Social Pros 22 – Evan Hamilton, UserVoice

This is Episode 22 of the Social Pros Podcast : Real People Doing Real Work in Social Media. This episode features Evan Hamilton of UserVoice. Read on for insights from Evan and some social media news from Eric and Jim (this week: Facebook changes users’ email addresses without permission, LinkedIn offers targeted status updates, and Microsoft acquires Yammer).

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Full Episode Details

This is Episode 22 of the Social Pros Podcast : Real People Doing Real Work in Social Media. This episode features Evan Hamilton of UserVoice. Read on for insights from Evan and some social media news from Eric and Jim (this week: Facebook changes users’ email addresses without permission, LinkedIn offers targeted status updates, and Microsoft acquires Yammer).

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Huge thanks to data-driven social media management software company Argyle Social for their presenting sponsorship, as well as Infusionsoft, Janrain, and Jim Kukral at DigitalBookLaunch. We use Argyle Social for our social engagement; we use Infusionsoft for our email; Janrain is our crackerjack social integration company, and Jim is our guest host for the podcast (and a smart guy).

Social Pros Transcript For Your Reading Enjoyment, Thanks to Speechpad for the Transcription

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Eric: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening folks. Welcome to Social Pros episode number 22. My name is Eric Boggs and I’m the founder and CEO at Argyle Social and with me on the call today is our special good friend, Mr. Jim Kukral of Digital Book Launch.

Jim: Hey, how are you doing?

Eric: Jim, doing just fine. Glad to be on the show with you.

Jim: Glad to be here, too. Now, I’m thinking I need to maybe bring out my ukulele for one of these shows.

Eric: To just provide some musical background or?

Jim: That is a not euphemism. It’s an actual ukulele.

Eric: You should. I’ve got a few stringed instruments myself and our know special guest today, Evan Hamilton, from UserVoice is quite the musician also. So perhaps we should get together the Social Pros band at some point.

Jim: There you go.

Eric: Before we get too far into the show, if it’s not obvious, our fearless leader, Mr. Jay Baer, is not on the show today. He is in Greece and Spain for a family vacation eating baklava, jamon serrano, and furthering the decline of European civilizations. So, we’ll have Jay back in a couple weeks, but for now I’m going to run the show and I’m going to do whatever I want, including skipping the stat of the week and skipping right into some of the good stuff.

Before we do, Jim and I have a few nuggets we want to talk about. I do want to acknowledge our sponsors at Social Pros, which includes Argyle Social, my company, developers of data driven social media management software, Janrain, the social sign on 800-pound gorilla, and Infusionsoft which develops great marketing automation software for SMBs and Jim, Digital Book Launch, who’s our special guest today.

Eric and Jim’s Thoughts of the Week

So, Jim, before we bring on Evan from UserVoice, a few nuggets I want to talk about. Evidently, few hours ago today, Facebook defaulted everybody’s email address in Facebook to an email address.

Jim: Right.

Eric: So?

Jim: Yeah. I was reading about that and people don’t understand. The email in your account that you put in could’ve been Gmail but they just like wiped it and changed it to @facebook, right?

Eric: Yeah. And I think whatever your default email address is, the email address still forwards to that address, I’m guessing, or maybe it goes to the Facebook messages. I don’t know. Either way, it kinda doesn’t matter because this is yet another, you know, it’s just a gaffe from Facebook, like, what they have done is probably innocuous, I guess, but it just seems like it could’ve been rolled out a bit more cleanly.

Jim: You know, I look at these things a little bit different, you know, when you’re the 800-pound gorilla, I don’t think these companies make gaffe. I think that these are strategically done things to see what they can get away with.

Eric: So, you’re skipping ahead to my next question, I’m glad you are, because I do want to talk about what’s in the tea leaves here, because you’re probably right. There is some sort of play here. What do you think that is?

