The growing headache of social media management
“One area we’ve improved a lot is the overwhelming side of things. The way Agorapulse works in terms of managing incoming engagement is basically like how Gmail works. Telling you what you’ve seen, what you’ve not seen, what you’ve responding to, what you’ve not responded to.”
Ed: I would love to talk a bit about Agorapulse the product. I’m fairly new to the marketing world. I’ve been in the content game for just over a year or nearly two years. I find that the space is so overwhelming and noisy. There are a lot of products selling themselves as solutions for cutting through that noise and getting meaningful data about content marketing and the performance of it.
I’m really interested to know how Agorapulse addresses it. I noticed on your site, you have this sentence:
“Social media management is still seen by most businesses as a necessary evil. It’s overwhelming, noisy, chaotic, and nearly impossible to measure the value in their social media efforts.”
It just resonated with me so much! I find that the social side of content is such a headache. How do you guys go about solving it?
Emeric: First and foremost, that sentence you read is the result of a big round of interviews we did last year with 350 businesses actively managing social media. All 350 of them, each and every one of those businesses, came back with that feeling of: overwhelming, noisy, chaotic, impossible to measure the value, frustrating, necessary evil. (Laughs) I came up with the “necessary evil” sentence in the end, but that’s really what I felt.
These people are managing their social media presence, but they don’t like it. Or if they like it, they like people and talking to people — that’s the part they like. But business wise, they are frustrated.
And we decided from that day that this will be our big mission. This will be what we’ll be working on solving, as hard as we can. This being said, we are not there yet in solving it entirely. But we’ve made a lot of progress in a lot of different areas.
One area we’ve improved a lot is the overwhelming side of things. The way Agorapulse works in terms of managing incoming engagement is basically like how Gmail works. Telling you what you’ve seen, what you’ve not seen, what you’ve responding to, what you’ve not responded to — giving you a clear picture of where you stand. With most other tools (not naming all of them, but for example the biggest one, HootSuite), you get in there and it’s total chaos. You have no idea where you are, you have bazillion feeds, you don’t even remember which feeds are for what. That’s my case after having used HootSuite for three years. I know it’s shared by a lot of people using HootSuite. They definitely don’t help you identify what needs to be done, and who needs a response, and what’s important in your inbox. That’s because they don’t have the concept of an inbox, they have the concept of feeds. A lot of social media management tools copy [the platforms] in that sense.
And it’s not the way the human brain is used to functioning. The human brain is used to functioning with lists. We love to do lists, right? We love to check things as ‘Done.’ That’s why Gmail is like a list. You respond and the email goes away from your Unread inbox. That’s how we built the tool. To my knowledge, we’re the only tool engineered to work this way. That’s basically helping you to get to Inbox Zero, to know where things are and what to pay attention to.
There are a ton of other little things. On Twitter there are a lot of people using automation, sending you auto messages that look like they’ve been sent by a robot. We have developed a specific engine that helps you get rid of them.
Except for the inbox, which is one big thing and solves a big thing, everything else adds up small details and little features to remove that little pain in your butt — and this one and that one and this one! And hopefully, by the end of our journey, we’ll be solving so many of them that we’ll be really living up to our promise, which is making it easy, painless, and rewarding.
Social media silos are problematic
“I would love the silos and chinese walls between the platforms to not exist. But they do exist and there’s no sign that it’s going to end.”
Ed: Okay! I feel like there’s maybe a breaking point for the social media marketer today. They’re forced to exist and interact within so many walled gardens, so many platforms. Do you think there’s a point where that has to change in some way, or do you think that just enables tools like your own for managing these platforms?
Emeric: I’m afraid this is not going anywhere anytime soon. And when I say “I’m afraid this isn’t going anywhere anytime soon,” I mean it. Meaning I would love that to go away! I would love the silos and chinese walls between the platforms to not exist. But they do exist and there’s no sign that it’s going to end.
Some platforms may not take off, like Google+. It hasn’t really taken off as an engaging, active platform so it’s getting less attention. But I’m still amazed by the number of people who want to publish on their Google+ page. Whether or not there’s engagement there, they want to have that as a channel for publishing content. So we added Google+ as a channel.
