We need to figure out — will it be consistent or ephemeral,” admits Moiseenkov. “We need to figure out certain areas, like usage patterns. We should watch how people behave in our app and then decide what will be the feed.”

Capture does support private group chats as well as public channels — so there’s certainly overlap with the messaging platform Telegram, which also supports both. Though one nuance between them is Capture Channels let everyone comment but only admins post vs Telegram channels being a pure one-way broadcast.

But it’s on interface and user experience where Capture’s approach really diverges from the more standard mobile messaging playbook.

If you imagine it as a mash-up of existing social apps Capture could be thought of as something like a Snap-style front end atop a Telegram-esque body yet altogether sleeker, with none of the usual social baggage and clutter. (Some of that may creep in of course, if users demand it, and they do have a reactions style feature linked up to add in so… )

“With our tool you can find people not from your graph,” says Moiseenkov. “That’s the key here. So with WhatsApp it’s really hard to invite people not from your graph — or like friends of friends. And that’s a really tough question — where I can find the relevant people whom I chat about football? So now we add the tool for you in our app to just find these people and invite them to your [chat].”

“It’s really really hard not to like your friend’s post on Instagram because it’s social capital,” he adds. “You are always liking these posts. And we are not in this space. We do not want to move in this direction of followers, likers, and all this stuff — scrolling and endless communication.

“Time is changing, my life is changing, my friends and family somehow is changing because life is changing… We’re mobile like your everyday life… the app is suggesting you something relevant for this life [now]. And you can just find people also doing the same things, studying, discussing the same things.”

Community building

Why include private chats at all in Capture? Given the main premise (and promise) of the app is its ability to combine strangers with similar interests in the same virtual spaces — thereby expanding interest communities and helping mobile users escape the bubbles of closed chat groups.

On that Moiseenkov says they envisage communities will still want to be able to create their own closed groups — to maintain “a persistent, consistent community”.

So Capture has been designed to contain backchannels as well as open multiple windows into worlds anyone can join. “It’s one of opportunities to make this and I think that we should add it because we do not know exact scenarios right from the launch,” he says of including private conduits alongside public chats.

Given the multiple chat channels in the first release Capture does risk being a bit confusing. And during our interview the founders joke about having created a “maximal viable product” rather than the usual MVP.

But they say they’re also armed to be able to respond quickly to usage patterns — with bits and pieces lined up in the background so they can move quickly to add/remove features based on the usage feedback they get. So, basically, watch this space.

All the feature creep and experimentation has delayed their launch a little though. The app had been slated to arrive in Q4 last year. Albeit, a later-than-expected launch is hardly an unusual story for a startup.

Capture also of course suffers from a lack of users for people to chat to at the point of release — aka, the classic network effect problem (which also makes testing it prior to launch pretty tricky; safe to say, it was a very minimalist messaging experience).

Not having many users also means Capture’s chat suggestions aren’t as intelligent and savvy as the founders imply they’ll be.

So again the MVP will need some time to mature before it’s safe to pass judgement on the underlying idea. It does feel a bit laggy right now — and chat suggestions definitely hit and miss but it will be interesting to see how that evolves as/if users pile in. capture app

Part of their plan is to encourage and nurture movie/TV/entertainment discussion communities specifically — with Hardy arguing there’s “no such tool” that easily supports that. So in future they want Capture users to be notified about new series coming up on Netflix, or Disney’s latest release. Then, as users watch that third party content, their idea is they’ll be encouraged to discuss it live on their mobiles via Capture.

But movie content is only partially launched at this stage. So again that’s all just a nice idea at this stage.

Testing pre-launch on various celebrity visages also drew a suggestive blank — and Hardy confirmed they’ve got more pop culture adds planned for the future.

Such gaps will likely translate into a low stickiness rate at first. But when the team’s ambition is to support a Google-esque level of content queries the scale of the routing and pattern matching task ahead of them is really both massive and unending.

To get usage off the ground they’re aiming to break the content recommendation problem down into more bite-size chunks — starting by seeding links to local events and news (sourced from parsing the public Internet); and also by focusing on serving specific communities (say around sports), and also linked to particular locations, such as cities — the latter two areas likely informed by in what and where the app gets traction.

They’ve also hired a content manager to help with content recommendations. This person is also in charge of “banning some bad things and all that stuff”, as they put it. (From the get go they’re running a filter to ban nudity; and don’t yet support video uploads/streams to reduce their moderation risk. Clearly they will need to be very ‘on it’ to avoid problem usage mushrooming into view and discouraging positive interactions and community growth within the app. But again they say they’re drawing on their Prisma experience.)

They also say they want this social app to be more a slow burn on the growth front — having seen the flip side of burn out viral success at Prisma — which, soon after flooding the social web with painterly selfies, had to watch as tech giants ruthlessly cloned the style transfer effect, reducing their novelty factor and pushing users to move on to their next selfie lens fix.

“As data-driven guys we’re mostly looking for some numbers,” says Moiseenkov when asked where they hope to be with Capture in 12 months’ time. “So I think achieving something like 1M or 2M MAU with a good retention and engagement loop by then is our goal.

“We want to keep this growth under control. So we could release the features step by step, more about engagement not more about viral growth. So our focus is doing something that can keep engagement loop, that can increase our spend time in the app, increase the usage and so on, not driving this into the peak and like acquiring all the trends.”

“Conclusions are drawn from Prisma!” adds Hardy with investor-winning levels of chutzpah.

While it’s of course super early to talk business model, the question is a valid one given Capture’s claims of zero user profiling. Free apps backed by VC will need to monetize the hoped for scale and usage at some point. So how does Capture plan to do that?

The founders say they envisage the app acting as a distribution tool. And for that use case their knowing (only) the timing, location and subject of chats is plenty enough data to carry out contextual targeting of whatever stuff they can get paid to distribute to their users.  

They are also toying with models in a Patreon style — such as users being able to donate to content authors who are in turn distributing stuff to them via Capture. But again plans aren’t fully formed at this nascent stage.

“Our focus right now is more like going into partnerships with different companies that have lots of content and lots of events going on,” says Hardy. “We also are going to ask for permission to get access to music apps like Spotify or Apple Music to be aware of those artists and songs a person is interested in and is listening to. So this will give us an opportunity to suggest relevant new albums, maybe music events, concerts and so on and so forth.

“For example if a band is coming to your city and we know we have access to Apple Music we know you’re listening to it we’ll suggest a concert — we’ll say ‘hey maybe you can win a free ticket’ if we can partner… with someone, so yeah we’re moving into this in the near future I think.”


Social – TechCrunch


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