As a Harvard student, I am lucky enough to have the chance to meet, greet, and learn from some of the most influential people in a variety of markets. Lucky for me, a class on social media marketing has brought in some great speakers from the Boston and Cambridge area. Last week, our class had the pleasure of sitting down for a talk by the founder and CTO of HubSpot, Dharmesh Shah.
First, a bit about HubSpot
HubSpot is based on the idea that permission or inbound marketing (e.g. appearance in a search engine results page (SERP) at the moment a prospective customer is searching on a term related to your product) is more powerful than interruption or outbound marketing (e.g. TV advertisements that interrupt a person at random who wants to watch the show not an ad). Their products help customers use and measure internet marketing techniques such as social media, blogging, and search engine optimization (SEO). They include a set of tools such as:
- Business blogging and analytics
- Keyword Grader which help you find search engine keywords that are popular, relevant, and are relatively neglected by ones competition
- Link Grader to assess and compare the number and authority of the inbound links that most modern search engines use to generate their SERPs
- Page Grader to offer suggestions for on-page SEO such as length of the title and description in the head of HTML pages, alt tags on images etc.
- Website Grader which compares web sites for SEO qualities, and offers suggestions for improvement. The paid version adds trending and other features versus the gratis version.
The company is influenced by the ideas of David Meerman Scott who serves on its board as special advisor. Scott featured Website Grader is his book World Wide Rave and HubSpot is a sponsor of the Inbound Marketing Summit that Scott co-organizes. Scott wrote the foreword and is series editor of a book that Halligan and Shah co-authored. Scott’s E-book Goobledygook Manifesto inspired gobbledygook.grader.com (an automated tool to detect gobbledygook) and some metrics in pressrelease.grader.com. A copy of Scott’s book The New Rules of Marketing and PR appears prominently on Rebecca Corliss’s desk in her music video that satirizes Link love.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone is celebrity guest of Karen Rubin and Mike Volpe on hubspot.tv April 17, 2009
HubSpot models the behavior it teaches its own customers by promoting itself through conversations, not one-way broadcast, and by the ‘publish your way in’ (or ‘think like a publisher’ or ‘always be publishing (ABP)’) mindset. This strategy is in alignment with Google’s advice to webmasters that to rank high in the SERPs you must create great content that readers will want to link to. Content includes:
* Frequent posting on its top ranked blog.
* Free E-books on internet marketing topics
* Interactive webcasts and live video shows on hubspot.tv using Twitter conversations, which are archived on iTunes Store as podcasts and as a YouTube channel
* Viral videos including musical parodies and satires.
* Free, interactive tools such as the grader.com series
For one hubspot.tv episode, the hosts secured a celebrity guest appearance from Biz Stone not by hiring a booking agent but by hearing he was in the area, hosting a #BizInBoston Tweetup event, and then creating a viral campaign on Twitter itself using a #bizinboston hashtag and mentions of Stone’s Twitter username. The tactic initially caused concern among some members of the Twitter community, but these were quickly resolved. (thanks to Wikipedia)
Now, the meat and potatoes about Dharmesh Shah
Dharmesh Shah (@dharmesh, VentureBeat, LinkedIn, Amazon) is a whirlwind speaker with an obvious love for what he does. Dharmesh was by far the best speaker of the semester thus far so that’s why I wanted to feature him in the inaugural edition of this site’s ‘Profiles‘ section. Despite Dharmesh’s claim that he is not a gifted speaker or marketer, his presentation was fantastic. His body language may have shown that he was a bit uncomfortable (holding an arm behind his back while staring at the ground) but his language and presentation zoomed along at a frenetic pace. I found myself scribbling keywords and shorthand notes just to keep up with the great wisdom that was being imparted upon me and the class. A self-proclaimed “hackpreneur,” Dharmesh (I use his first name because I feel comfortable doing so after his friendly presentation) says he has earned this title because he stays up late at night (often until 2am or so) writing code and wearing his Chief Technology Officer hat for HubSpot. He is also the co-founder of HubSpot, thus the entrepreneur part of his “hackpreneur” title.
“Everyone and every business should blog.”
Dharmesh had some great nuggets of information that rang true as I thought about them after the presentation. I was far too busy trying to scribble down these gems and didn’t have enough time to digest them. When discussing who should blog, it was clear who Dharmesh thinks should take part. I agree with the caveat that everyone should be willing to put in the effort to have a relatively steady stream of useful content. Thanks to the latest web technologies, you can start a blog and have it filled with gossip and pictures in under a few minutes. (Visit wordpress.com to see how!)
“Talk about the industry’s issues, not your solution.”
I really love this one. There are too many websites out there devoted to their own personal fix for their specific industry’s problems. If you want to really have a site that gets traction by engaging your audience in something they can also participate in. You’re not going to get a very engaged audience if you offer your solution for something without giving others a chance to offer their solution as well.