So even if some of them are not that strategic or active or important, they exist. And [businesses] are on them, and they don’t want to be seen as not active, so they have to have content published there. And eventually if a guy leaves one comment back, they want to be in the know and be able to reply to that one comment. That’s the worst part: If you’re present somewhere and there’s one or two people commenting or getting back to you every month, it’s nothing, right? You could ignore them. But ignoring those one or two people may make you feel bad, and may trigger [this perception of] “Oh, those guys don’t care.” In the case that one of those people are important or an influencer or VIPs or whatever, if may even backfire for you. So it’s challenging. And I don’t think it’s going to get less challenging in the future.
Ed: Yep. So I guess the only option is for a business to exist on pretty much every channel where there customers expect them to exist and to offer a good level of interaction in all of those places, right?
Emeric: Yeah! Or… don’t exist in channels you know you’re not going to be able to handle.
How Agorapulse leverages SaaS Metrics
“…for us, now, what really makes a difference is the ability to segment.”
I have a few questions about metrics and how you guys measure yourselves. At ChartMogul obviously metrics are our thing. So it’d be great to understand better how you guys are using ChartMogul right now and how you came to implement ChartMogul in your business processes. Where is the value for you?
Emeric: We track all the typical saas metrics that any other saas company should be tracking: LTV, ARPU, ARR, MRR, Customer/net MRR churn.
It’s interesting — when we started using ChartMogul that was two years ago. Probably very much at the beginning when you guys were starting out. We were using Recurly and not Stripe. At the time there was a solution from Stripe, your competitor, and we were totally frustrated by the analytics we had on Recurly, which was basically non-existent.
When we discovered CM it was like, “Wow! This is exactly what we need!” We had started to build something on our own backend, in our own admin system, but it took us a lot of development work. And it wasn’t 10% as good as what ChartMogul was coming up with so we were thrilled at finally having a visualization of our metrics in a very easy-to-use, clear way. We were very happy about the basic segments by plan, by month, by cohort.
Ed: And were you measuring these things previous to ChartMogul or did this give you new insights that you didn’t have before?
Emeric: Yeah, with spreadsheets, I guess! It was a mess. It was not done well. So, we were happy about that. It was finally a way to visualize and get all the SaaS metrics we needed to follow up on.
Then two years later, I’d say there are a couple of alternatives now. Some of them even are free. So the landscape has changed a little bit on what is the real value and now the big, big value proposition of ChartMogul is in the segment side of things. Everything else is still nice to have and cool to have, and for newbies it will probably still be an ‘aha’ moment like the one we had two years ago. But for us, now, what really makes a difference is the ability to segment.
We did spend time to integrate our own data set into CM to create the right segments.
As soon as you start getting a significant number of clients, above 500 or something, or significant MRR (above $50k), what you really need is not only to have your main SaaS metrics but to understand within those metrics how your different channels, types of users, and different tool usage actually plays out for you. And that’s where the segmentation changed the way we look at our business.
How Segmentation insights helped Agorapulse pivot
“The problem is when you look at your main metrics all combined, all together, you don’t see that clear picture that tells you: ‘Kill that business and go for this one.’ “
Emeric: There’s something specific about us that’s probably not very common, even though it’s probably shared by some SaaS businesses that have pivoted quite a bit. We started our business model five years ago on something, and we evolved it to something else. It’s connected but not the same thing. We were mainly used for FB contests and promotions five years ago, and now we’re really a full blown social media management software — which is still targeting the same audience but not for the same needs. So it’s a very different core product.
When looking at our SaaS metrics aggregated, we have a false picture of our business. What really makes sense for us it to look is based on platform usage on our side. How is the business of people still using the contest [feature] going? How is the new business of people using the social media management features? And when we started getting more visibility on that thanks to segmentation, we were totally blown away by the results. That was like “OMG okay, now we get it. Theres the bad business. Theres the good business.” The problem is when you mix them together, you don’t have that sense. You don’t have the chance to see, “Ok that business is killing it. 20% growth MOM, very little churn, yada yada yada, like the ideal future unicorn. And this other business is like 15% churn, no growth, sucks.
