It’s no surprise that a lot goes into launching a product. Even though it may not seem as obvious, the same (if not more) effort goes into launching new features within a product as well.
Back in January, we released a suite of new UpContent features that we are thrilled about (and, frankly, relieved to see completed): the creation of user profiles, the ability to share topics, the addition of the relevance graph view, and the update to our influence filter. This group of features may seem like a short list in the grand scheme of product features, but it was the first massive undertaking we experienced after our initial stand-alone application launch in June 2015. Planning, developing, marketing, and executing these features was a true learning experience for our entire team and we’d like to share our story with you.
Identifying the elements to build within a product is more involved than a simple brainstorming session– it requires research and feedback from users in order to make an informed and smart decision. Last year, our team sat down with several different marketing agencies in the Pittsburgh area and asked content marketers what they liked and what they wanted to see more of in UpContent. We also met with our team of in-house beta testers to gather more details about their day-to-day use of the product and what could be more helpful. This invaluable feedback led us to answer questions our users had, such as “How do we know the the influence sorting filter is ranking the most influential sites highest?” or “How can I find out what additional keywords make up my topic?”
As a result, we made a list of features that would address these questions as well as allow users to be more productive and collaborative in the tool.
Once we settled on our roadmap, we recognized that our team needed more support in order to execute our goals effectively. With some help from our friends at Imagine Careers, we hired a Growth Manager, a Data Scientist, and a part-time Front-End Developer to fortify development efforts as well as to market UpContent and create and implement a growth strategy.
Once we had a general idea of what features were to be developed, how they worked within the product, and when they might be ready to implement, it was my responsibility to design a content strategy and a promotional plan for our big reveal while our dev team began working on the product features. Much like a teacher in a classroom, we took a backwards planning approach.
First, we decided on a launch date. With the end-of-the-year holidays, we knew we would want to wait until January to push the features live (and we’re glad we waited!). With a deadline in place, I began to form a loose timeline of all of the content that would need to be created and published prior to launch. This included blog posts, email newsletters, social media posts, website and advertising copy, and survey questions.
Additionally, we wanted to include videos to introduce all of our new features, so that meant writing scripts and recording multiple screencasts and audio. It was crucial for me to have all of my due dates written out so I could then break down each piece of content into smaller, more manageable chunks and set these task deadlines (both for myself as well as for our product designer, Kyle) to stay on track.
Though using a project management tool like Asana would have been helpful (especially if I had multiple people working on content), I kept things simple and wrote out my to do list in a Google Doc by date and crossed out things I accomplished as they were completed. This way, I was able to keep a frame of reference as to what still needed done and what I needed to prioritize.
Our dev team used Pivotal Tracker to track progress toward our goals, splitting the features up into the smallest tasks so that each team member could progress on their tasks without waiting for deliverables from other team members.
Beta testing is extremely important to work out all of the bugs that inevitably occur during development. It’s also invaluable in gaining feedback about what users like and don’t like and what their workflows might look like, and also to encourage influencers to start spreading the word about your features or product. We knew that giving our most special users and advocates the ability to test out the new features before they were released publicly would give us great insight and hopefully start getting our audience excited about our upcoming launch. We decided the best way to convey this new information was by hosting a Pre-Launch VIP Webinar.
To organize and execute this pre-launch webinar, we:
Set a date for the webinar a few weeks before the official public launch of our new features. We knew our features needed to be completed so that we could demo them effectively and we wanted to give our VIPs the opportunity to try out the new features before we publicly launched.
Created a list of VIP guests. This list included our most engaged users, our top Twitter followers, potential integration partners, stakeholders, bloggers, and content marketers.
Sent personalized email invitations two weeks beforehand with an RSVP form and followed up with a reminder sequence the day before, the morning of, and right before the webinar times.
Wrote a loose script and practiced the webinar in private on Google Hangout with slides and live demoing of the new features.
Recorded the webinar on Google Hangout on Air and sent the recording along with a survey to all participants and those who were unable to make it live.
Overall, we felt the time and work invested in the pre-launch VIP webinar was extremely worthwhile. We received some fantastic feedback and our attendees generously spread the word about our new features on social media.
Have you ever hosted a webinar just for your VIP customers? How’d it go? We’d love to hear about your experience.
While our new features were exciting enough to us, we knew we wanted our launch day to go off with a splash and hopefully attract some new users and increase brand awareness. As a result, we decided to host a giveaway. It was tempting to take the easy route and supply a gift card as a prize, but instead, we wanted to leverage the opportunity to target our ideal audience and give away a prize that these particular individuals would be thrilled to have and use. This meant we had to come up with something high-value and practical for content marketers and bloggers that was feasible for us financially and logistically.
We dug a little deeper and asked ourselves: How can we provide a solution to most content marketers’ and bloggers’ problems? Is there a way we can incorporate UpContent into the giveaway without it being the sole prize?
Suddenly, it came to us. What if we provided the ultimate toolkit that incorporated some of the best tools that any content marketer or blogger would find useful…for a year?!
UpContent’s Engager Plan and UpContent swag ($175 value)
Buffer’s Awesome Plan ($120 value)
Sniply’s Basic Plan ($300 value)
Together, these three tools create the perfect workflow for any content marketer or blogger: discover high-quality, relevant content through UpContent, schedule this curated content through Buffer, and then add a quick call-to-action back to your site through Sniply. All three of these platforms work seamlessly together, making it an obvious choice for us and for our targeted audience. It was also high-value enough to make it a worthwhile giveaway for people to enter.
