How to Build a Viral Microsite

I’ve been thinking about viral microsites (aka Single Serving Sites) for a little while and in doing research for this post, stumbled across the very thorough and well written paper by Ryan Greenberg:

Quick definition from Ryan: a viral microsite typically has 1) a dedicated URL 2) a narrowly defined message/purpose and 3) that purpose/message is expressed through a single webpage.

Rather than give an academic treatment (which Ryan’s thesis does superbly) I want to discuss some of the characteristics of popular microsites that I’ve come across over the years (and see if I can maybe apply them!)

Clean, Focused Layout

I think the primary element of great microsites are their focus. You need to immediately grasp the purpose of the site when it loads or else you’re gone. Great sites that do this:
A basic status site that answers the question posed in the URL. Very similar to and

When you hit the button, the anguished scream of Darth Vader comes forth from the screen. If that wasn’t obvious.
I’m not sure if this site actually played a role in the new iOS feature, but the site creator did provide a helpful mockup back in the day.


CAPS, Gigantic Font and Profanity

You’ll notice that a lot of the more popular sites a mix of large font, caps lock and profanity to state their messages. It sort of feels like the site is shouting at you. Yet somehow, this makes the site more appealing. There’s a feeling of naughtiness as you share the site on your social networks. Certain sites that do this:
One of the biggest memes to hit the internet in 2008 – it’s got a humongous typeface, spawned numerous copy cat sites and its cutesy lines that proved so popular they made a book with them.

Continue reading…

I’ve Heard Great Things About You – A nondouchey guide to personal branding and self promotion

This is a multi-part series on Sales, Marketing and Persuasion. To see the blog post that inspired this series, click here. To see a list of all the blog posts on this topic: How to Sell Market and Self Promote.

I recently gave a talk at the Stanford Marketing Group on building a personal brand and doing self-promotion without being a douchebag. As this is part of my grand “how to sell” program, I’m including the presentation here along with some presentation notes.

The Definition and Purpose of Building a Personal Brand

When you think about traditional marketing, there are three major elements – identification of user/customer needs, building a remarkable product that fulfills those needs, and finding ways to communicate your products value at scale. Your product’s brand plays a huge role in how people talk about, buy and use the product.

All you have to do is swap product/service for person and you’ve got a system for doing personal branding.

At the end of the day, your personal brand is one of many tools (others being skills, location, network, knowledge, experience, technology) that you can develop to achieve your goals. Your brand is never the goal, it is the vehicle for getting to your destination, whether that’s finding a job where you can be successful, or spreading an important message via your blog or improving your child’s school as PTO president.

Seven Ideas

I also discussed seven strategies to help you build that personal brand with integrity. Here are the highlights (I’ve adjusted the titles a little since the talk):

[1. Work on Interesting Projects]

This is the heart of it. It’s difficult for me to overstate the value of working on interesting projects — in general, but particularly for building your personal brand. When you work on interesting projects, you develop your interests, your passions while gaining great experience, learning new skills and interacting with the right kinds of people.

Follow your nose and you will be amazed to see where it takes you. Many of my projects –  the nonprofit I founded at Stanford, the videos I made for my gymnastics team, this blog even – these things have been invaluable to my career and my happiness. I use the things I’ve learned and network I’ve built from these projects everyday at Ridejoy.

[2. Build Relationships with Great People]

This is a natural extension of working on interesting projects, but it deserves its own section. Building a personal brand necessitates having relationships with people. By working with smart, passionate, nice, ambitious and innovative people, you gain so much. Their awesomeness rubs off on you, and your awesomeness will be shared with others through them.

If you run into someone you think is really awesome, find a way to work with them. Create a reason for you two to do something mutually interesting/beneficial together. It’s worth being proactive here – the payoff is enormous.

[3. Discover Your Mission]

This might sound cliche, but understanding what your deeper mission is is essential for building your personal brand. Great brands stand for something. Nike. Apple. Starbucks. Target. They all stand for something — they have a mission that is beyond profit, and their businesses are aligned to work toward that mission.

