Search engine optimization company The HOTH Corp was founded in late 2010 after developing an SEO link-building solution. The launch was an experiment that outperformed founders Alex Pyatetsky and Dax Miller’s initial expectations, motivating them to transform their ideas into a full-blown company. A year-and-a-half later, HOTH has a team of 70+ and more than 1,000 clients worldwide. Pyatetsky and Miller are still riding the early momentum of the company and are now gearing up to launch an application designed to take content sharing to the next level on social media platforms.
“When we started, we just wanted to create products that would make internet marketing better,” says Hoth Co-founder and skateboarder Miller. “But as we grew, this challenge proved lacking. Now, we have a dream that life can be better and that is the challenge that we aspire to every day, with each of our products and every interaction with our clients and each other.”
The idea for GroupHug came to Miller and crew when The HOTH team ran into the challenge of getting members to share important content on Facebook and Twitter.
“We’d get an awesome interview or publish a blog post that took days to write, and it’d just sit there,” says Miller. “We’d email our core team asking them to share our stuff, but with hundreds of requests flooding everyone’s inbox every day, these proved useless. There had to be a better way to connect people who actually cared to support each other online.”
The team set out in early 2012 to design an application to do just that. the basic application for GroupHug, and shortly thereafter brought in the development team at Ideal Project Group to make the concept a reality, says Miller. The project, which continues to be completely self-funded, will go live on Monday, July 16, and the team has already secured a group of high profile people to become the first group of “huggers” and share content. The application will be available on an invite-only basis at first, but companies and brands interested in giving it a try can sign up for an early invite on the GroupHug site.
We caught up with Miller to find out the details behind GroupHug, and how they believe it has the potential to change the future of marketing when it comes to social networks.
Why did you decide to launch GroupHug?
As we began researching, we found hundreds of people who felt our same pain. What excites us now is not just the opportunity to create a highly demanded technology, but to revolutionize the way we communicate and connect with each other online. GroupHug is the first technology that cuts through the meaningless social media relationships we have now and empowers us to truly support each other. We think it’s going to change the world.
Can you explain exactly how the app works? How does the process work without invading people’s personal boundaries on social networks and acting as spam?
To clarify – GroupHug is about connecting people to the things they support. Whether it’s employees to their companies, fans to artists they love, donors to the charities they support, or customers to the products they’re passionate about, GroupHug isn’t just for brands, retailers, and companies (though we’re sure they’ll use it, too).
We want the lovable nerd in high school to use it so he can have a chance at class president. We want the independent candidate to use it to have a shot in the election. We want the passionate, innovative startup to use it to break into a market dominated by a bland, outdated Goliath. We want the companies, people, and causes who work hard to give the world something amazing to have a way to leverage the support they’ve earned, instead of being drowned out by the player with the biggest ad budget.
Here’s how it works. When an Author (aka. marketer/leader) wants a piece of content shared, he/she submits it to GroupHug. GroupHug then pushes it out to his/her Huggers. The Huggers have already connected their Facebook and Twitter accounts and chosen to either auto-share or share the author’s content upon review. This allows Huggers to fully or partially automate their support of any author, making their lives better without relinquishing any control of their social media accounts.
Best of all, GroupHug is super safe for everyone. Authors have no incentive to submit junk, because they value the support of their Huggers. And Huggers can always “unhug” disappointing authors, just like unfollowing an annoying person on Twitter. We’re confident that this won’t happen very often.
How can this service change the way marketing professionals do their job?
A huge problem marketers face today is spreading their content and actually reaching their desired audience. As a skateboarder, I see this especially frequently with online video. Creating awesome skate footage can take hours of missed tricks, lost tapes, and the occasional serious injury. You literally put your blood, sweat, and tears into it, and that’s not even taking production costs into account. Then, when you post it online, all you can do is pray that the right people see it and share. That kind of sucks, if you ask me.
But it doesn’t have to be a coin toss like that. We know that within each audience are evangelists that would gladly share your content with their networks. Unfortunately, in order to reach them, we have to cut through the millions of “I ate hot wings for lunch today” statuses clogging their Facebook and Twitter feeds.
GroupHug does just that, cutting straight through the social noise, allowing both marketers and individual personalities to harness and activate the social support of their true fans, friends, and colleagues. Marketers can now concentrate on creating the most engaging content possible with Huggers ready to share as soon as it’s ready.
Why do you believe this app will change the way people view and use social networking?
We believe that GroupHug will impact the entire social web, including blogs and other media, not just the networks themselves. The most obvious change is that marketers, leaders, and influencers (aka. authors) will shift their attention to recruiting true evangelists and supporters (aka. Huggers) instead of relatively meaningless “fans,” “followers,” and “subscribers.”
When you do the math, it’s a no-brainer. A piece of content posted on a Facebook fan page with 1,000 fans will reach 1,000 people at most*. On the other hand, the same piece of content submitted to a 100 person GroupHug, where 50 Huggers share it to each of their 400 friends on Facebook is 20,000. That’s 20 times the reach with one tenth of the people involved.
Sure, you’ll want to do both to reach 21,000 people total, but which channel would you rather spend your time cultivating?
As the technology grows, we expect the “Hug Me” button to make it onto every blog and publication, right next to the “Subscribe to RSS” and “Subscribe by Email” buttons. Competition for Huggers will become steep, which means that authors will be compelled to produce the best content they ever have. The result is a better internet.
The exciting thing is that we have no clue how far reaching and interesting the implications will be. We’re not that smart. At SXSW, an MMORPG game developer came up to us and told us that he wanted to push major clan achievements from his games straight to GroupHug. We wouldn’t have thought of that on our own. Who knows how many awesome, creative ideas people will come up with? I’m sure the guys at Twitter had no idea how many apps would be built on top of their little microblogging platform.