The problem is when you look at your main metrics all combined, all together, you don’t see that clear picture that tells you: “Kill that business and go for this one.” So, long story short, that is the reason for people to use ChartMogul. For the segmentation. And they have to implement every integration they can on their side to make sure they follow their big acquisition channel.
Ed: That’s really interesting. And very insightful for us to know how you’re using that. Is ChartMogul a tool that’s used by a lot of different people in the company? How does it fit into your business?
Emeric: Everyone at the company has access to ChartMogul. Not necessarily because they’re using all the nitty gritty of ChartMogul, but because they are all super excited when we grow! Even the tech guys, I think they log into CM three times a day to see how the day has been.
It’s part of the dashboard of the company’s health and how the company is doing. When it comes to digging into the results and the segmented stuff, it’s not everybody — it’s like one or two people.
How Agorapulse measures the ROI of their blog
“If you rely on the wrong metrics because nothing else is at hand, you may be tempted to think a marketing effort is not worth it. But when you have a better way to measure things, your world will look different.”
Ed: What kind of metrics are key to you for acquisition channels? If you were to just pick one or two metrics to measure your success, what would they be?
Emeric: It’s a combination of MRR and Churn, which ends up being LTV eventually but starting with MRR. You always have to keep in mind that there are some metrics that you will get early on, like MRR, and there are metrics you’ll have to wait a year for an accurate measurement for, like LTV. So you can’t measure the effectiveness of your acquisition channels on LTV because basically you’ll be blind for a year or more. Even after a year your LTV is an unsure metric. You may not even have enough data to have an accurate LTV at this point, especially if the acquisition channel is small. If you’re only getting $1-2000 MRR on that channel, it may take forever before you have an accurate LTV you can rely on!
So I first look at MRR, and after 6-8 months I look at Churn. You have to wait that 6-8 months for Churn numbers that are actually meaningful. So I would say in the first year, look at MRR.
Ed: What kind of decisions does that enable for you? What decisions would you make based on the data you see?
Emeric: Put more money in ads, or less. Or change the way you do ads. Stop trying to do outreach ads, and try to do retargeting or re-nurturing ads. It would have all sorts of impact on long-term decisions.
For example, we’re doing a lot of blogging. When we looked at how blogging was impacting our bottom line, the only way we had to look at that was Google Analytics. So, basically looking at direct conversions from blog traffic, which is a super bad metric to look at because you have very little direct conversion from your blog traffic. That’s not the reason they came to you. And the conversion rate sucks, like 0._%. So it’s very disappointing.
When my CTO would look at this, he would say, “Why are we blogging? What’s the point? It doesn’t help!” But as a marketer and a 15 year SaaS entrepreneur, I know there’s a point. I know it matters. I know it’s important. I know it’s more than a direct conversion, but it was so hard to give more metrics [to prove it].
Now what we’ve done is we’ve used MRR on everybody who had the blog as their first point of contact with us. Not the ads, not the referral, not Google — landing on the blog is the first time they see us. And then [we track] whatever they do after that: They see an ad, they read another blog post, they see something else, they read a review, and then they come back and they finally subscribe. We’ll count that MRR and we’ll attribute it to the blog, as the first point of contact. And the revenue there is quite significant, it’s actually pretty good. It’s definitely good enough to justify the effort on a pure conversion basis, not even mentioning the SEO, the credibility and everything else that a blog will give you. So it was good to see that! If you rely on the wrong metrics because nothing else is at hand, you may be tempted to think a marketing effort is not worth it. But when you have a better way to measure things, your world will look different.
Ed: I think it’s such a common case of content marketer trying to sell content marketing internally in the business and getting acceptance for investing in great content. It’s something that not a lot of people can measure in this way, right now. But what you’ve just outlined completely turns the tables on that.
Emeric: It’s a big problem. It’s very hard to measure these things. Usually when you’re small, just starting out, you don’t even worry about measuring those types of things. You go by gut feeling; you just do what you think is right and you don’t do it based on metrics.