We provided two opportunities to enter the giveaway:
Sign up for an UpContent account or
If you’re already a user, provide a testimonial.
We created a landing page that allowed them to complete either entry. Lastly, we announced the giveaway through our email newsletter and on social media, with additional assistance from Facebook and Twitter ads.
Though it took some planning and strategizing, it was a worthy addition to our launch plan. Taking a look back through our analytics, we were able to see a good number of new users who came from the giveaway as well as some excellent testimonials. And a big congratulations to our winner, Jess!
It’s one thing to read about a new feature; it’s quite another to actually see it. Incorporating video into our launch strategy was a must, especially with the introduction of very visual features like the relevance and influence graphs. Having only some previous video and audio editing experience, I turned to experts like Wistia and Intercom to learn how to DIY screencast quickly without sacrificing quality.
Following this helpful guide to screencasting, I wrote out a script that included the nuances of my talking voice, practiced the actions I would complete, and then recorded a rough audio version. Next, I recorded a screencast using Camtasia (you can try it free for 30 days) while listening to the rough audio. I made some initial edits before recording a final audio track. Afterwards, I layered the final track and the screencast together and made any remaining edits. Finally, I added some cheerful music (Wistia records free tracks for public use!) and used some animations to emphasize certain points.
It’s important to note that while the idea of editing video can be intimidating, don’t let the pressure to make it perfect stop you from creating one. You don’t need fancy equipment beyond a computer and an editing program (we took advantage of Camtasia’s free trial), and ideally a microphone if you can get your hands on one.
I set aside a full day for writing scripts, recording, and editing, and was able to make four short tutorial videos that I’m not embarrassed to post on social media (though I’m sure we can all agree that no one likes to hear their recorded voice!).
Even with the best laid plans in place, I needed the support of my coworkers to make this launch a success. Leading up to launch day, I created resources for all employees that would allow them to serve as UpContent ambassadors leading up to and during our new features launch. These resources included:
Branded UpContent cover images for Facebook and Twitter
Click-to-Tweets with calls-to-action to enter the giveaway and test drive the new features with the launch hashtag #myupcontent
A schedule of events for launch day so they knew what was being posted when on social media
All of the important links to the giveaway landing page and blog post
Videos of our new features so they could understand the new features and share with their networks
A script they could tweak to send to family and friends
Having the entire Community Elf team on board was a huge help. The team really led the charge in bringing in new users and spreading the word about the solution we provide.
A few months of dedicated work and a number of late-night, pizza-fueled sprints helped us reach the finish line and set up all of the new features for our users. Once we had all of our plans in place, it was time to make them happen!
It was important to us (and our sanity) that the process be as automated as possible to give us the space to engage organically with users. For example, all of our emails were scheduled through Infusionsoft in advance, all social posts were written and scheduled through Buffer, our ads were written and scheduled on Facebook and Twitter, and our blog posts were loaded and ready to go live. This meant we could be fully engaged on Twitter and Intercom (our live chat service) leading up to and throughout the whole day.
Freeing up this time meant we could also participate in #bufferchat during the day, which gave us a nice opportunity to connect with others who might be interested in the giveaway and what UpContent can do alongside the social media automation platform.
So how did we do?
Throughout the day, we received a 400% increase in user signups than our previous average and gained numerous new testimonials that affirmed the direction UpContent is moving toward. We also saw a nice spike in activity on our site and our advertising report revealed some interesting insights about our targeted demographics.
We were thrilled to see some amazing support from influencers, like this shoutout from Kenny Chen:
Overall, it was a great day and we were relieved and excited to see many positive outcomes from all of our hard work, but we also recognize that it was a series of long days and nights that made it possible and that we need to keep the momentum going in order to be successful.
There’s no such thing as a perfect launch. There are always things that could have been written better or bugs that could have been avoided. That being said, all of these mistakes can be seen as learning opportunities to make the next launch even more epic.
Here are some of the “lessons learned” from our launch experience:
We underestimated the amount of time it would take to build features. With our limited resources and manpower, we needed to be more realistic about what we could accomplish in a certain timeframe. This led to a few too many late night sprints that we hope to avoid in the future.
We launched the product features too close to a major holiday. Because we took longer than we originally expected to build these features, we ended up colliding with Christmas, meaning we were working a lot during the holiday and our users were still getting back into the swing of things when we launched in January.
We were distracted by shiny marketing ideas. A week before our launch day, we spent too much time researching Product Hunt and other great marketing pushes that, while valuable, got in the way of our original plans.
We needed to improve our giveaway landing page to give viewers the opportunity to check out other parts of our website, like pricing and blog. Our bounce rate was high and while there was a lot of information on the page, it did not explain UpContent as clearly as we would like to someone who may not know who we are.
There are plenty of other smaller lessons we’ve learned, but we’re grateful for these bigger insights that will hopefully make our next launch even more successful.
Many thanks to everyone who supported us during our recent launch! We can’t wait to make the process faster and more efficient so that we can continue providing the features that make your content discovery process the best it can be.