“Non-profits should be benefiting from causes, not for-profits!”
This is a sad-but-true quote we really enjoyed. It’s hard to deny that companies like Starbucks have really had a bigger impact on raising funds for charities and causes. I understand that this is because companies typically have more infrastructure (financial and personnel) to make these types of campaigns actually work, but the Internet is supposedly leveling the playing field for everyone. Let’s hope causes and charities can come up with some more interactive and viral (we hate that term viral but it applies here) campaigns that generate some real interest.
“Measure what works, what doesn’t, then double down.”
This one’s pretty self-explanatory and deserves to be put in super duper bold letters here. Being successful in marketing, especially social media marketing, is all about taking risks and figuring out what works. When you don’t do both of these things, you’re destined for failure. While it’s very hard to measure what works, there are ways. In fact, HubSpot has so many Graders like TwitterGrader and WebsiteGrader, they’re already on the bleeding edge of figuring out how to measure what works and what does not.
“Remove the friction in marketing.”
Making it easy for someone to actually purchase stuff, sign up for something, or just take part in any way is something that would seem like a no brainer. Sadly, it’s not. Many places spend all their time and effort raising interest in their website…only to find users get confused and leave the site, never to return.
“Kittens always work.”
Dharmesh’s presentation featured slides with interesting images and very little text on the screen. This is my favorite style of creating presentations since it allows the audience to focus on what you’re saying, not reading tiny print on a screen. No one remembers the fine print anyway. Dharmesh’s presentation had a picture of a kitten and it got a bit of laughter…to which Dharmesh replied that kittens always work. Everyone seems to love them and have the same reaction to them.
“Even normal people use Twitter now.”
In its infancy (just a couple years ago), Twitter was a way for a small number of people to micro-blog. It has slowly been able to begin shedding this reputation after it got embraced by celebrities and Facebook users. Facebook went through a similar reputation issue but has now actually been embraced by middle-aged women (another point brought up by Dharmesh). So when asked if its worth using Twitter, you can simply reply using Dharmesh’s words: even normal people use twitter. He even has the proof over at HubSpot. Dharmesh says that Twitter has been delivering “real dollars into the door.”
“It’s not about the number of followers. It’s about having people who listen. I’d rather have 50 active people than 5,000 deaf followers.”
I absolutely agree. A couple years ago, I started the @Harvard_Law Twitter account (it has a 99.8 Twitter Grader ranking) with a very small but attentive audience. The non-academic world seemed to be clamoring for any news about what’s happening inside the walls of Harvard. The follower count for the account was not enormous, still isn’t, but it’s obtained a very attentive and vocal following who are happy to @mention, DM, or retweet any question or update posted on the account. Dharmesh has a great point and it’s not an easy task to cultivate a high quality following. It happens over time. It took nearly a year and a half to develop a devoted fan base for me.
“Tweet and retweet from 1pm to 5pm”
HubSpot is all about data. They have examined the best times to tweet something and have it noticed. That time period is any weekday from 1pm to 5pm. That’s why this post was published around 2pm on a Monday, one of the busiest times on the Internet. People seem to be bored at work or just back from lunch, not ready to embrace the week.
“The more you tweet about yourself, the less others will.”
If Ashton Kutcher weren’t a celebrity, would anyone be following him? Dharmesh makes a great point that, from a marketing perspective, it’s all about engaging the audience. It’s hard to feel engaged when someone is tweeting about something you can’t relate to. If, instead, that person were writing about their passion for a broader subject, it’s more likely to engage followers. I personally think people need to stick with their preferred style of tweeting since followers will notice if your style has changed. Just ask @ComcastCares, the account who people revolted against when the main administrator went on vacation and put someone else in charge!
“When you’re getting star talent, you’re renting not buying.”
Dharmesh understands the world of obtaining the best and brightest for his business. There are so many options in the world of technology that it is very hard to make someone’s job everything they could ever want. Dharmesh elaborated on this point, saying that “nothing is forever” and that it’s important to keep in mind who owns what when it comes to employees. For example, does HubSpot own an employee’s personal Twitter account? Of course not. Was it used to promote HubSpot? Probably. It’s a tricky situation and not something to ignore.
“Google Buzz was a data play to head off Facebook.”
It really doesn’t matter if Google Buzz overtakes Facebook. It will probably never happen. The reason Google introduced Buzz was so they could get at the tremendous amount of data currently hidden behind Facebook’s server walls. This way, Google can get a taste of what their users are doing socially and not just on GMail, Docs, etc.
I enjoyed Dharmesh’s presentation and was so amped afterwards that I posted a job listing I would have loved to apply to. I am happily employed and doing this blog in my spare time (not much these days!). If you’re interested in working for someone like Dharmesh, check out the posting. In the meantime, there is a lot of info out there about Dharmesh, HubSpot, and social media. Happy surfing!