startup hacks

Using Data to Mold Your PR Strategy

On Saturday, the New York Times published an article titled “OkCupid’s Unblushing Analyst of Attraction” detailing the dating company’s commitment to using data for the purpose of understanding the social dynamics involved in courtship. Unlike Microsoft or Google’s research groups, OkCupid’s initiative goes beyond using R&D for new feature development. It turns out that publicizing their practice of using data to distill social insights is a well-crafted press strategy, both differentiating their offering from those of competitors and drawing tons of attention to the OkCupid brand.

Here’s how their strategy works: OkCupid launches a free dating service distinguished from other services by its playful questionnaires and quizzes. Without revealing any specific user data that would breach their privacy policy, the company aggregates data and provides their insights on its blog and to the press. In the NY Times article, they reference data while stating how their users show preferences for users of the same race. The results are provocative conclusions about racism, flirting, and even strategies for courtship– all of which make for a more interesting story than the one about a dating company releasing yet another product feature.

Over the years, OkCupid has been able to use this strategy to their great advantage. They release a study, then the study is instantly covered, syndicated, and analyzed, and this results in incremental SEO ranking improvements, which in turn leads to more OkCupid registrants and more studies. As a digital entrepreneur, you should be asking yourself whether or not you could make a strategy like this work for your startup.

Imagine you have a company offering an online fundraising solution for political campaigns and non-profit organizations. Across many political campaigns, your company will have collected insights into what types of mailings proved the most effective in soliciting donations. You could publish data about what kind of copy worked best, what time of day was most effective to send out mailings, and even which demographics were the most responsive to mailings.

For an online shop selling gifts for newborns, you might be able to use data to provide answers about the time period when people are most likely to give gifts after a birth, or your findings on consumer spending in relation to a baby’s gender. The possibilities are limitless.

Companies often issue press releases about milestones in company development without realizing that these milestones are only meaningful insomuch as the audience has a vested interest in the company. If you have a business with some operating history and a large set of internal data, you should explore how to leverage what information you’ve collected to create press-worthy human interest stories and help move your industry forward.

The Takeaway:

  • The next time you’re thinking about writing about your 1 millionth user or the launch of your Android application, ask yourself whether or not you’ve collected any data that can lead to a more compelling narrative.

– Andrew

What Happens When You Run out of Blog Content?

When we first launched the Roadmap course in May, we debated for a long time about whether or not we should start a company blog. In my past ventures, blogs ended up as exercises in futility. They inevitably died when we lost steam on our posting frequency and then we eventually stopped writing them altogether, leaving behind a graveyard of content and dreams of a large readership.

When actively maintained and frequented by an engaged user-base, a blog is an amazing asset for any company to have. So the question we posed to ourselves was: how can we create a blog that is likely to remain sustainable over time, avoiding the burnout that so frequently follows blog creation?

Our first conclusion was that my prior burnouts weren’t associated with the actual writing, but rather with the process of selecting topics to write about. Our second conclusion was that the principal focus couldn’t be simply opining on industry stories. The blog’s focus needed to center around content that we were already engaging with on a consistent basis.

So what would this tactic look like, practically speaking?

On a regular basis, I receive many questions and invitations for meetings from startup founders. In the past, I would do my best to respond to each person individually and schedule time to speak with them. My motivation for connecting with first-time entrepreneurs was threefold:

  • It kept me sharp. The best way to learn about what the future holds is to be speaking to as many people you can about the future that they are creating;
  • I believe in the principal of ‘paying it forward.’ In the past, many people were there to help me. It’s good karma for me to help others; and
  • I’m interested in bringing founders into the Roadmap boot camp where I can provide the most comprehensive entrepreneurial information I’ve gathered and scale the educational platform that we’re building.

In the past month, we created Founders’ Hours— weekly 20-minute sessions that entrepreneurs could schedule in order to ask me any questions they have about building startups or relating to the weekend course that we offer. Right now, we’re using the free minimalistic service Calendly for meeting scheduling.

While each founder’s case is fairly specific, the advice that I offer is, more often than not, broadly applicable to a wide range of entrepreneurs. This means that it makes sense to try and memorialize each session’s content in the form of a blog post. Using Founders’ Hours as a content creation vehicle would accomplish:

  • Educating entrepreneurs on business questions asked by real startup founders;
  • Drawing dedicated, quality entrepreneurs to upcoming events; and
  • Generating sustainable and shareable blog content.

By institutionalizing these question-and-answer sessions on a weekly basis, we’re guaranteeing that we’ll continually generate blog content. Publishing these findings would also satisfy our company’s over-arching vision, which is providing guidance and inspiration to entrepreneurs so that they can build stronger businesses.

At the outset, we’re instating the following basic guidelines for our blog, just to keep the content uniform and flowing smoothly:

  • Each post is based on a Founders’ Hours session;
  • Content is anonymized and generalized so that no individual can be identified and so that it will aid the larger entrepreneurial community.

As we launch this blog, we view it as an experiment, not a fixed device. For the time being, we hope we’ve solved the problem of offering content that isn’t duplicative, irrelevant, or merely self-promotional. We’ll continue adapting our guidelines as we go along, making sure to focus on content generation tactics that can be enacted with the least amount of effort and the maximum potential value, which we’ll write about here.

The Takeaway:

To have a much better chance at developing a regular blogging habit, center your blogging system around content that:

  • You’re most interested in;
  • You deal with frequently (which makes you somewhat of an authority);
  • You view as having a great potential for being automated.

If this tactic has worked for you in the past, we’d like to hear about it. Leave a comment about the wonders of automation or your blogging hacks below.

Want to receive entrepreneurial advice and contribute to the greater startup community’s knowledge base? Schedule a free Founders’ Hours session with me here. (We’ll never share your personal details.)

– Andrew

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