Similarly, when you understand your mission (which can and will change over time) you can better orient your activities and your network to help you move toward it. Remember – your brand is a tool for helping you achieve your goals. What is the larger purpose behind your goals? That is where you find your mission.

[4. Give Freely]

Perhaps you wish to be seen as an aloof,  disinterested mogul. This guide is not for you. This might be a little normative but I believe that you want to be known as someone who is a valuable resource who gives freely. Someone who has a great deal of knowledge, skill, experience, contacts and wisdom – and is willing to share that with the world.

This is the natural way to spread word of mouth. When you help someone do something with no direct compensation asked, not only will they think more highly of you, but they will spread the good word. “So-and-so is amazing – she totally saved my butt when I needed help with Project X”. This works both internally (inside a department/company/organization) and externally (helping people who don’t directly work with you).

This doesn’t mean you can’t charge for things or make money or ask for help/favors to be repaid. But always try to keep a positive balance – give more than you get back, all the time. It’s like a magic bank account, the more you spend on others, the more you’ll get back for yourself. Keep sending good stuff out into the world.

Of course, the danger is that you get taken advantage of. Be mindful of that, but don’t let a few leechers ruin it for everyone else. Protect yourself, but err on the side compassion and forgiveness. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of

[5. Be a People Hub]

Again, I find myself repeating the people things. One of the most valuable things you can do for someone is connect them with the right person. But there’s a huge difference between handing Person A the contact info of the business card you have of Person B — and gracefully facilitating a mutually beneficial connection / relationship. The former is almost worthless, the latter is priceless.

I’ve written about how I do email introductions and how carefully I craft them. I do this because I think it’s worth the time and effort. Nurture your relationships (you know, the ones you’ve earned from working with great people on interesting projects) and look for opportunities to connect those people together when it makes sense. This is an incredibly powerful way to build your personal brand.

[6. Build a Distribution Platform]

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty. You need build a platform. To really scale your personal brand, you need to be attached to something greater than yourself. Whether it is an important company initiative, a blog or email newsletter, a senior executive (careful on this one, can be dangerous) or a YouTube channel, Twitter feed, interesting project, SOMETHING.

What you have to remember here is to be careful what you attach yourself to. Ideally it’s something in your control. My blog is my public face to the world and if I post something horribly offensive here, my brand goes with it. On the other hand, with work and diligence, I’ve been able to nurture the community here and blogging benefitted me enormously. This is my distribution platform, but for others it could be Twitter, it could be a private newsletter or something else. Find your channel to scaleably add value to the world in a visible way.

[7. Present Strong]

Presenting strong is two things – it’s standing up for yourself and it’s caring about how you come across. Let’s start with the first:

At the end of the day, it is no one’s job to make sure you get credit for the work you do, get paid what you should or meet the people you want to meet. (Unless you have a publicist, in which case you are not reading this guide). YOU have to stand up for yourself and sometimes that means being a bit more aggressive than you normally are. This is the way of the world. You don’t have to be overbearing or disrespectful, but if someone attacks you/your work or tries to dismiss what you’re doing, you have to to stand up.

The second point is on the presentation. Take some time to review fashion literature and try to dress at least somewhat nicely. Get haircuts, trim your nails, shower regularly. Smile, say their name, be polite and be interested in others. These details matter a lot more than you think when you are interacting with people.

This focus on presentation spills over to your platform. Make sure your business cards are nicely designed, your blog has an attractive theme, your emails are formatted with headlines for readability, your resume is impeccable and subtly stands out with its formatting. Human beings judge books by their cover all the time – so make sure yours looks as good as it can be.

Case Study on Amit

A big part of my talk was devoted to Amit Gupta and his campaign to find a bone marrow transplant. I think this is a great example why it’s important to develop your personal brand. It just might save your life someday.

Amit has built up a great personal brand over the years through his great work at Jelly, ChangeThis and Photojojo. He’s worked with some amazing people like Seth Godin and by all accounts is a kind and thoughtful person. He’s got a great sense of design and a wonderful online voice as well.

