Why Traffic Shaping is So Dang Fantastic for Conversion Rates

Do you remember the Windows game Pipe Dream? In it, the player creates a continuous “goo” path using randomly assigned pieces of pipe.

pipe-dream-traffic-shaping

Fail to build a path in time and the goo oozes everywhere… Game over.

For a marketer, the pipe pieces are your web pages. And the goo? Your visitors. Fail to provide your visitors with a logical next step and it’s game over.

A logical next step could mean many things, like a sale or a signup. Or maybe it’s simply to keep your prospects on your website by strategically presenting them with opportunities to learn more about what you have to offer.

Like pipe building, traffic shaping is all about creating incentivized pathways that convince users to go where you want them to go. It’s effective for:

  • getting visitors from low-converting to high-converting pages.
  • showing visitors relevant offers based on what they’re currently browsing.
  • recommending further reading thereby keeping visitors on site.

But first, why is this tactic even necessary?

Take a look at your analytics. You’ll probably find your highest-traffic pages aren’t necessarily your highest-converting pages. In many cases, that’s okay; the purpose of a blog post is different from a pricing page. But that’s not to say you should ignore your organic visitors. Instead, you should provide them with clear paths to the “next step.” And that’s when traffic shaping comes in.

Using overlays as a traffic-shaping tool

So how can marketers engage users on high-converting pathways that produce better results? How can we move users through the pipes and follow our desired path?

One great way of doing this is by using a traffic shaping overlay.

Psst: Unbounce recently launched our own suite of overlays called Convertables. Install one in seconds on any of your web pages, and set it to trigger on exit, on arrival, on scroll or after delay.

Traffic shaping overlays are designed to either move visitors from low-converting pages to high-converting pages or to re-engage them with additional content. They never have a form, and they’re best triggered either on exit or after delay.

Here’s a diagram of how traffic shaping with overlays works:

traffic-shaping
Not unlike Pipe Dream, amirite?

As you can see, traffic shaping overlays offer a unique way to better align your needs with the needs of your visitors: you want to move them farther down your sales funnel and they want the incentive to do so.

Here are a few use cases with real-life examples to get you thinking ‘bout how you can use traffic shaping overlays in your own overlay strategy:

Use case #1: Cross-Sell

Blog visitors are prime candidates for traffic shaping overlays because they’ve already spent time absorbing your content and familiarizing themselves with your brand. They likely recognize your brand — heck, they may even be regular readers — but they may overlook your on-site calls to action.

A cross-sell overlay can help focus a user’s attention on a relevant offer.

Here’s an example…

cta-conf-traffic-shaping-overlay

This overlay (yes, it’s ours) was installed on a high-traffic post about the best digital marketing conferences to attend in 2016.

Figuring that people who read about conferences also go to conferences, we saw an opportunity to cross-sell tickets to our own conference at a greatly reduced price.

Use case #2: Re-engage with more content

Keeping visitors on your blog or resource library has a lot of advantages. The more they stick around, the more opportunities you have to:

  • Show visitors that you understand their pain and are uniquely qualified to help alleviate it
  • Educate visitors about your solution (ideally the solution to their burning marketing pain)

A strategically placed exit overlay on your blog can help keep visitors on site by recommending content similar to what they were reading previously:

content-re-engage-traffic-shaping-overlay

This type of overlay is most effective when targeted at first-time visitors. These are the prospects that need a lil’ warming up before you ask them for their email address.

But back to Pipe Dream…

When you think of traffic shaping like playing Pipe Dream, you realize that building a logical path is just as important for you as it is the user. You don’t want to lose your visitors any more than your visitors want to be stopped in their tracks.

By implementing traffic shaping overlays on your web pages, you can better align your needs with the needs of your visitors. And that, my friends, is how everyone wins.

Find out how you can use overlays for traffic shaping, lead gen, sales and more!

Download Unbounce’s newest ebook, 12 Proven Ways to Convert with Overlays
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Defacing Abuse: A Guerrilla Campaign

Three young creatives; Jennifer Garcia, Carl Larsson, and Mishal Jagjivan wanted to help bring more awareness to the reality of Domestic Abuse, by flipping it on its head with existing advertising being hijacked and turned into their awareness campaign. With thousands of women featuring in advertising posters and billboards around the world, it’s common place […]


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Snap reportedly acquired augmented reality startup Cimagine Media for up to $40 million

Snapchat


Snap has reportedly made an investment in augmented reality, purchasing Israeli-based startup Cimagine Media in a deal that’s said to be worth between $ 30 million and $ 40 million.