What do you think is the future of social networking?
Wow. That’s a huge question. I can’t pretend to know the whole answer, but here’s what we’re seeing so far.
When Facebook first came out, people loved it. I remember how fascinated I was the first time I saw it on my friend’s computer in college. Later, I’d feel like I was joining an important club when I created my own account. It was the membership card of our generation. “Are you on Facebook?” Those words literally started thousands of friendships in the mid 2000s.
But social networking exists now and it’s ubiquitous. The honeymoon phase is largely over. It’s not uncommon to hear people complaining about their social networks as they would about their chores. The general sentiment seems to be that there are too many of them, they’re getting too noisy with meaningless statuses, distracting ad formats and irrelevant application notifications, and using them to get the word out about your own endeavors is harder than ever before.
I think there is a growing demand to “go back to the basics.” I’m not talking about going back to Facebook/Twitter Version 1.0. I’m talking about getting to a point where the technology brings us together and serves our humanity again, not the other way around.
Facebook is a public company now. There’s immediate pressure from countless investors to grow its bottom line. Twitter may go down a similar path shortly. The challenge facing the next generation of social technology is to find a happy medium where these companies can make a profit without ruining the beautiful platforms they’ve created (RIP MySpace).
They’re not going to be able to do it alone though. Companies like ours, Thunderclap, and many more are going to create technologies on top of the existing social layer that bring greater meaning to people’s lives. Together, we call this set of challenges Web 3.0. If we succeed in this project, the result should be a new generation of technologies that will deepen our connections, our appreciation for each other, and improve our lives.
What do you think is the biggest challenge faced by brands and retailers who are trying to get the message out about their products?
I think the biggest challenge is figuring out where to spend time and not diffusing focus to the point that marketing loses any tangible benefit. You now have an encyclopedia of fancy options for getting your message out online. I think too many marketers get lost experimenting with the next hot tech and forget about cultivating a decent core strategy.
At the core of all social marketing is content. There is no doubt about this. Whether you should use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Reddit, Digg, Foursquare, Tumblr, Yelp, forums, Ning, YouTube, uStream, webinars, RSS, email, or any other social platform to get it out there is a secondary matter.
First you have to figure out what exactly you want to say, the tone and brand you want you want to project, and who in your organization can actually articulate this vision (sidenote: I believe in getting as much mileage out of your internal resources before dropping huge money agencies and consultants).
Once that’s in place, the rest is pretty easy. It’s just a matter of figuring out where you’re most likely to reach your target audience. Facebook and Twitter are cornerstone to most content strategies, which is why they are our first priority with GroupHug. Beyond that, just ask everyone in your office or survey existing customers to find out where they go online to connect with others in your industry/target market. You’ll probably find all the secondary social outlets you’ll need this way.
Most of all, in the beginning, don’t try to get too fancy. Capitalize on your strengths. If you can’t write well, a blog may not be the best choice for you. If a colleague in sales actually has a degree in film, you can probably start an awesome YouTube channel. Start a podcast where you interview all of the interesting industry friends. Take a good look at what and who you have around you. You may be impressed with what you find.
What key tips would you give companies about how to stay authentic while using social media?
The number one culprit of authenticity is pretending to be something that you’re not, right? Don’t parrot what the Fortune 500 companies in your industry are doing. If you’re out of a garage, show people how amazing it is that you’re able to do what you do in a freaking garage!
If there is a really uptight corporate type who is more concerned with keeping things PC than saying anything engaging, keep this person away from your social accounts. Do the same with egomaniacs who can’t help belittling your audience. Ideally, put someone in charge that your audience can relate to, respect, and admire.
Lastly, speak to the things that really matter to your customers. Don’t get so stuck on the fact that you have something to sell them that you lose track of the person behind the dollar. Sure, you just came out with a new line of skateboards and everyone should know. That’s awesome. Tell them that. But if it’s Mother’s Day, remind Joe to thank mom for that time he missed a trick, rolled his ankle, and mom came to save the day while his friends left him to run from the cops.
If you want people to love you, show them that you speak the same language, you have the same memories, you’ve gone through the same struggles and you share the same passion. Make them feel that you are one of them.
Name some “don’ts” when it comes to using social networks for marketing a brand/product.
First of all, there are no hard and fast rules in social marketing, or anything social for that matter. We’ve all met that jerk that still has a bunch of friends. Some people just make it work, against all odds. That said, here are some decent rules of thumb:
#1. Don’t create a Facebook page and a Twitter account for your business and think that you’re done. Social networks are just channels. Just like TV, radio, or print, the quality of your content will define your success.
#2. Just being active on Facebook and Twitter is not enough. While posting pics of your amazingly well stocked beer fridge or a colleague’s unfortunate Canadian tux may inspire some smiles and a little good will, it won’t achieve the kind of powerful, engaging influence that you want. Try to post something of substance (i.e. video, blogpost, podcast, etc.) at least quarterly, but ideally more often. This is where you’ll start reaping big rewards.
#3. Watch what comes out of your mouth, but not too closely. If the person who manages your social media gets drunk and proceeds to instigate a no-win argument with a competitor on Twitter or starts posting pictures of random girls at the bar, you can bet the next day at the office is going to be a tense one. Besides simply looking bad and maybe offending some people, you are potentially creating a long-term liability as crafty journalists can uncover even deleted tweets and statuses for years to come. With that said, don’t be a social media prude, running every tweet past five bosses and speaking only the most politically correct corporate legalese. With few exceptions people hate soulless brands on Facebook and Twitter.
#4. (Bonus advanced tactic) Don’t be satisfied with a fan or a follower as the end-all, be-all in audience engagement. Each additional piece of content should make people love you more, earning you more subscribers and Huggers.