All these things have contributed to the outpouring of support for him during this crisis. People are going out of their way to help him because they’ve been touched by something he’s said, done or built and not because he’s paying them or begging them for help.

The final point about the troll is basically that you can’t please everyone. No matter what you do, when you start standing up for yourself, there will be people who will tear you down. You have to ignore them. Treat others with respect and act with integrity and you can sleep soundly at night no matter how much the critics howl.

Everything I’ve Learned About Sales, Marketing and Persuasion

This is a multi-part series on Sales, Marketing and Persuasion. To see the blog post that inspired this series, click here. To see a list of all the blog posts on this topic: How to Sell Market and Self Promote.

I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts about sales — well really sales, marketing, persuasion, self-promotion, etc. Basically how to instill the desire in people to take the actions you want them to take — and make sure they follow through with it, while treating them with respect (ie not being a douchebag). So while I might use terms like “sell”, “buy”, “customer”, these are just placeholder

There’s a lot to cover so this will take a while. I’m going to pour everything I know into these posts – backed with examples, phrases to use, research and more. I hope it turns out to be really useful for readers. Here’s a list of the chapters I have in mind so far, with a brief description of what I aim to discuss.

  • Life is sales – Achieving almost any goal in life involves getting other people to do things (for you, with you, etc). You’ve had to sell people on things your entire life – it’s time to get serious about it.
  • Why smart people suck at selling – Smart people focus too much on facts and on being right. They think the force of their arguments is what will win people to their side, when that’s usually only a minor element of the process.
  • People buy feelings – Human beings do things because they think it will make them feel a certain way.  Figure out what that person wants to feel and show them how you can help them get it.
  • Sales is a relationship – No matter what you are selling – a widget, a web app, a political candidate or worthy cause – the key factor in the sale is the relationship.
  • Get inside their heads (and hearts) – A successful sale starts with questions – lots of them. You have to really understand where the other person is coming from. Never start with you.
  • It’s all about how you tell the story – We are a story-driven species. The stories are the ideal vehicle for conveying information and stimulating emotion.
  • Help them kick ass – The focus is not on why your thing is awesome. The focus is on how your thing can help THEM be awesome.
  • The proof is social – Like throwing a party, selling becomes a lot easier when you already have some people. Sometimes it’s better to let others do the persuasion for you.
  • Take away the fear of buying – People are more scared of the downside than they are enticed by upside. Allay their fears and win the sale.
  • Fit the ask to the task – Make it easy to say yes and hard to say no. What you ask for and how you ask for it matters – and it varies depending on the situation.
  • Followup, followup, followup – It’s never over. Remember: it’s a relationship. Stay in touch with people even after they refuse. Keep building that connection and providing value. Positive persistence = winning.
  • Special Report: Self Promotion / Personal Branding – Self promotion is a special kind of sales. Here’s how to sell yourself, without looking like a douche.

What do you guys think? Is there something you want covered that I’m missing? How can I do this in a way that best serves you? Let me know in the comments.

Ariely Talk on Psychology of Money

I had the opportunity to attend a really cool conference over the past weekend called The Behavioral Economics Summit for Startups that is focused on helping startup founders and product designers understand and drive user behavior. There were some great speakers like Dan Ariely, Chris Anderson and Hal Varian.

Here are some notes on the talk Dan Ariely (Duke Professor & best-selling Author of Predictabyl Irrational) on the psychology of money and payment systems. Hope you guys find this valuable!

The paradox of money

  • Money is a tremendous invention – on the same level as the wheel
  • Extremely useful but because it’s so versatile, makes it hard to think about

Shadow Value of Price

  • When you buy coffee – you should ask: what else could I do with this $2.50?
  • The rational approach is to consider alternative uses / tradeoffs
  • Doing this with money is hard – it’s easier to think about what to do each day

Envelope Thought Experiment

  • Imagine you got an envelope with $1000 cash each week
  • How would you spend it?
  • You’d spend a lot early on, but then realize later the trade-off value of the money
  • We studied Intuit customers – this is the pattern we see with people’s spending their paychecks
  • Credit cards and other things make it hard to see financial horizons