Originally reported by Calcalist News, this acquisition will provide Snap with a development center in the Middle East, one that will eventually house more than the 20 people currently working at Cimagine Media.

Founded four years ago, Cimagine specializes in computer vision, real-time image processing, mobile development, international marketing, and more. All of these areas are obviously compelling for Snap, whose Snapchat app is heavily reliant on augmented reality and the like. But Cimagine also brings to the table a focus on commerce, and as Snap looks toward going public, perhaps sometime next year, facilitating shopping through Snapchat might open up additional revenue opportunities.

Cimagine already has partnerships with Shop Direct, John Lewis, and Coca-Cola, and it’s aiming to help more retailers tap into the potential of augmented reality. Snap itself may want to eventually strike partnerships with big box retailers and department stores to accelerate engagement and time spent on its site. And merchants may want additional advertising opportunities, so the potential that Cimagine’s technology and team could bring to bear may be enticing.

Or perhaps Cimagine’s team will support Snap in laying objects over photos and videos captured through Snapchat.

Should an IPO be in Snap’s future, it needs to remain one step ahead of Facebook, which has been rapidly copying features from Snapchat. Investors are looking for real market leadership, so Snap’s acquisition of camera technology, especially around augmented reality, could give it a bit of a leg up.

Prior to the acquisition, Cimagine had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Explore. Dream. Discover, iVentures Asia Ltd., OurCrowd, and PLUS Ventures. This would be Snap’s second acquisition his month — the company also purchased Flite to integrate its ad technology into Snap’s offering. In fact, this year has been a busy one for the ephemeral camera technology company, as it has already made a total of four known buys, including the $ 110 million deal for Vurb, the purchase of Obvious Engineering (also known as Seene), and the $ 100 million it dished out for Bitstrips.

Although the Cimagine deal was reported by Calcalist News, no official word has been released — to be honest, Snap tends to be secretive about its acquisitions. We’ve reached out to Snap and Cimagine Media and will update if we hear back.

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Innovation in Customer Experience Starts with a Shift in Perspective

presentation1

While traveling Europe this year, I met Silvia Hänig who was writing a story for Haufe.de about customer experience. She followed up our initial conversation with the questions below. Instead of shooting back quick answers, I took the time, maybe too much time, to thoughtfully reply as if I were going to share the exchange with everyone. And, that’s what I’m doing here.

I hope it helps you…

Mister Solis, why is it so difficult to create Customer Experience (CX) for many people and decision makers?

Customer Experience (CX) is a difficult process, because so many stakeholders interpret CX differently and then prioritize investments and resources accordingly.

The IT department thinks it’s about technology. The marketing department focuses on channel and content trends. Customer service focuses on contact centers. Advertising creates clever campaigns and activates experiential events. And executives make decisions based on gut instinct and maybe even cognitive biases. I could go on and on. Even though these are generalizations, much of the work I’ve seen in CX isn’t really customer-focused. It’s role and process oriented.

These types of traditional perspectives hamper the vision for change. Each group inadvertently contributes to a disconnected approach to CX because they’re attempting to solve one part of the customer’s journey and experience from their silo. Yet, customers don’t see departments, they see one brand.

Just because “this is how it’s always been done” is a recipe for digital Darwinism today. CX is an opportunity to design, improve and integrate real-world experiences that the customer is going to have. In the process, businesses will have to re-align models and processes to unite disparate groups into one congruent effort. This will help companies compete in an era where customers are taking control of their experiences.

Who should own the experience? And what skills will be important in the future?

The best companies in CX take a different perspective regarding this question. They start with acknowledging that the person who owns the customer experience is…wait for it…the customer.

Think about that for a second.

They absolutely own their experience. Yet, here we are debating, who should own it. It seems that companies do everything, but understand their behaviors, expectations, preferences et al.

