2023-12-01 12:34:12

The Struggle of Viral Marketing via Open Chat for a SaaS Startup

Starting off

Most startups are strapped for cash, especially when it comes to marketing budgets! (We tend to penny-pinch more often.) Maybe that's why, free marketing strategies for startups are always a popular topic for blog posts.

We were no different. As our online AI video editor, VideoStew, began to take shape and beta service became feasible by the end of 2022, we started to brainstorm ways to create virality without spending a dime.

In the backdrop of this thought process was our existing service, Tyle. We asked ourselves, "Since we have many users who love our service, can't we create a community where they can share their know-how and bring in new users?โ€

This blog post is kind of a retrospective on viral marketing, looking back over our first year of servicing VideoStew. In fact, the term viral marketing has been somewhat adulterated in our country, but I define it as creating a viral loop through organic means, not paid marketing.

And I would like to start our tale with a small victory(?) we achieved through open chat, out of the numerous tactics/channels for viral marketing.

Successfully infiltrated open chat rooms with our targets!

Initially, we planned to operate a community internally. A forum-like space where users can freely ask questions and share how-to's about VideoStew. But such a platform(?) needs both information providers and seekers to work, leading back to the age-old chicken or egg dilemma.

We chose a method that could be implemented immediately - finding open chat rooms where people related to our product gathered and infiltrating to promote VideoStew.

So around this time last year, we joined a digital nomad open chat room operated by Marketer J. After seeing people actively sharing video editing know-how and recommending various solutions, we decided to make VideoStew part of the conversation.

However, as always, reality was harsh. Most of the participants were using well-known solutions, so it was not easy to switch to VideoStew and publicly praise it.

If youโ€™ve spent time observing online communities, you would get what I mean. The first comment sets the mood for the rest of the conversation. If everyone knows about a solution, it's easy to bring it up. But if it's something only you know about, even mentioning it can feel daunting.

Content marketing is the answer, anywhere

At that time, there were about 500 participants in the open chat room. With Marketer J's assistance, we had the opportunity to conduct a free lecture session for all of them. It was a session where we briefly introduced how to use VideoStew.

I remember vividly conducting the lecture from a hospital room, dressed in patient clothing, due to health reasons at that time.

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We promoted how easy and diverse the video creation could be with VideoStew's wizard mode, even offering a one-month free usage voucher to the participants.

However, the conversion to paid usage a month later was disappointing. In fact, the number of people who actively used VideoStew even during the free month was very small.

But it couldn't just end with one attempt! We decided that the next lecture needed to scratch the itch and provide practical tips that could be immediately applied.

And subsequently, we hosted two additional lectures on how to use VideoStew in combination with well-known solutions:

  • chatGPT + VideoStew, finish planning to production in less than 10 minutes
  • Creating storytelling videos with Midjourney + VideoStew (Watch the lecture here)

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While VideoStew alone wasn't quite the hook to engage our audience, we noticed an immediate response when we merged trending products into our lecture content. Following the two free lectures, we started to see our first paid users from this open chat room.

However, while we had users, we didn't quite feel the โ€œviralโ€ effect yet. Until, we had an interesting experience.

Customer Interview: The detonator of virality

On VideoStew's own blog, we have a section for real-life customer use cases. We share inspiring examples from a wide range of users, from corporate users to individual creators.

During a 1:1 consultation, we came across a particular creator. The subsequent interviews revealed that they had gathered 230,000 subscribers in six months using VideoStew! Remarkably, they were neither familiar with other video programs nor were they experienced with video editing or YouTube activities.

Others who attended our free lectures stopped there, but this customer saw the potential in VideoStew during the one-month free trial period and started running their channel with all their heart, becoming a Silver Button YouTuber. (If you're curious about the interview, read " How the Video Editing Novice in Me Managed to Create a 230,000 Subscriber Channel in Just 6 Months").

After that, our interview video content featuring their candid experiences was uploaded to YouTube. They spread their know-how through free lectures, which helped increase awareness of VideoStew.

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From then on, VideoStew was mentioned and recommended more frequently in the open chat room. It's a joy in itself that we were mentioned alongside top-tier solutions. (What? Premiere Pro? CapCut?)

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As VideoStew started to create a buzz, spontaneous testimonial posts about growth and results began to appear. VideoStew became a solution users were proud to share, rather than something difficult to bring up.

โ€™Participationโ€™, a solution that grows together with the customers

Through deep involvement in the open chat, I realized a huge perk of communicating with our customers via nicknames. They could express their requirements and opinions honestly. Not only could we quickly grasp the inconveniences they encountered while using VideoStew or the improvements they wished for, but we could also immediately catch bugs caused by deployment mistakes.

We then updated requested features as quickly as possible. Looking back, it feels reminiscent of the idea of "participation" by Liwan Zhang, co-founder of Xiaomi, where we gave our precious customers a sense of participation.

Although VideoStew has 1:1 chat consultation, we found that customers prefer to ask us questions through open chat. Perhaps because they feel more comfortable asking a real person who conducts lectures and occasionally joins in the banter. While it may not be efficient from an operations standpoint, if it makes customers comfortableโ€ฆ why not?

Can we scale this small achievement?

Looking at VideoStew's current paid customer composition, it's 50% corporate customers and 50% individual creators. What I'm reminiscing about here is a viral attempt with a segment that accounts for less than a quarter of our target customers. Itโ€™s a tiny achievement, reaching a certain segment within a larger target.

Weโ€™re also trying the same strategy with school teachers and professors, which has been leading to some success in terms of school-wide payments. However, this too is just success within a specific segment.

Given the success of targeting a niche market, we plan to continue trying the same tactic with different target groups. Most recently, we've been looking to work with public relations managers and real estate agents. (Well, we're intending to.)

Meanwhile, I started wondering. "Would this moderate success formula work on the big stage?"

Can we replicate the same experience when the size of the segment is expanded? What events would unfold if we segment not just an open chat room or cafรฉ, but the internet as a whole?

Therefore, our next challenge is to promote our name in major communities and influence public opinion. It's still a shot in the dark where different tactics will be needed for a place where we can't pinpoint the characteristics of the audience.

But that's the hustle of a startup. After careful consideration, we'll steadily move forward one step at a time.

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