Jim: Right. There’s just no way, that what, they’re going to say like an intern accidentally flipped a switch and switched everyone. I mean, come on, we’re talking about these big corporate companies and, you know, when you get to a certain level and as a salesperson and as a marketing person, you know that when people get so used to your products, you can begin to do things and take liberties. Right? The question is how far can you push it. For example, like changing everyone’s email to Facebook, you know, sometimes it’s just easier to just do something like that than it is to spend 3 months planning on how to do it.

Eric: Well, the Facebook mantra is move fast and break things and, you know, it’s not surprising. Right? This is kind of the hacker culture manifesting itself.

Jim: It’s not surprising at all. And the danger is, is that, you know, eventually you’re going to do something that’s going to cause a big problem and then people have to make the decision in their head. Was this a big enough issue for me to want to have to leave, you know, from all the good things it gives me and they haven’t done that yet and I think it would have to be something like they took your credit card and charged $10,000 on it.

Eric: Yes. So, hopefully they won’t do that. Why do you think Facebook wants to be privy to your email exchanges, privy to the email addresses that its sending systematically?

Jim: Well, one thing I can think of already is that, first of all it’s great branding, right? Now you can say, “Facebook me,” and you can say, “It’s just,” you know? I mean, that’s obviously a direct drag at Gmail. The other thing too is I’m looking at Gmail right now, I use Gmail, I got all kinds of ads flowing down the right hand side of my Gmail account. You know, I posted this on Facebook the other day. It’s pretty interesting that about 15 days after the Facebook IPO tanked, all off a sudden all of my Facebook ads are getting approved.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: And are getting clicks like crazy now, like the one that was, they were charging me a dollar a day before, I didn’t touch it at all. All of a sudden, it’s doing the max, forty bucks a day.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: All of a sudden. So, just a coincidence, or are they like, you know, we better start lightening up.

Eric: Well, they started activating ads on global. That might be part of it, but who knows? Anyway, let’s move on. There are a couple of things I want to talk about. I think we’ve done our requisite Facebook kvetching for this episode. LinkedIn recently announced some new functionality that’s pretty cool. Letting companies target status updates. You think this is a signal of a forthcoming ad product?

Jim: You know, I’ve never met a person ever who’s spent any money on LinkedIn and gotten anything from it.

Eric: Really?

Jim: Have you?

Eric: Yeah, we spent off and on pretty heavily on LinkedIn and it works in the sense that you can be so hyper-targeted with content and that’s why I think this is interesting if they’re doing this with their company status updates.

Jim: Well, so explain it, I mean, explain what does it mean? So I have a status up, but explain how it works.

Eric: Yeah, so LinkedIn has provided company pages the same way that Facebook provides company pages and Twitter provides company pages and you do status updates which are akin to Tweets and instead of broadcasting the same thing to everyone, with LinkedIn you can actually target them based on job title, geography, company size, that type of thing. In the same way that you can target your ads on Facebook and your ads on Twitter, but LinkedIn has mapped this all the way through to the status update, which is fascinating.

Jim: It seems pretty, a no-brainer would be, you know, for recruiting.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: You know, obviously, being able to put out there, I’m looking for CFOs and people who are CFOs, you know, that seems like pretty much a no-brainer but as with anything, you know, if the conversions aren’t there, then it’s really not worth your time.

Eric: Yeah. You know, this is something Jay and I have talked about a few episodes ago. The data is there to enable. Jay and I wrote like email marketing guys, long suffering email marketing guys. And the email marketing nirvana is unique message to every recipient that’s relevant and timely and expected. Right?
Social has that same promise and since that these platforms have, they know who everybody is, they know to display certain messages to this user section and a certain message to that user section. But the functionality just isn’t there to provide targeted messaging. It’s all broadcast, but, you know, you see these convergences of ad platforms and organic contents. You see what LinkedIn has rolled out with its targeted status updates and you can kind of start to see in the distance, a little hazy and a little blurry, a future in which businesses can more accurately target the content that they’re sharing on the social sites, in the same way that they’ve been able to do with email and other mediums.

Jim: Yeah. It’s interesting to watch, you know. The world is changing so fast, as we all know and it’s like as we all hate ads more and more and more, these companies just are sitting around trying to figure out how to deliver ads in new ways to us and we just keep figuring out new ways to hate them.