Nice Speakers Thought Experiment

  • Imagine buying either $700 Sony speaker set vs $1000 Pioneer speaker set
  • Most people go for the better, pricer Pioneer speakers
  • New comparison: $700 sony + $300 only in CDs/DVDs vs $1000 Pioneer speaker set
  • Now – most people choose the speaker + CD package over the Pioneer
  • Why? It is easier to imagine the value of $300 of CDs
  • vs the diluted value of $300 spread across all kinds of things (despite the fact that you could buy CDs or anything else with the $300 saved from buying the Pioneer)

Considering Trade-Offs When Buying Cars

  • Went to a Toyota dealership and asked people:
  • What are you giving up in order to buy this car?
  • First got blank stares
  • Then people said – “Well I’m giving up buying a Honda”
  • No one said – “I’m giving up 700 lattes, 4 weeks of vacation, etc”

People Vary In Ability/Willingness to Make Trade-Off Comparisons

  • Turns out poor people are better at weighing the differences compared to wealthy people
  • When dealing just with cash – the difference is more clear/obvious that if you buy one thing (food) you can’t buy something else (shelter)
  • Also seen in the difference in Presidents: George W Bush vs Dwight Eisenhower
  • Bush said his budget increased the defense budget because the price of freedom is not too high
  • Eisenhower talked about how the cost of a single destroyer could house more that 8000 people

Continue reading…

What I Learned From Gary Vaynerchuck, Tim Ferriss and Ze Frank at SXSW 2011

Andrew Warner interviewing Gary Vaynerchuck on Mixergy Live at SXSWi 2011

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’m at South by Southwest Interactive, one of the biggest tech conferences in the world. It’s my first time and I’m meeting a lot of cool people and learning lots. I haven’t been to too many panels but on Friday night I got to see Andrew Warner of Mixergy interview Gary Vaynerchuck, Ze Frank and Tim Ferriss in person.

I love watching the Mixergy Interviews – Andrew is able to get big name people to get really honest and open about their successes and their shortcomings. This evening was no different. Each of the folks here have done amazing things and thanks to a mix of Andrew’s probing questions, the candor of the interviewees and perhaps a bit of drinking, we got to hear a lot of real talk.

Here are some takeaways.

Gary Vaynerchuck

Gary is the author of Crush It! and The Thank You Economy (affiliate links), but is probably best known for his popular videopodcast – Wine Library TV – which is about to reach 1000 episodes and has helped him sell millions of dollars worth of product from his family-owned business. Here’s what I got from Gary:

Building a business with your family, especially your parents, is HARD.
Gary and his father would get into big fights about Wine Library. Even though the fights were always about what was best for the business, they were still painful and frustrating. Gary ultimately chose not to work with his father on another venture, Cork’d (which he ultimately spent “around 7 hours” working on) because he realized he wanted to own the whole business and his father would have always held that over his head. Now he’s focused on VaynerMedia which he co-owns with his brother – also challenging, but much better because they have more of a peer oriented sibling-sibling relationship.

Have an irrational belief that you are the best
Gary, who in some ways is quite humble about himself and his achievements, also has held the belief that he is The Man and better than pretty much anyone. He talked about how his mom built him up so much that he was honestly surprised that he wasn’t the best looking guy he knew when he was in his mid twenties. When he first started working at Wine Library after college, a woman in his town made a remark along the lines of “Aw, that’s so cute that you’re working at your Dad’s company.” and all he wanted to do was say “Lady, you don’t know anything. I’m going to blow this business up. Your son knows dick compared to me.”

Ze Frank

I’ve run into Ze Frank’s stuff once or twice before but never really understood what his deal was. I still don’t think I do but at least I know he’s legit: according to Wikipedia, he’s spoken at several TED conferences, won a Webby award and from 2006-07, hosted the show with zefrank which Slate called “a new kind of improvised conversation/performance art“. Side note: apparently it was Wine Library staff watching Ze Frank’s show that motivated Gary to start Wine Library TV. Here’s what I got from Ze Frank:
Continue reading…