How Is Your Startup Communicating?

One of the issues that startups always seem to have is communication with its user base and developers. Over the past several weeks we have seen some really interesting examples in the different styles of communication from some popular startups. In particular, Twitter and LinkedIn have been communicating a lot with their users to much different effect.

LinkedIn’s recent communications have been very interesting mainly because they were so quite for such a long time. They started this year with an email to its users regarding the contacts within their network that had changed jobs in the past year. That email garnered a lot of attention, and as the author of the linked article stated:

A clever move by LinkedIn, even though I personally don’t use the network that much, I was tempted to click on the faces I recognised and see what jobs my friends had recently taken.

Only recently did they add the “Get To Know Your New Connection” emails. Instead of the basic, “X has accepted your connection” email, you now see some basic profile information as well as other people you may know. These emails are both informative and a solid advertisement without pushing too hard. These are a great example of how to communicate with your users without explicitly pushing for pageviews.

Another fantastic communication from LinkedIn was their recent email to users thanking them for being one of the first million members of the site when their 100 millionth member joined the site. Also of note, they customized the message based on when you joined the site, like mine for being one of the first 100,000 members:

I want to personally thank you because you were one of LinkedIn’s first 100,000 members (member number NNNNN in fact!*). In any technology adoption lifecycle, there are the innovators, those who help lead the way. That was you. We hit a big milestone at LinkedIn this week when our 100 millionth member joined the site.

Again, this communication attracted a bunch of posts from tech blogs because it celebrated users and the site at the same time.

Compare this with the recent communication issues that Twitter has had, specifically with its third-party developers. This year, we have had the sudden announcement that Twitter was no longer whitelisting applications. Obviously, stopping whitelisting was going to be a controversial move, but the heavy-handed communication ensured that developers would have a collective fit:

We also want to acknowledge that there are going to be some things that developers want to do that just aren’t supported by the platform. Rather than granting additional privileges to accommodate those requests, we encourage developers to focus on what’s possible within the rich variety of integration options already provided.

To make matters worse, only a few weeks later Twitter announces changes to the API and make some drastic statements:

developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.  The answer is no.

Does this sound like a company hoping to please their developers? I argued in that post that Twitter was actually providing direction as opposed to their normal stance of not saying anything. However, the developer community was unsurprisingly upset. Mainly, the problem was in the delivery of the message. Twitter laid down the law instead of initiating a conversation with the developer community.

Granted, the Twitter communications had a different target audience, but the same level of care could have been shown. The thing for startups to remember is that communication to your users and developers can change the perception that they have of the service. LinkedIn is being looked at with more respect as a competitive service, while people continually complain about Twitter’s communication with third-party developers. In many cases, people see Twitter’s inadequate communication as a major failure by the company.

Overall, this just shows how important communication can be, even for a startup with a hot product.

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