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AO: What was one unconventional growth tactic that you ran that did support surprisingly well?
Emily Lonetto: I think one unconventional growth factor that I tend to lean on a lot is trying to build and scale communities. So taking the product that you make, that in most cases, is a single person experience and trying to connect those users with each other to continuously grow the business outside of the product itself.
AO: That’s awesome. Can we dive into a specific case around that and maybe talk about the impact?
AO: That’s awesome. Can we dive into a specific case around that and maybe talk about the impact?
Emily Lonetto: Yeah, absolutely. I have so many use cases and examples of those, but I’ll walk you through a few and I’ll go deep on the most recent one. But for context, in my past working in growth, I’ve always tried to figure out ways that we can better connect our users with each other so that we can number one, get early product feedback. Number two, ideally leverage more evangelism, more communication or content if we’re low on that, or don’t have the people for it as well as trying to centralize and create that almost like a startup buffer is what I like to call it. When you’re in that sort of phase and you’re building a lot of things quickly, building that buffer is basically patience when things break and an immediate feedback loop. If things are going awry and we leverage that a ton, not only for referrals, but also just for overall groundswell back when I was in the growth team at tilts, we used and mimicked set university campuses against each other to try to get friend groups, social centers, even like class, let’s say like departments on board at the same time.
So, we used that as one way of leveraging community. And even now, one of the ways that we do that at Voiceflow, which is the company that I currently head growth at, is we invite every single person that comes on and joins the platform into our community group, which is hosted on Facebook. And there we’re able to not only leverage and do more exclusive style events, get closer to them, but also see them interact with each other and help each other activate on the platform even without our help.
AO: Well, let’s talk about the Tilt. I’m interested in the university example. Can you lay that out for us?
Emily Lonetto: Yeah, absolutely. So for context, Tilt, formerly known as Crowdtilt, was a company that was huge in the micro-crowdfunding space. So, we made it easy for people to send requests or split payments between friends. It went crazy viral, starting in the USA and then going internationally into Canada and abroad, before getting acquired by Airbnb rip. When we were trying to grow, especially internationally, we started to really go after existing communities, communities that had the behaviors of large social circles, huge amounts of cash that were kind of small transactions going back and forth.
So friend groups, sororities, or fraternities in the States specifically, and in Canada. Thinking more on even capitalizing on university rivalries, where we would go after one business school, let’s say a school called Queens and then go after a university business school and a university called Western. And the two of them were both extremely, extremely competitive with each other. So we would leverage that all the time. That became a really interesting way that we were basically mirroring or kind of putting our platform in the face of communities that were pre-existing, where we weren’t asking them to do something entirely new, that the product was influencing them to do.
But instead we’re trying to find ways that we can make it easier for them to do the things that they were already doing. So in that case, if you are a club head and you spend a ton of your time in your university community center collecting like $20 bills from people who are passing by versus you creating a link where anybody could send $20 and sign up for the event, we didn’t ask you to make a brand new event or do something totally different, but we made it easier for you to facilitate that one action. So, that behavior itself became a really interesting way that we used to tackle acquisition.
And then we also put those people in localized groups where we had a Tilt ambassador group, which helped us grow very, very rapidly, where we put a bunch of power users in one group where they could talk with each other and even sub groups within that. So, more universities as well.
AO: Very, very cool. Can you tell me about the competitive piece? How you’re leveraging that to make the group go more viral?
Emily Lonetto: Yeah, so leveraging natural competitiveness is always an interesting one. And you see that even like outside of the examples of Tilt, where for instance, during March madness you see hoards of people who are jumping on their favorite teams, and you see gambling sites who are going crazy over that and capitalizing on that, or even in the early days of Dropbox, when they did the referral challenge space race, where they had different universities on a leaderboard. And based on the number of university signups, the universities in the top few spots got the most storage.
And similarly with tilts, we capitalize on natural rivalries that pre-existed. So, I’m not as familiar. So excuse me, I’m Canadian. So I don’t know, as, as many of the rivalries in the States in terms of universities or colleges, as you guys say, but one of the things that we did was we very quickly latched on to some of those competitive spirits and would launch challenges against each other, or we’d use leaderboards to kind of influence how many people they invited on or how many people or who had the largest parties that were hosted on to did X action the amount of times, who ordered the most coffees, things like that. That just got people riled up because they wanted to represent their school. And it didn’t feel like an individual user behavior. Instead it became something that was much grander than that.
