Happy Holidays ActiveRain!
As ActiveRain is getting ready for the holidays and New Year, I thought it would be useful for me personally to jot down some notes on what we have accomplished at ActiveRain and talk openly about some of our challenges. Hopefully, we will be able to address many of the challenges in 2011.
As many of you know, 2011 has been an eventful year for me personally and for ActiveRain. I started in April of 2011 at the same time, ActiveRain was facing significant technology and business challenges. Prior to April 2011, ActiveRain.com would be down for extended periods of time. If ActiveRain was not down, there were server issues preventing blogs from saving. Community-wise, ActiveRain held the "pole position" as the community and source for real estate professional information, thanks to the many contributions and kindness of the thousands of active real estate professionals who are blogging, helping and contributing to the community. Business-wise, ActiveRain started charging for our RainMaker product in February of 2009. RainMaker allows for real estate professionals to "publicly" blog on ActiveRain and have those blogs show up in the search engines. ActiveRain also held in-person RainCamps and sold sponsored post advertising on ActiveRain and in the DailyDrop newsletter. People-wise here at ActiveRain, a number of employees at ActiveRain left in the May and June time frame, seeking employment at other companies, some in the real estate industry. Luckily a core team (Bob, Kerrie, Kelly, Kelly, Chris, Lauren, Abe, Anthony, Kristi) dug in and weathered the storm. We now have a wonderful team that is doing great things every day.
What Have We Accomplished?
- Technology: The single biggest challenge facing ActiveRain was downtime and the stability of the technology. I started in April 2011 and by June 2011, we had a band-aid on the problem so that the site was not going down for hours or days at a time. We then started digging into the root problems uncovering issues like the needed software and database upgrade and database queries that would slow down the site for hours at a time. Yesterday, we actually pushed out the Rails 2.3.14 software upgrade which should enable us to start developing on and improving on ActiveRain in 2012. We also doubled the size of our technology team, while narrowing their focus. Christy Nicol joined us in November. Christy and Chris are our Ruby on Rails developers. Market Leader has been a huge help here. Since May, Chris Beahm and Patrick Lesher from Market Leader have taken over "systems administration" and network architecture, which is making sure the servers are working properly. Jerome Farrar from Market Leader has taken over Information Technology / Helpdesk, which involves helping people when their computers have issues. Finally Justin Christie from Market Leader has been helping with our phone systems and Internet access. All this help from Market Leader on the "infrastructure" allows Chris and Christy to focus on ActiveRain.com instead of being pulled in 10 directions every day.
- Training /ActiveRain University: Education is one of the core values of ActiveRain. At the same time, learning how to use ActiveRain, SEO, blogging and social media is one of the biggest challenges facing ActiveRain. Consequently, we added 2-3 webinars per day and encouraged our members to lead educational webinars. We have had great members like Ben Kinney, Katerina Gasset, Chris Alston, Rich Jacobson, Debe Maxwell, and may others lead webinar training for ActiveRain. We also moved RainCamp to an online webinar which has appealed to more members in more locations and tag-teamed RainCamp with MeetUps in local areas where we are able to get 300-400 members together. We also launched ActiveRain University with tutorials, classes, guides and webinars that are accessible 24/7 (which were not available previously).
- Educational Content: In November, we aggregated the results from our surveys and launched our series called "Rich Real Estate Agent, Poor Real Estate Agent" which is geared at helping real estate professional really understand what works when it comes to real estate technology and real estate marketing. "Rich Real Estate Agent, Poor Real Estate Agent" has 272 comments on ActiveRain, 23,000 mentions in Google, 250 likes on FaceBook and more than 150 tweets on Twitter.
- Social Integration: In August, we launched our social integration project which allows ActiveRain members to share their content to FaceBook, Google (via +1), LinkedIn and Twitter. We now see a tweet about ActiveRain or ActiveRain content every 2-4 minutes, have thousands of likes for ActiveRain content on FaceBook and more than 9,000 "+1's" on Google for ActiveRain content.
- Team: We have added a number of great people to the team. Notably, Kate Yackley started in July as VP of Sales. Kate is ultimately responsible for Sales and Member Services. Kelly Pflugrath manages member services directly. Anthony Van Vactor has taken a leadership role in sales and training. Bob and Kerrie continue to lead all our community activities.
- Revenue: With all these things coming together, we have been able to grow revenue from April to December for ActiveRain. Majority of the growth has come from our RainMaker premium blogging subscriptions and advertising on ActiveRain.com. The absolute dollar amount of our growth is not huge, but has enabled us to hire and address technology issues.
Did It Work?
