[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Gregg Spiridellis, CEO at JibJab Media. JibJab is a ten year-old company that offers customizable digital greeting cards and videos — and it has been working hard to implement Facebook Connect, with some good results. Below, Spiridellis shares his perspective on his company and Connect.]
As I write the headline, I can hear the yawns in Silicon Valley from all the way down here in Los Angeles. One and a half million users? That number may or may not be big; I will leave that for the reader to decide. Instead, I will use that milestone to (i) compare and contrast content distribution and audience aggregation in a pre- and post- Facebook world and (ii) share some of JibJab’s best practices for building a Facebook audience in ways that create value for both JibJab and our users.
JibJab was founded way back in the digital dark ages – 1999. Huddled around our blueberry iMacs, dialing up on 56k modems, struggling to keep our videos under 300k, my brother and I flew over the bleeding edge of technology Thelma-and-Louise-style because we believed that the combination of falling production costs and opening distribution presented a once in a lifetime opportunity for two guys with no media experience to build a worldwide entertainment brand. Our premise was simple: amazingly talented artists creating great made-for-the-medium entertainment could attract an audience and that audience could be leveraged to attract more audience. Today it’s called viral marketing. In 1999, it was called “and you are going to make money how?”
To achieve our viral ambition in a pre-Facebook world, we had only two tools in our toolbox. First, we used an “Email to a Friend” form on every page. Second, we had a persistent “Sign Up For Our Newsletter” on JibJab.com so that we could notify people when we released new work. It took almost five years to build our list to 130k people but the effort paid off big time when a single email to that list sparked a chain reaction that sent our animated political satire “This Land” (and JibJab brand) from inbox to inbox across the globe. When we saw news clips from South Korea covering the video we knew we had, in a small way, achieved our goal of creating a worldwide brand. When NASA called us for a copy to send to the International Space Station, we joked with glee that we had surpassed our goal and gone galactic!
The lesson of ‘This Land’ validated in the real world what we always knew in theory. Distribution was no longer about pipes; it was about people. Despite a dozen follow-up videos, all of them world-premiering on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and garnering pervasive traditional media coverage, audience aggregation was a slow game in a pre-Facebook world.
It took us 8 years to reach 1.5 million registered users in the era of email. It took us only 5 months to acquire the same number of users on Facebook.
Even more noteworthy might be the facts that (i) we did it all via Facebook Connect, with no on-site Facebook experience, (ii) we did it without using any of the prevalently (ab)used “optimization” techniques such as forcing users to invite friends or sending notifications or posting feed stories of questionable value to users to maximize exposure and clicks.
How did we do it? We started with a simple but powerful question: how can we leverage Facebook tools and data to enhance our user experience? Our product and technology team identified four key integration opportunities, some of which are universally relevant to all publishers, some very specific to our offering, and all of which created scale for JibJab by providing value for our users.
Facebook Connect is, hands down, the most powerful way to get your audience to share your content. Not only has it removed the friction of remembering friends’ email addresses, but it has also created a socially acceptable broadcast communication channel for individuals. Remember back in the day when people would email jokes to their entire address book? Stream publishing achieves the same distribution effect, but because it imposes no social obligation on the part of the recipient, it is once again socially acceptable to “blast your whole list”.
The combination of reduced friction and individual broadcasting has been rocket fuel for JibJab’s viral distribution. We used to get 2 to 3 email recipients for every piece of content shared by a user. Today, we are seeing anywhere from 12 to 20 clicks back to JibJab.com for each post into the stream. Because of this, we have completely subordinated email to Facebook stream publishing in our product experience on JibJab.com.
Face it: your direct registration system brings zero value to your new users and, in fact, burdens them by making them remember another user/password combination. At JibJab, the Facebook Connect registration is now front and center. Why? Because a Facebook Connect user comes with an audience of 130 friends and a directly registered user comes with zero (not to mention the media and data benefits described below). Today, 80% of people creating accounts on JibJab use Facebook Connect and we are actively trying to figure out how to get the other 20% to do the same.
“Heresy!” I can hear the traditional web marketers shouting from the sideline. How can you “give up” your users to Facebook? First of all, Facebook already owns them in a deeper, more meaningful way than you ever will; get over it. Second, since when has ownership of a customer been mutually exclusive? You can own them too. Having Facebook sign on in your direct registration path for new users does not mean you have to abandon owning account registration data. It’s just a question of what point in the customer lifecycle you make a grab for it. When someone purchases something from JibJab, we get their email address and flesh out their profile. Before that, the benefit of minimizing friction to turn the visitor into a customer far outweighs the emotional concern over ownership and serves both our customers’ interests and our business objectives.
JibJab’s most popular product, Starring You, allows users to upload photos and put themselves and friends into fun, personalized videos. Prior to Facebook Connect, users needed to have a photo on their desktop of any and all of the people they wanted to include in their videos. Today, users can access not only their own photos, but also the photos of friends. Less friction to finding the right photo of the right person leads to more “makes” which leads to more “shares” which leads to more traffic and customers. It also makes for an awesome customer experience.
Facebook Connect offers a treasure trove of user data. The question you need to ask yourself is which data enriches your product experience? At JibJab, the answer was easy: friends’ birthdays. We have one of the largest, highest quality catalogs in the business and the ability to show users which of their friends is having a birthday is an opportunity for us to create user-specific intent which greatly increases the likelihood of driving a desired action – either sending a card or becoming a customer. Birthdays might be a very specific product-enriching piece of data for JibJab but think about the data that could make your product better and there’s a good chance you’ll find it accessible via Connect.
Finally, I want to mention the healthy suspicion with which our management team approached the decision to deeply integrate Facebook Connect into our product experience. Accepting the fact that we were putting Facebook in a position where we were reliant upon them to deliver the awesome experience our users expect from us was not taken lightly. Ultimately, we went in, no holds barred, based on our belief that there are smart people running Facebook who understand that their value as a company will be a direct function of their ability to build a stable, predictable platform on which companies who provide value to consumers in an open and honest way can build big, long-term sustainable businesses.
With the perspective of over ten years in business, it is easy for us to see how Facebook’s social graph (and their packaging of it, via Connect) has forever changed the online content distribution game. Email, the primary discovery and distribution channel for ‘This Land’, was and is a social network, but it was decentralized and non-persistent. Facebook is centralized, persistent and, with Connect, it is becoming ubiquitous. Your friends will be there with you anywhere and everywhere there is a screen and therein lies distribution gold. In other words, if you are in the digital content distribution business and you are not deeply integrating Facebook into your product experience, you should probably be fired.
This is a guest post by Gregg Spiridellis, CEO Guy at JibJab Media Inc. who, along with his brother Evan and their team of artists and technologists, has built JibJab into a leading provider of digital greetings and online entertainment. JibJab is funded by Polaris Ventures Partners. As readers may remember, our past coverage of JibJab includes a look at its holiday e-card feature, ElfYourself (which it is bringing back this year), as well as its popular political satire videos. We’ve recently also been tracking the company’s Connect growth on AppData, as Facebook includes Connect traffic numbers together with apps on its platform.