AO: That’s amazing. Are there any kind of metrics that you can cite in terms of the impact for Tilt’s business at that time based on that? Cause, it sounds like you would work.
Emily Lonetto: Yeah, I mean absolutely our ambassador program started off as like a tiny little test at the time. I think there were 10 when it first began and then went to 50. Then we were sitting at 200 for a while and got this quota to get 10,000 as an example.
If there’s any small example of what exponential growth looks like, experiments work. Like those numbers alone really showcase what that looks like. For context, it took us about a year and a half to get to 200 and about half a year to get to a couple thousand.
So, it quickly became a very, very engaging and very positive way of us achieving growth beyond that, in terms of numbers. We were getting like applications in like dozens per day at one point. When we peaked maybe like 50 or 60, and we had to find ways to automate how we interviewed. And we created a separate onboarding for ambassadors, they knew how to talk about our product.
So when they were in communities, by themselves or in the field or wherever it was they felt that they weren’t just a user of the platform, they were part of something bigger. And so that became very big in terms of numbers and even changed our roadmap.
AO: That is really, really cool. So, if we can stick with this one, how can we replicate this? I mean, yeah, nothing we can do exactly. But, it just seems like there’s a lot here that we can learn from. Did you do all this from communities, all of these ambassadors that were coming, was that all just a result of the impact of the way you were targeting communities?
Emily Lonetto: I think it’s a little bit of both. You can always approach communities in a sense of do I target existing communities as a way of acquiring users of a certain personality type or have a certain behavior. And the other is how do you create communities from people who may not have been targeted that way? So, we kind of did a little bit of both where, when we were thinking about, okay, who do we target at what time. We almost, at one point, had like a war map of what universities were going after. And what similarities that they had, did they have rivalries?
Like what was the difference between a city school versus a campus school? Things like that, down to the pact of outside of that university. Let’s talk about the actual individual user, is this your quintessential, party kegger thrower student, who’s going to be throwing large parties all the time. So, a 100 to 200 person tilts or payment processing campaigns, or is it going to be someone who’s more of like your head of household type, that one organized friend that does all of your bills and always pays for everything and is trying to get you guys to do like a camping trip.
That helped us to form micro-communities within that, where we would connect some of these more evangelized types of users who are your student organizers together in one group, despite what their university was, and despite their acquisition channel. And we ended up forming our own bits of community and a lot of that boiled into the archetypes that we had in our ambassador program and eventually our like Tilt churn programs, our Tilt intern program and our lead program and so on and so forth.
AO: So, are you putting these similar users, say the head of a sorority at one university and trying to get them to go to the same group as someone who’s in a similar position at a different university, or are they all local group connections that you’re doing?
Emily Lonetto: All of that was a test like in, and I would say to anybody that it’s going to be totally dependent on the user behaviors of the actual audience that you’re building, but with Tilt as an example, like we had, for instance, a huge group of ambassadors who are, let’s say sorority socials or fraternity socials from all across America in one group, or we also had in similar States where in Canada, we had a bunch of, let’s say your student club organizer types, who are all in one group, and we’re always talking about those types of things or your party organizers. So that’s more based on use case.
We also experimented with localized groups, where we had a group for tilts, like tilt X, university, another university, so on and so forth. And they were all boiled down and boiled up into one larger ambassador group. So it’s almost like creating a whole other sub-community, think about it almost as a more personal forum or another place for people to meet virtually.
AO: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And then the common ground, the similarities, they connect on that. This is really good. Tell me about the outreach for getting people into those communities. Was that mainly done by the people, like by the ambassadors? Could you talk about that?
Emily Lonetto: Yeah. So it boiled down from a bunch of different things. At the beginning, it’s always gonna start with, you have to find your first follower or your first person. So typically via outreach you might go out and do word of mouth and try to figure out if someone knows somebody, or identify, let’s say a leader at a given community. So, that’s one way of thinking about it. After that you want to start to find referrals from those people. Ideally.
So, how can you multiply that type of user that is going to become the general archetype of the community that you’re building? Because there’s additional factors that you have to think about when it comes to community that aren’t as black and white as data and your product would be, where you have to think about personalities, like language connotations, and about how you can bring them together that way. So, referrals were a big source of that as well. And a lot of it was kind of organic referrals through our original group of ambassadors. Then we started to put money into it where we were starting to run paid ads to get people to sign up and apply for the position. We started to use that as ways to activate users on the platform to learn about them, get product feedback, do group orientations and make them feel like they were part of the product team as well.
