First some background: ShoutAbout offers a free engagement tool for media sites that allows readers to bridge awareness of important issues with constructive ways to do something. Everything is crowdsourced.
For folks thinking about getting into the media and “social good” space, we thought the launch would offer an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned since our team began to tackle this problem.
1. Talk to everyone. (Test how much you — and others — like the idea)
When I first had the idea behind ShoutAbout, I kept the idea quiet, afraid that someone else would jump on it.
It turns out there are a lot of people in the social action space, each with their own ideas and passions. I met four people during the Summit who are working in the news space, each with interesting projects.
If people are interested in your idea, they will offer ideas and connections and help push your project forward. We are indebted to the support of many people.
Share your idea widely before you jump in. Validate it with people that will be honest with you. Seek people that you think will use it and also people who won’t!
2. Launch as soon as possible. (Your product will never be perfect)
I am not sure how self-evident this point is, but it’s really important for me to stress this.
We were “under the radar” for way too long. At a certain point, we just needed to see that people used it. Feedback is one thing, but real-world engagement is the best test.
Get it out there. If people use it, then you can work on perfecting it. But you have some thinking to do if they don’t use it.
After some changes, now we know our product works. That’s a great place to be, and it comes after a lot of testing.
We do envision new design and functionality. It will continue to get better. But it will never be perfect.
3. Launch to larger and larger groups. (Scale your idea as you validate it)
I shared our first concept with select classmates late last year. Our team recruited early testers, received a lot of helpful feedback, and jumped into a fresh wave of development.
We launched again to the entire Harvard Kennedy School this year during the spring semester. We knew it wasn’t ready, but we wanted to get more feedback and also hear fresh perspectives after making some pretty big changes to the site. We continued to receive positive feedback on the concept, but we also heard important feedback to build a tool that integrates with news — and not focus on creating a destination site.
Once we had developed that tool, we conducted a pilot launch, which offered an excuse to recruit some amazing partners. It was a focused time of testing and feedback, and the tool continued to improve.
But we still hadn’t launched publicly. So we talked about it through a major forum for the first time over the weekend, thanks to Mashable’s support.
4. Focus on your core. (Cut down your feature set)
You make a product that does X for Y, and you do it better than Z.
It is one thing to hear Ben Rattray discuss Change.org’s amazing history of development, simplification, and ultimate success, but it is another thing to experience the first two points firsthand. We’ve developed a lot of features that are no longer on the site. In development, it truly seems that less is more.
Go make that product that does X for Y. Don’t worry about the frills.
5. Be persistent and optimistic. (Also be realistic)
You hear a lot of entrepreneurs say after the fact that they never would have undertaken the same project if they had known what it would take.
Understand that it takes a lot of work, a lot of pitching, and a lot of trial and error. Keep your eye on your end goal.
6. Collaborate. (You cannot do it alone)
We offer a channel to connect people with causes, but there are a ton of amazing organizations in this space.
A long time ago, we decided that instead of competing with these groups, we would try to drive traffic to their sites. Frankly, they do it better.
We’ve talked with a number about partnerships, and we’re open to talking with anyone else that’s interested.
They add value to our work, and we hope to add value to theirs.
Mat Morgan is the founder of ShoutAbout, a free tool for news sites and blogs that takes advantage of the media spotlight to empower non-profits, campaigns and movements. After reading news or commentary, anyone may add, vote on or follow a link to do something constructive. Sites like PBS NewsHour have used ShoutAbout to drive reader engagement, encourage sharing, and measure the social value of their news.
Mat is currently on a leave of absence from the Harvard Kennedy School. In the past, he has served as a policy adviser to former Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo; worked as a spokesperson for American Red Cross responses and programs in Latin America and the Caribbean; and produced several “Band Together” benefit albums for national charities.