Originally posted on telenordigital.com
Some of you may be familiar with the “butterfly effect”. The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado, or cause one to happen in the first place.
Social media is the “butterfly” of modern times. For new products or start-ups, doing small things in social channels can lead to accelerated growth further down the line. For a product or service to become the thing you talk about tomorrow, it is key to reach out and engage in a conversation with the relevant communities rather than publish monologues to drive sales or sign-ups. Be present where the influencers and early adopters are, answer questions in real-time, request feedback, show agility and iterate the product.
We noticed this “butterfly” effect recently with appear.in so today I will try to explain how many small steps can lead to the big break.
The “Korben” effect
appear.in is a relatively new videoconference service in the Telenor Digital portfolio, which since its small beginnings as a 2013 summer intern project has grown to be used in over 175 countries. We are proud to have recently broken the top 100 000 websites in the world. And the best part? The product has not spent any money on marketing, relying only on organic growth and social spread. So how is this possible?
A butterfly effect in social media can be anything; a small tweet or an image that is retweeted, shared, liked and spread to millions within just a few hours. These 140 characters messages can have world-changing repercussions - just think how one small tweet started the Arab Spring. For appear.in, it all started on the 18 October with a tweet about how Opera launched support for appear.in in their browser.
Opera’s social media team picked up on the mention, tweeted back, and a friendly dialogue developed. This resulted in the appear.in team getting an invite to speak at an internal tech talk at Opera and our service was showcased in their latest browser release.
The first large effect of this particular butterfly’s wings came from a French blogger named “Korben”. He picked up appear.in from the new Opera release and wrote a great review of appear.in after testing it. This gave appear.in the largest boost in users to date, with an increase in daily users by 1800% (no, I did not write too many zeroes!). The team got in touch with Korben and the new users through feedback emails and social media, and the numbers, although not as high as the day of the blog post, remained high.
The Korben article was also a butterfly effect in itself. Being a prominent tech blogger in his country, a number of smaller blogs picked it up and wrote similar reviews. These got picked up by other users, who tweeted, shared and became ambassadors spreading the product further and generating positive growth:
Meanwhile the team worked tirelessly on improving the service, talking to users, and blogged. Every tweet to appear.in got a response - day and night - and where possible, we tried to meet people in their own language. Users seemed to appreciate our efforts. Our tone and approach was honest and humble - we admitted mistakes - and tried our best to solve the problems and requests our users had.
We <3 Japan! たくさんの新しいユーザーに会えて嬉しいです！— appear.in (@appear_in) February 14, 2014
But the big break, and the wave the product is currently riding from the “butterfly”, came once again from Opera. On December 13th, they tweeted what I would call the perfect marketing pitch about appear.in to their 289 000 followers. More users tried our service but the volume was nowhere near Korben-levels.
However, this tweet set off a chain of events that would lead to where we are today. On 1st February, a man in Bangladesh, who follows Opera and saw the tweet, posted it on one of the biggest startup incubator sites in the world, HackerNews. It turns out our new friend in Bangladesh had used appear.in for his team’s daily meetings with colleagues in different locations.
Appear.in got posted on HackerNews one early Saturday morning Oslo-time, and hit the front page within the hour. The post sent a huge amount of users our way, surpassing even the “Korben peak” from November. The response was massive, and the team immediately took to the feedback mail and comment section to answer every user request and question. Every answer posted to HackerNews by appear.in was prefixed with “Developer @ appear.in here”, giving the personal touch, but at the same time staying honest to the reader about our natural bias. The post about appear.in stayed on the front page of HackerNews for 14 hours, which made it visible to users from all time-zones; traffic came from Asia, Europe and the US. For the entire time, the team took turns being active in social media, answering questions and reaching out.
Other big news outlets started picking us up. Smashing Magazine, one of the world’s leading web design magazines, tweeted about us to their 750 000 followers. A computer science journalist wrote about us on makeuseof.com, a top ten thousand web page in the entire world. Lifehacker.jp, a large Japanese technology blog picked up on the makeuseof.com article and wrote a great review. This earned appear.in a solid foothold in the very hard market of Japan and put us amongst the top ten thousand websites in the country. All of this happened in the span of a week.
Handy: free video conversations with up to 8 people, without any login nor installs. https://t.co/5VULgis6CN— Smashing Magazine (@smashingmag) February 1, 2014
So, if we stretch it, that one small tweet to Opera set in motion a chain of events that lead to the success that the product has today. But, in reality, it wasn’t just that one tweet. It doesn’t take just the flap of a butterfly’s wings to create a tornado. You need thousands of small things leading up to the big change. For appear.in, the approach has been to be honest, actively engage with our audience and follow up leads, no matter how small. It has taken a lot of work getting to this point but we believe that the dialogue we’ve had with our users has created ambassadors all around the world, giving appear.in a net positive growth through social spread. And that is worth a lot more than any paid marketing campaign we could have done.