AO: This is really cool. I would think, you get that one person, they’ve got to be so bought in or this whole thing falls apart. If you’re doing that strategy. Right? Like, could you tell us about the rate at which people dropped off when you did that single influencer outreach and then referral method?
Emily Lonetto: Yeah. At the beginning, I always find that your first one’s always the hardest. And then you want to always try to get to like 10 or at least that’s how I’ve been trying to do it ever since. You’ll want to find like, who are your moderator type people, who are aligned based on what type of community, what the mission is that you’re trying to solve. Most likely you’re trying to find non-transactional influence people. So, these are people that are not going to be motivated by you giving them like a thousand dollars to do something, but instead are motivated by let’s say other types of rewards, whether they be in kind, access to stuff, maybe even a greater connection with the company. In a lot of cases, we had those types of people. I would say like the drop-off was actually not that high in the early stages, because we were a lot pickier with who those people were. And we had a lot more time to build actual relationships with those early investors that we knew them by name, it wasn’t like, it was just user 72 who churned. It was like Renee from X university who loves to cook and also watches the same movies as you.
So in that case, it’s like when you’re almost projecting for churn. And that goes back into the buffer thing that I was talking about originally. And you kind of see more churn as you start to scale that program and it becomes less personal and that’s why you have to continue to find and replicate those moderator type people.
AO: This is incredible. Are you doing any moderating of the group themselves? Like once they’re up and running, how much time are you spending on trying to make sure that there’s still conversation and that bad things aren’t being said, and stuff like that?
Emily Lonetto: Yeah. I mean, the good and bad about community is that it’s a wild beast. Your job as a community builder or someone in growth, who’s trying to build this, as you’re kind of building like the pen, but you can’t control what the people inside are doing or what they’re saying really. You can kind of give them objects or give them cues on certain things that you might want them to do. So, I always call that, setting up rituals. And I do that even now with, for context, like Voiceflow uses community all the time for everything. We put all of our voice designers and developers into a group. Now we have one of the largest communities of people who are building for Alexa and Google in the world. They’re in that group not because they always want to just talk about Voiceflow, but instead, because they’re thought-sharing and trying to help each other. It’s a very cohesive and positive community, and that comes from some of the rituals we set up. So, on the first day of every week, we tag every single person that joins the community, in a long post and sometimes even do a video where we’re welcoming them to the community. And that’s like hundreds of people per week. So, it’s not a small feat anymore. And the same situation where we have those moderator types where we reward them. We know them by name. We add them to our Slack channel to make sure that they keep helping to moderate plans. We can’t always facilitate what’s going on in the group, it starts to kind of take on a life of its own. You can try to keep it into a certain thing, but it’s really more about making sure that you remain active in those groups and that you align yourself with those strong moderators.
AO: Wow. Emily, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for just helping us understand this, and the success has been really cool. Is there any more impact statement that you could have? Cause this sounds like it’s been amazing and you cited a little bit in terms of the growth, but like, is there any higher business impact that you can see? Potentially revenue or something like that?
Emily Lonetto: Yeah. Absolutely, one of the best things about community that I think often comes up as a lot of people aren’t sure about ROI when it comes to community. A lot of people will think about it as like, Oh, it’s a cool little experiment off the side of my desk, but I don’t know how to calculate that into revenue, into conversions, into actual business value. And what I always try to think about this is that building a community group like this, is basically building one of the most curated audience lists that you could ever do. And one that you can ask to multiply instead of running them through an algorithm to go and try to find lookalikes. You can tap into them when you need referrals, when you’re low on acquisitions. They will most likely be a higher percentage of conversion when you have new features that require upgrading. They will help blast things when you do new features. Often times even with Tilt, we used a product called Thunderclap where we would actually get our community and ambassador members to queue up new product features to post at the same time.
So, we could almost guarantee we’d go viral. Like all of those things directly impact your acquisition, your activation and your revenue. And so when it comes to ROI and community, it’s honestly a no brainer in that sense. And it’s data that we’ll keep talking back to you. I don’t know if you’ve ever spoken directly to a dashboard, who’s told you what it was feeling, but it’s very rare that that happens.
AO: Emily, thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this. I think our listeners are gonna love it and will be able to directly apply this right now. I’m just thinking to myself how we can apply that to our business. So thank you so much.
Emily Lonetto: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me.
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