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Mark Cuban

My Response to Mark Cuban's: Does ESPN.com Have a Twitter Problem?

Whether you are a sports fan or work in media, Mark Cuban's "Does ESPN.com have a Twitter problem?" is a relevant, good read. Cuban argues that ESPN is struggling with social media because their writers generally do not have big followings and the company hasn't figured out how to effectively monetize the platform (like most publishers, monetization is through traffic referrals). I will offer three follow up points that are specifically aimed at ESPN but relevant for any content publisher.

In short, ESPN does not have a Twitter problem. Like all other media networks, they have a Twitter opportunity. ESPN has a tremendous brand, a powerful promotional platform, and 100s of great personalities who can together leverage social media to enhance the ESPN.com experience. Here are three ways to get there:

1. Solve Finding & Promotion.

The primary problem is that big publishing networks like ESPN have big networks of writers / personalities. That creates a serious problem in finding and following the relevant personalities.

I am a paying ESPN Insider Subscriber. ESPN knows explicitly and implicitly that I like the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics - and I visit ESPN Boston. But this the ESPN Boston homepage and there is no promotion (let alone mention) of the writers I should follow on Twitter / Facebook. I should be able to subscribe instantly to all related writers.

Other ideas:

- ESPN.com/twitter should list out Twitter handles by popularity, team, relevance, etc - ESPN personalities should have Twitter pages that promote other personalities and/or ESPN.com/twitter - ESPN should build and promote Twitter lists - Articles on ESPN should promote writer's Twitter handles (this would be a good example of In the River marketing right?)

2. Ensure an On-brand Voice (not uniform - But on-brand).

A couple things to get out the way: - we are following these writers primarily because of their expertise... that is because: - there are very few personalities like Bill Simmons - therefore, there is a difference between their professional and personal Twitter accounts (or habits)

So publishing networks who promote their writers should ensure a consistent voice. This does NOT mean that ESPN writers should all engage similarly (Bill Simmons and Buster Olney are both great and very, very different). But it does mean that ESPN should make sure that their personalities are engaging appropriately and on-brand on Twitter.... just as they do within ESPN.com articles.

For every Buster Olney, Colin Cowherd, and Bill Simmons - there is a Jemele Hill. Here Twitter description is: "Jemele Hill is an ESPN columnist and television analyst. I tweet a lot. If you don't like it, keep it to yourself! ". Now Jemele may be a great reporter and sports thinker, but she is annoying on Twitter (sorry). She often posts dozens of times an hour on subjects irrelevant to sports and ESPN. But she has 40,000+ followers and affects how we think about ESPN (and their writers') roles in social media.

Give me more Buster Olneys to follow. I'll appreciate the writers more. I'll visit ESPN more. And I'll appreciate the brand more.

3. Engage with Fans & Follow Social Media Best-Practices.

This is simple: engaging in social media has to be more than just linking to an article. Twitter and Facebook represent opportunities to behave in ways that traditional media doesn't afford. For instance:

- real-time commentary - commentary beyond the article or in-response to reactions - engaging with readers and fans: questions, comments, responses, etc. - provide behind-the-scenes access that is better suited for Twitter than an article - cross promote other content, writers, etc

Darren Rovell of Sports Biz on CNBC is great at this. Here are a few examples:

Bootstrapping Your Startup – 12 Rules of Bootstrapping

One of the memes I’ve enjoyed following this past week started with Jason Calacanis’s How to Save Money Running a Start Up article (later followed by Michael Arrington, Mark Cuban, Duncan Riley, Signal vs Noise). All great read. In a similar style - here’s my take, based on my experience with beRecruited (and now sfEntrepreneurs), on bootstrapping your start up. 1. Love the idea. Mark Cuban started his list this way, and he’s absolutely right. You’ll be pouring time and energy into it – if you don’t love the concept and the product two things will happen: You’ll lose the passion required to run it and you’ll be an ineffective salesperson.

A friend of mine made his living selling Herbal Life and required all of his salespeople to use the products before selling them. They typically only sold the products they enjoyed / used regularly - and that made them excited, knowledgeable and effective salespeople.

2. Make sure the idea solves a problem / fills a need. There are a lot of ‘me too’ sites and ideas. Make sure there is a real need / calling for yours. Even when beRecruited was very young and very small, it was easy to communicate with potential users and partners because the value statement was simple and obvious: connect high school athletes with NCAA coaches. It also helped that we were the only players in this space.

3. Release and innovate. I am a firm believer that small companies are best served by continually releasing and innovating. I think it’s different if you’re building at high-touch product for Google or MSN – but as a bootstrapped startup, it enables you to build a user-base and learn from them. It also makes product releases more efficient (having major product launches undoubtedly takes longer than intended and consumers more resources than expected).