Eric: That’s a good way of putting it. That’s a good way of putting it.

Jim: And, you know, when you look at a company like Google, it’s like they’ve done everything right from before. They’ve had some mishaps but in terms of ads, I mean, they nailed it. They’re simple, you know where they are, you know what they look like, and even if you don’t, they still are relevant.

Eric: Yeah, and they’re generally helpful.

Jim: Right? So, I think probably one of the biggest problems when you look at Facebook ads and LinkedIn probably coming up is that they haven’t really adopted a really good way like Google has for quality score, which is making sure that the ad is really something that you’re interested in and is actually is going to be good. And if they can do that, and actually be more aggressive about it, I think they’ll be more successful.

Eric: Yeah. So, let’s change gears to my third news nugget of the week, and you mentioned, you know, world’s changing really fast, and as of today, which is, when you hear this it’s not today anymore. Today, Monday, June 25th, there have been rumors swirling that Microsoft was going to acquire Yammer and this afternoon, those rumors were confirmed. And so now, suddenly, $1.2 billion dollars later, Microsoft is playing in the social enterprise space alongside of and Oracle and others. That seems like a lot of money! Does it sound like a lot of money to you, Jim?

Jim: Yes, it really does, I mean, we had somebody out from Yammer on one of the shows I hosted.

Eric: Yeah. Maria was on few weeks ago.

Jim: And congratulations to her. Hope she had some shares and, you know, I don’t know. A billion dollars seems pretty outrageous for that, but what do I know. Maybe they’re planning on releasing this at that enterprise level and starting, I have no idea. Maybe the business model makes a lot of sense, but you’re right. A billion, man, with a B.

Eric: Yes. Capital B as in Bravo. I’m guessing that this is going to be woven into Microsoft Office, I mean, Microsoft is one of the biggest enterprise software companies in the world. You know, they already have Outlook, which was, I guess, the first corporate social network that got a full exchange directory that had everybody’s contact information and that kind of thing. So, you know the legacy is there, those systems are just old and crusty and nobody really likes to use them anymore. So, you know, hats off to them for making such a bold play in social enterprises. It’s going to be very cool to see how they kind of keep this moving forward. I think if they’re smart, they’ll just leave Yammer alone and keep doing what they’re doing and integrate with Microsoft over time.

Jim: Well, yeah, and then how long is it going to be before Google finally gets Twitter?

Eric: Yeah. If you think about who the remaining enterprise players that don’t have strong social business plays, you know, IBM. I don’t know that they’ve made an acquisition or not, I’m not sure but yeah. It is a brave new world for social business. That is for sure. So let’s bring in our special guest on the show, Evan Hamilton from UserVoice. Evan, you there?

Special Guest: Evan Hamilton, UserVoice

Evan Hamilton, UserVoice @evanhamilton

Evan: Yeah. Afternoon gents.

Eric: Hey, hey. So, Evan is the Head of Community at Evan, why don’t you talk to us a bit about UserVoice and what it means to be the Head of Community at UserVoice.

Evan: Sure thing. So, UserVoice makes a customer feedback and customer service tool, and we’re really focused on trying to make that world a little easier and a little more fun. You know, customer service, customer feedback, it’s traditionally sort of an unpleasant experience for either a customer, employee or both, and our goal is to really make that a lot simpler. And it’s interesting, you know, how that relates to social. Obviously, the focus of this podcast is on social and people say, “Well, is your product social?” And the right answer is yes. We’re interacting with customers. It’s social even if it’s not a social network.

What we’re really focused on, specially with our feedback product, is what I think the missing step is in, you know, building out a great social strategy. You know, in the early days we had a lot of, you need to listen to your customers and so we all have that down. We all listen now, and these days it’s really you know, you need to respond to customers and you need to be quick. And we all sort of missed the step of you need to understand your customers. And so, we’re really, you know, building a product that helps you better understand and better serve your customer rather than simply, Ok we’ve seen a Tweet, we’ve responded to it, but we haven’t actually addressed their underlying problems. So, that’s what we try to do.

