Wells RileyBlog


Sometimes people do.

Aug 20, 2012 4.5 minutes

I’ve heard this story many times from many people, myself included:

“No one subscribes to mailing lists”

“No one cares about your Twitter feed”

“No one wants to watch some stupid Epipheo video”

“Only your mother will ever love your product”

In the startup world, there’s this perception that engagement is impossible, and that potential customers are completely apathetic. Unless you’re TechCrunched or have a patronizingly simple signup flow, there’s no way to get users. Even once you do, they forget about you in an instant.

There’s a fair amount of truth and data backing that argument – even my own Google Analytics and some super-scientific empirical research show that only about 1% of viewers engage on content:

The 1% rule states that the number of people who create content on the Internet represents approximately 1% (or less) of the people actually viewing that content (for example, for every person who posts on a forum, generally about 99 other people are viewing that forum but not posting).

Why bother spending the time creating email campaigns and Tweeting (super tedious), creating product videos (super expensive), or hoping that 1% of your potential customers will magically evangelize your product? It seems like a lot of effort for such a small percentage, and it’s hard to see any benefit to all of that work.

Example – I received an email from Art.sy last week and unceremoniously deleted it. I didn’t open it, and I didn’t even read the subject line. I just wasn’t in the mood and didn’t give a shit about what they had to say. As a product designer, it’s my job to let myself do these kinds of things… It helps me experience things from a customer perspective, and remember that most people don’t give a damn about me. Heck, I almost deleted Kicksend from my iPhone when it crashed the other day before I remembered that I work there.

A few months ago, I took a class on “marketing” for early-stage companies. At the end, during Q&A, a participant mentioned how he thought product intro videos were useless. He said he’d never use them because they’re trite and “typical of an internet startup.” The presenter paused for a minute, but what he said surprised me. He said that it’s easy to get jaded when you work in the industry, but there are so many success stories with product intros. 1 They give people something to share and discuss. It’s a tangible piece of a (sometimes) intangible product.

It’s a strange thing, then, that I’m going to tell you to do those things, and make sure they kick ass. Make your mailing list prominent, but make it easy for people to subscribe and unsubscribe with zero fuss (and no confirmation damnit). Maintain an active Twitter feed, even if you’re just Buffering things from HN and TechCrunch. Commission a product intro video, and don’t stop refining it until it’s stellar.

Why? Because some people do give a damn. And those people are the lifeblood of your business.

I’m very interested in Retina display technology, interaction design, and Apple – so last week I started a small project called Retina Mac Apps. Gizmodo calls it “the new App Store for Retina Mac owners.” As we were putting on the finishing touches, I asked myself if we should have a mailing list. Nah, who would use it? Who cares enough about Retina Mac apps to receive a weekly digest?

As it turns out, over 200 people do. And the list is growing.

Why did I choose to include a MailChimp signup? I figured that, since I’m really passionate about this, there must be other people who are too. I’m building this thing for them, and I want to give those like-minded people the best experience possible. Isn’t that the point?

It takes a certain amount of pride (or maybe arrogance, I’m not sure) to admit to yourself that your product is interesting enough for strangers to follow or evangelize. Don’t shrug them off as an unlikely minority – embrace them. Give them no choice but to gush about you on Twitter, share your video, or talk about why they love what you do. Help them tell the story, and keep them engaged. It won’t be viral growth, but it’ll definitely be the most powerful organic growth you could hope for. If you don’t make it easy, they’ll find something else to love.

It’s easy to ignore 1%, especially with naysayers spouting off about how stupid Twitter feeds and mailing lists are. Unfortunately for them, that 1% represents most of the organic conversation anyone will ever see surrounding a product. Create great content, amazing products, and make them easy to share with others. Most people will never tweet, like, or share, but sometimes people do. Optimize for it.

The 11th Principle of Good Design ⇢