- Net Promoter: I measure the effectiveness or our success using Net Promoter. I spoke on Net Promoter at the Dallas RainCamp in May. Net Promoter is based on the simple premise that the long-term success of a business is based on the likelihood of customers to refer other customers. To calculate your Net Promoter Score, survey your customers and ask them "Please rate on a scale of 1-10, what is the likelihood of your referring ActiveRain to friend or colleague?" You then take the percentage of members who rated you as a 9 or 10 (called your promoters or fans) and then subtract the percentage of members who rated you as a 6 or below (called your detractors). That single number is called your Net Promoter Score which is a single number which you can then use to manage the long-term success of your business. Here is a link to the Net Promoter Scores for some of the best known companies in the world. Net Promoter Scores vary dramatically by industry (people generally do not love their credit card or cable company). Apple has a Net Promoter Score of 72, Amazon - 70, Google - 53, Trader Joe's - 82.
- Listen: The next step is to really understand why your Promoters love you and why your Detractors hate you. Then you can make a conscious decision to do more of the things for which customers love you and fix the things that people hate. Or not. Sometimes, you can never convert a detractor into a promoter. But at least you have the information.
- ActiveRain: We have run the Net Promoter Survey twice now. Once in May 2011 and again in November 2011. We calculate our Net Promoter Scores for all members and then separately for our paying RainMaker members. You can see that our Net Promoter Scores have increased significantly from May to November based on our focus on technology and education. As you can see for an Internet web site, our Net Promoter Scores are actually pretty high.
|Net Promoter Score||May-11||Nov-11||% Increase|
- Promoter Feedback - What is Going Well: Based on the responses from the Net Promoter, ActiveRain is the best source of real estate information and training on the Internet. The community is amazing and supportive. The SEO juice from blogging on ActiveRain pays off big time for those that are willing to work ActiveRain. Great traffic, referrals and leads from ActiveRain. For complete transparency, here is a link to all the anonymous ActiveRain promoter feedback for those who are interested in seeing it.
- Detractor Feedback - What are ActiveRain's Challenges: Similarly, in the vein of complete transparency, here is a link to all anonymous detractor feedback on ActiveRain. When I look at the feedback, I see a number of buckets: too much information, intimidating, too hard to learn (ActiveRain, Blogging), too time consuming (blogging, reading), small club of insiders, hard to break into the club, too expensive, not enough value.
So, in general, ActiveRain is making progress. Now the next step is to take these learnings from the ActiveRain community and continue to make our members more successful.
A Peek into 2012: Simplification & Community Power
Looking at what we do well at ActiveRain and the challenges posed by the feedback from the detractors, it is clear that we need to:
- Make ActiveRain easier to use: You will see the start of a re-design of ActiveRain starting in January of 2012. The first page we will be touching will be MyHome which is the most visited page on ActiveRain. Right now the majority of MyHome is empty white space. We will be moving toward an activity feed format. See below screen shot. More information to come on this in early January.
- Make it easier to find the right or best information on ActiveRain: Even for us, the ActiveRain Insiders, it is hard to find the best article on FaceBook marketing. We will look to implement a combination of user content ratings and editorial to aggregate the best information into simple guides for the members.
- Figure out new and better ways to harness the power of the community to produce the best information and help other real estate professionals make money: "Rich Real Estate Agent, Poor Real Estate Agent" was a great learning experience for us here at ActiveRain. In 2012, we will be launching more community based "systems" like surveys and reviews to collect information that is important to real estate professionals. I know this is a bit vague, but more information to come as we finalize plans.
- Assess the points system and the feature board (not sure what this means, but I am putting this out there) The points system needs to be looked at consciously. There are members who like it as is and others who hate it. Same with the feature board. A lot of things on the Feature Board don't necessarily make sense either. The Feature Board is a combination of professional, consumer, and local blog posts, all of which have different audiences.
- Make RainMaker better: As you have seen from our surveys and research, blogging works if you or the real estate professional is willing to put in the time and effort to blog on a regular basis (1-2x per week). The 2011 NAR Survey of Home Buyers and Sellers says reputation and trust are two of the most important criteria when consumers pick a real estate agent. Blogging and social media are two of the best ways for a real estate professional to develop their reputation online. BUT, blogging only appeals to a small percentage of real estate agents. Why? It takes work and time to blog. That is why most real estate agents would prefer to advertise on Zillow or Trulia rather than blog (not mutually exclusive). We will continue to evolve RainMaker to make it easier to use and appeal to more real estate professionals. Again vague, but more information to come.
Great accomplishments and great learnings in 2011. Lots of work to do in 2012. Our team has worked extremely hard in 2011 and is looking forward to our new initiatives at ActiveRain in 2012.
Happy New Year Everyone!