Eric: Cool. So we use UserVoice at Argyle for our customer feedback community. If you got ideas for, our customers can support product ideas and suggestions and they get voted up and commented on and it’s a beautiful product. If you’re listening to this podcast you have seen a UserVoice site. You just might not know that it was UserVoice. It’s a great, great application. Evan, you have this kind of meta role of running community for a business that is all about enabling community. So you’re privy to hundreds and thousands of customer communities. What kind of lessons have you learned from watching people, you know, do what we’ve done at Argyle or you know what other software companies have done or other organizations?

Evan: Well, I think the first thing that I’d like to clarify is I think a lot of people call groups of people communities when they’re just groups of people. And, you know, it’s very confusing to say, yeah, a group of people, they’re a community of people, but you know, I live in an apartment building with I’m assuming something like 15-20 other people. I’m so busy, I haven’t met any of them, so I actually wouldn’t consider that my community. Yeah, I’m not part of that community. I’m simply a person who lives in that building and probably that neighbor. And, so, for me a community is really a group of people who are really connected around a certain subject. And, UserVoice is really, the feedback portion of our product is a tool for getting product feedback. And sometimes that does connect people.

If you look at, I would say, maybe like the Windows phone forum or the Visual Studio forum, so that’s where passionate Microsoft fans are hanging out. They will actually interact with each other, but I think it’s an important distinction to make that you’re not necessarily building a community just by grouping people in one place. It’s something people don’t quite realize. A lot of times they’re hiring a community manager to really just herd a group of people versus build that community.

Eric: So let’s dig into that a bit further. Right? So, how, I mean, would you say that UserVoice has a herd of users or do you have a community of users?

Evan: So, what I’m trying to do, and what I’ve hopefully succeeded at, is building a community of people who really care about helping customers. And this community doesn’t just include UserVoice customers, it includes a lot of other people too. And the work I do, you know, writing our blog and I host events like Customer Service Breakfast, Community Manager Breakfast, here in the Bay Area, and some other events that we’ll be throwing soon. Those are all designed around really, like, connecting those people who care about customers in a way where they feel like they’re getting a lot of value and hopefully they feel like UserVoice is part of that. So I do think that’s the community I’ve built here and still working on.

Jim: Hey, Evan, I have a question. You know, so one of the things that I think that people are coming to expect is this kind of community and this kind of interaction. It’s very similar to, you know, people expect you to have a nice website. They expect you to be available and contactable and, you know, as I see, UserVoice is really that piece that fits right in there, but wouldn’t you agree, I mean, customers nowadays just expect this level of interaction, don’t they?

Evan: Absolutely. You know, I just published a blog post called “Say No To Your Customers” and the gist was really companies have this weird idea that they can not respond to customer feedback. It’s not cause they don’t want to, it’s cause they’re scared to say no. And they think, well, if I don’t say anything, that’s better than saying no. And the analogy I always use is, you know, if Eric invited me to his birthday party and I just stared at him, you’d be like, “What’s wrong with you man? Do you hate me? What’s going on?” and that’s essentially what companies are doing. So it is absolutely imperative that you act like a real person and you actually respond to people’s requests, even if you’re saying no. And people generally accept that. They understand, okay, well, that was his decision or, you know, it is technically unfeasible. But, not responding to people and not having sort of an organized place where you do that is unacceptable.

Jim: Yeah, you’re right. I mean, I’ve experienced this throughout my career and my businesses as well, people just want to be heard and even the people who, you know, I always get this from my clients. They’re like, “What am I supposed to do when somebody has something negative to say?” and I say listen to them and then just hear them and make sure that they know you heard them and respond to them. They’re like, “Well, I don’t want to get into an argument with them.” Like, “Look, 99% of the time people just want to be heard. And they just want to know that you’re actually paying attention,” and usually what happens is they come back and they’re like, “Thanks for listening.” Right?