4. Know your users. Who are your users? What are their needs? Who are you marketing to? Understand this upfront – but capture all of the data to actually identify your users, their onsite behaviors, and where/when you can target them. I guarantee that your definition of a ‘user’ will change from the first business plan… capturing the data enables you to understand how and why.

5. Promote, promote, promote. Sell, sell, sell. As a bootstrapped startup, it’s all grass roots marketing. I must have passed out 100,000+ fliers at local sporting events (and employed my sisters to do the same). I wore beRecruited swim caps at national meets. I wrote articles (for free) for major industry publications like Swimming World. I always carried 50 business cards in my pocket (which didn’t even have my name on them, just the company’s and a coupon code) and kept a box of 500 VistaPrint promotional fliers in my glovebox. Hell, the back of my SUV has a “beRecruited.com, Free NCAA Recruiting” decal on it.

The beRecruited Mobile

I used every free moment to talk about the site. Don’t be embarrassed – be proud.

Use the web to market. Get on Twitter and follow JasonCalacanis, LoicLemur, and Scoble to see how it’s done. The web makes marketing cheap and easy. Vistaprint, blogs, forums, Linked In, Twitter, etc.

6. ABG: Always be growing. One of the great movie lines is Alec Baldwin’s “always be closing” rant. For bootstrappers, I believe that it’s “ABG: Always Be Growing.” It’s easy to chase revenue to offset costs - but those are often short-term revenues that ultimately will be insignificant and are potentially distracting (from an operational perspective).

As a small startup, your traffic probably isn’t significant enough to make substantial money from AdSense. Is it worth interfering with the user-experience for <$1,000 / month? Grow the users and the pageviews. Use your time to release new features… chase revenues after you’ve solidified the product and secured a strong user-base.

7. Be efficient. Sounds obvious. Sounds easy.

But it’s neither. As a bootstrapper, you’re short on time and money. That means that efficiency is key. Before engaging in any single task, ask yourself (and/or your team) if this is worthwhile and priority #1.

8. Set partner expectations. Again – it sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked. I’ve been on both sides of this – as the bootstrapped company working with large organizations and as part of eBay working with two-person start ups.

Set expectations about needs, constraints, timing, etc. I’ve worked with moonlighting developers who have said not to contact them between normal business hours. Great – by declaring that up front, I was a more effective partner and managed my time (and his) far better.

9. Attract great people – but not too many. Build a tight, smart and energetic team. Understand everyone’s skills and roles – and be very clear about responsibilities. Having too many people can be distracting and inefficient. The goal with any team is to achieve greatness, collaborate and move quickly - avoiding headaches, redundancies and wasted time is equally important.

Be sure that your partners are invested in the idea and the company.

10. Get great at email. This is particularly important for moonlight entrepreneurs who run their business and communications after hours… Email then becomes your communication medium with the team, your partners and your users. Realize that partners will likely read your email first thing in the morning (along with dozens of others) - so your message needs to be focused and clear. Email exchanges in normal business operations are often inefficient: lots of back-and-forth exchanges. When moonlighting, you normally have one exchange a day – so you either have to make it worthwhile or waste a day’s progress.

Email is also particularly important when the team lives in different locations (or is without a home office). Don’t litter inboxes because staying organized is critical - and everyone knows that organization is already near-impossible with a light mail flow.

11. Use a management system like Google Docs or Trac. Management platforms like Google Docs and Trac are lifesavers. We use Trac for sfEntrepreneurs and it’s an effective way to communicate between the business and development teams. It also is useful for managing documents, bugs and product roadmaps. We use Google Docs at beRecruited and it’s effective at managing content and data.

Find one that works for you and make sure that everyone uses it routinely. Make sure that the team is receiving all system updates and subscribes to the RSS alerts. These products don’t work if not actively used.

12. Buy your team Blackberries. The efficiency gain of having everyone connected will pay off the cost instantly.

12A. Drink a lot of coffee. Jason Calacanis’s point about espresso… dead on. Learn to enjoy it!

Mark Cuban Chimes in on Jason Calacanis's Start Up Rules

Great blog dialog this weekend that started when Jascon Calacanis wrote his rules for running a start up. Mark Cuban then chimed in and I love his commentary - particularly his advice about only hiring people who are passionate and love the company.

But this was my favorite part of Cuban's post as it references one of my favorite movies: Glengarry Glen Ross. Coffee is for closers is one of the great lines ever. I will forgive Mark though for spelling espresso incorrectly!

"6. An expresso machine? Are you kidding me ? Shoot yourself before you spend money on an expresso machine. Coffee is for closers. Sodas are free. Lunch is a chance to get out of the office and talk. There are 24 hours in a day, and if people like their jobs, they will find ways to use as much of it as possible to do their jobs."

Always be closing!