So thanks to that segmentation, we were able to get more metrics. For example, we basically saw that despite the fact we were spending as much money on Facebook ads as we were on content, content was bringing in more MRR than Facebook ads (as a first point of contact).
And there’s all the side benefits [to content marketing], too, which makes it a no brainer!
The primacy of your product and… knowing how to write!
“Every time I’ve started a company, we didn’t have a company. We didn’t have a bank account, we didn’t have anything. We just focused on the product.”
Ed: Just looking into your background, Agorapulse is not the first startup you’ve founded or been involved with. I’m also interested to see you’re coming from a law background. Do you see that as something that gives you an advantage or a different perspective on SaaS businesses?
Emeric: The plusses are that, number 1, I know how to write, which is quite a skill you can use when you’re an entrepreneur on the business side. I know how to write things that people understand because I’ve been trained to write to convince people, to make my story go through. I have a very hard time finding it in the people I try to hire. The second advantage is that I’m not afraid of anything legal. When we did fundraising three years ago, I’m the only one that looked at the shareholders agreement and I told the guys, “Not this, not this, not that, move this, add that.” It gives me an advantage to not be afraid of these things and to save on legal fees because I don’t need lawyers. The third thing — which is related to the second — is that every time we do deals with people, i’m the one handling the writing. Were in the process of buying a company right now. I’m doing the LOI, the purchase agreement, because I’m actually faster at doing it. And I might actually be better than real lawyers, because a real lawyer who has no clue about your business will come up with a 30 page agreement, where ⅔ of which is meaningless! I just come up with 8-10 page agreement where everything is important.
Ed: Ah, so it’s very much still an active role for you. Is there any advice you’d offer to people who are trying to navigate through the law associated to starting a business?
Emeric: Yeah. Spend more time on contracts and corporation and structuring the investments, and spend more time on growing the business.
Every time I’ve started a company, we didn’t have a company. We didn’t have a bank account, we didn’t have anything. We just focused on the product. We had the big agreement between the founders on paper, the shares we would have once we created the company and what’s expected from each founder. We had the big picture, basically, but we didn’t do any legal work until it was worth it.
So my advice is: Basically, don’t even create a company until you have a product. Then implement a payment system, a bank account, and a company once you get to that point. But for the first six months, only worry about the product and the clients.
What’s next for Agorapulse (and what they look for in a marketer)
Ed: Great. I’d love to know what the future holds for you guys. I guess you’re still focused on building out the product, from the sound of it.
Emeric: We’re in the process of raising money. So obviously one of the big milestones we’re looking for in 2016 is raising our Series A. In terms of big milestones for the team and the organization, we’ve never had an actual marketer on the team. I was basically acting as the CMO. I’m a founder so by definition not a CMO.
Ed: I really need to ask you what you’re looking for in a marketer, if you’re hiring a marketer.
Emeric: Experience. They need to have “been there, done that” with a SaaS business and know exactly what they’re doing. It’s very rare, but we’ve just found one and we’re excited about that. It’s going to bring a lot of structure and organization into how we do things, marketing wise. And I can already feel the difference.
My way of doing that stuff was very freestyle… “Hey! Lets try this! Hey, why don’t we do that?”
Ed: Which I think is very common.
Emeric: Oh, it’s more than very common. Everybody does that, until they get to the point where they can afford someone who’s better than them at that. It’s not always bad — you move fast, you try a lot of things, you’re very lean. But it comes to a point… we’re at 1.5M ARR, so freestyle is not good enough for us now. We need to be very structured about what we do and why we do it.
The third [thing in store for Agorapulse] is to continue to grow the product and keep the mission in mind. It’s critical that we make our users lives easier and create a “wow” experience when they get to the product. What I’d love is for them to feel, after a couple hours, “Oh my god, this is going to save me so much time. I’m going to be so much more efficient.” If we can get them to feel that, we win.
Ed: Sure! Makes sense. Simple!
Emeric: Yeah! The simplest things are the hardest to build.