Evan: Yeah, absolutely. It’s this weird concept that companies are supposed to act like giant robots, you know, it’s not. We’re companies filled with people and if you’re talking to someone on the street and they say, “Hey, I don’t like your sign-in process,” you’ve listened to them, probably asked for details, you’d say, “Okay. Well thanks, I’ll try and do something.” But suddenly when it’s on the Internet and it has the company name on it, people freak out and can’t figure out how to behave.

Eric: Evan, I want to get back to an earlier question. You talked a little bit about how you’ve built the, you know, your community strategy for UserVoice. How long have you been with the company?

Evan: About two years and three weeks.

Eric: Wow that’s pretty accurate measure. It’s a start-up. Right? I mean you guys are like 20 to 25 employees?

Evan: Yeah. Just hit 25.

Eric: How, you know, you were brought on at point A and now we’re at point B and since the community of UserVoice is presumably stronger at point B than it was at point A, can you look back and think about the two or three things that you’ve done strategically that helps kind of the community move the conversation forward for your business?

Evan: Yeah. I think there’s sort of two main things that I can confidently say I think I intentionally did well.

Eric: We’ll ignore the 50 things that you did poorly.

Evan: Right. And the things that I accidentally did right. There’s plenty of those. The first one I would say is internal company culture and I will give 100% credit to Zappos. You know I read “Delivering Happiness” and you know, you can say whatever you want about Zappos, but they have absolutely built a consistent culture in their company, which really results in very positive, very consistent output. And I realized that’s something we had to do, because, right now, or you know, two years ago, I can answer all the Tweets, I could answer all the feedback on UserVoice, I could answer all the support tickets, but that wasn’t going to scale, and you can’t be a police officer going around and rapping people’s knuckles if they say something bad or act like a jerk or don’t help people enough.

And so, I’ve spent a lot of time, and I’m really grateful that our CEO has given me a lot of leeway to do this, developing our internal values with the team, and figuring out ways to really remind the team of those and give them an opportunity to live those values. So we have seven values, we just actually revamped them a little bit and its everything from build transparency, sorry, build trusts through transparency and have empathy and don’t be a dick.

Eric: Yeah. I remember seeing that one in your office.

Evan: Yeah, and so we have these up on the wall, it just sits in nice posters but more importantly than that, you know, more importantly than being on a piece of paper somewhere, we really build processes in where people can live these values. For example, recently we started having every single employee from CEO to developer to office manager answer one support ticket a week. They get to choose it, it could be an easy one but we’re giving them a moment in their week where they can connect to their customers and actually empathize with them and understand them instead of think of them as just an object they don’t need to think about.

Eric: Yeah. That’s very cool. I’m actually writing that down. We might implement that at Argyle. Answer a support ticket.

Evan: So I think that’s one element. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really rewarding and it’s amazing to see people doing a better job than you would have, because of these values.

Eric: Yeah.

Evan: I mean, that’s been the most rewarding to me. The other half is really about providing value for people. Most of what I’ve done in the community role here is doing things that provide value for either customers or potential customers. And rather than thinking about like, “Oh, I’m going to write a white paper that’ll will allow me to capture 30 leads, you know, per day,” I think about what do people need and I try to provide that value and you can always optimize, you know, lead collection or marketing efforts around those, but, you know, the breakfast I mentioned, I saw a need. I saw that there is no place where people could really go and share their experiences. There are a lot of talking heads but not a lot of actual conversations.

We just this weekend did an event called Coding for Community Managers because community managers often supplement the lack of knowledge they have about HTML, CSS, JavaScript. So we wanted to help them with that. And the things I write on the blog are really trying to answer questions or challenges people are facing. And what we found from that is people get a lot of value through that, they share it and they really appreciate that you provided that value and they keep you in mind. So, you may have someone sign up for your service a year later but they say, “Oh, yeah, no, I follow your blog. I don’t use your product, but suddenly I had a need, I started a new project and I chose you guys because you’ve helped me.

Eric: Yeah. That’s very cool. It’s got to be rewarding to have started at one point and seen how the things you’ve implemented have created such an impact for your customers.

Evan: It really is and I’m very lucky. I’ve talked to a lot of people who don’t have a lot of freedom at their companies and I’ve gotten a lot of it, so I’m very happy.

Eric: Awesome. So let’s wrap up with some shout outs. Evan, you have some Social Pros shout outs?

Social Pros Shoutout

Evan: Yeah. First, I want to recommend Andy Sernovitz‘s blog, it’s called “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that!” He sort of spawned the whole word-of-mouth marketing concept. It’s because of him that the Word of Mouth Marketing Association started, but his blog is the best of all. This recent post was really great. He was talking about how a hotel he goes to provides a shoe polisher and it seems weird because not many people polish their shoes, but his point was that people who do, tend to use the towels and they ruin the towels. And you don’t want to put up a sign that says don’t use the towels to polish your shoes, because that’s very negative. It’s also just annoying, all these signs saying don’t do this, and their solution was, well, we’ll provide this polisher. If people want to, they can use it.

Eric: Yeah. The same polisher may sit in a hotel room for 18 months, but at least the towels aren’t getting ruined.

Evan: Yeah and it’s a very positive way of sort of building your environment for your community that solves your problems without ruining their lives.

Eric: Awesome.

Evan: And then, there have been some great posts on Seth Godin’s blog and Paul Graham’s blog recently about fear, which for me have been really inspiring cause there are lots of projects that I start on to think about and I’m scared about them. They’re big, they scare me and I think I could just keep, you know, writing these blog posts and putting them up and some people will read them, but they have some great posts on sort of confronting that saying, you know, fear means that you’re doing something exciting, potentially powerful and you need to embrace that and dive right in.

Eric: Yeah, I’ll echo that. I watched a great video today of Ben Horowitz, who’s a VC with Andreessen Horowitz. It was a talk I think he gave a few years ago, but it’s about starting businesses and a big piece of it was don’t be afraid.

Evan: Right. So easy.

Eric: Yeah, I know. Just don’t be afraid and you can be Ben Horowitz, I guess. Any other shout outs?

Jim: Well, I’ll give a shout out for Argyle Social and I don’t want to turn this into a love fest here. Everyone always stops round my desk when they visit our office, like, what’s that you’re using and it’s a fantastic tool and stuff, check it out.

Eric: Aw thanks. Evan, disclosure, Evan is an Argyle Social customer and Argyle Social as a UserVoice customer.

Evan: Yeah.

Eric: Well, Evan thanks for joining us man, its great to catch you up, great to hear about some of the cool stuff you’ve been doing at UserVoice.

Evan: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Eric: And, Jim, a pleasure as always.

Jim: As always. Yeah, it’s great

Eric: Jim is going to be back next week. Jay is still going to be in Europe doing his thing, I guess, laying around a beach in a Borat swimsuit. So Jim and I are going to be running the show again and the special guest next week is DJ Waldow of Waldow Social. Do you know DJ, Jim?

Jim: I do not.

Eric: Oh, jeez. It’s going to be the inside joke edition. DJ and I used to work together a long time ago and I rapped “Baby Got Back” at his wedding and it’s going to be a really fun one.

Jim: So, I’m forty and I live in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I’m just not cool enough to know anyone who calls himself DJ.

Eric: Well, his name is David Jason.

Jim: Oh, Okay. So he’s not actually a DJ.

Eric: No, but he is often mistaken for one on Twitter. I think that’s how he got so many Twitter followers because everybody thinks he’s a music DJ, but in reality he’s just a nerd.

Jim: Well then he’ll fit right in.

Eric: Exactly. Evan and Jim, thanks again for joining us. Big thanks to our sponsors Argyle Social, my company, Janrain and Infusionsoft and Jim, our guest host and president of Digital Book Launch. Thanks everybody for listening to Social Pros number 22. We’ll be back again in one week with episode number 23 featuring DJ Waldow. Thanks guys.

Most images were taken from except for Evan’s headshot and Delivering Happiness.

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