I define CX this way: it’s the sum of all engagements a customer has with your brand in every touchpoint, in each moment of truth, throughout the customer lifecycle. The question to ask is then, what is the experience they have? What experiences do they expect or desire? What experiences they’re receiving from other companies? More so, how are their favorite apps – for example Uber or Tinder – changing their expectations and how should you rethink the customer journey to be native, frictionless, and delightful based on outside innovation? As such, the question who owns CX, is something that should be answered in a future state and work toward that goal now.

Companies excelling here are looking at ideal customer experiences and building inside and outside for them. New cross-functional groups lead collaboration to remove friction, optimize effective touchpoints and invest innovation based on new areas of opportunity. An empathetic customer-centric approach to CX improves retention, acquisition and relationships. Great Customer Experience is all the work, that you do so your customers don’t have to…

To what extent technology should play a role in Customer Experience?

Too many businesses today take a technology-first approach to Customer Experience, which is ironically not customer centric. I call this the remote control. No one likes the remote control. We use it, because we have to. I would go so far to say that we have a reluctant relationship with it. Yet, every year, even though we get a new generation of TV innovation, we still get a remote control that looks a little different, but also gets more complex along the way. Did you know that there are on average 70 buttons on this brick and at the same time, we all have phones or tablets where we interact with them using completely different gestures? Technology is not the answer, it’s an enabler. CX should start with three “P’s” – people, purpose and promise. Technology should facilitate experiences and bring them to life.

What is the importance of CX as part of the digital transformation?

Digital transformation means something different to everyone. Just like customer experience. It is something, that is started independently in each group with different objectives. But like CX, everything is on a collision course towards convergence. Everything has to work together, otherwise you compete against yourself.

I define digital transformation this way: The re-alignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital consumers (and employees), create new value and deliver delightful and relevant experiences at every touchpoint in the customer and employee journey.

In my research (see below), I’ve found that a common catalyst for rapid and ultimately holistic digital transformation is indeed CX. More so, by zooming in on the Digital Customer Experience (DCX) and asking what would my digital customer do and how is it affecting traditional behavior, companies can beeline towards fast innovation.

Customer Experience: Everything has to work together

This is the part where skeptics or laggards say: “Why would you focus on the digital customer? They’re a minority in the overall market. We should focus on customers as a whole!” They’re right in some aspects.

The thing is that ­they didn’t focus on customers. They focused on shareholders and stakeholders. Additionally, they continued to invest in technologies and systems that distanced companies from people all in the name of efficiencies, scale and profitability.

It’s the same argument with taxis in the face of Uber. They’ve had ­years to study how people’s experiences and expectations, how they were changing, how digital was affecting experiences and decision-making, how start-ups were placing customers at the center of services. Once Uber hit the market, it set a new standard for customer experience. People who take Uber don’t go back to taking taxis unless they have to. There’s an Uber of everything on the horizon of every business and digital transformation is the best defense and offense to compete in a digital economy.

Additional reports that will help you lead the way…

The Race Against Digital Darwinism: Six Stages of Digital Transformation

8 Success Factors of Digital Transformation: How Businesses Are Taking an Opposite Approach to Business as Usual

The 2016 State of Digital Transformation

pasted_image_10_17_16__7_52_am

Please read X, The Experience When Business Meets Design or visit my previous publications

Connect with Brian!

Twitter: @briansolis
Facebook: TheBrianSolis
LinkedIn: BrianSolis
Youtube: BrianSolisTV
Snapchat: BrianSolis

Invite him to speak at your next event or meeting. 

The post Innovation in Customer Experience Starts with a Shift in Perspective appeared first on Brian Solis.


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4 Cross Channel Marketing Stats Marketers Need To Know Going Into 2017

As 2016 winds down and we all look forward (hopefully) to some time off from work and spending time with family and friends, I thought it a good time to give some marketers some cross channel marketing stats to get to know up close and personal as we head into 2017. 

Let's dive right in shall we?

1. Two-thirds of all shoppers regularly use more than one channel to make purchases. 

A Wharton study found multi-channel shopping behavior—defined as a consumer’s usage of more than one channel all or most of the time somewhere in the shopping process—is the norm for a majority of consumers. Note the operative word "norm" in the previous sentence. The study also found that 1/3  of consumers regularly alternates between two channels to purchase, and another 1/3 regularly uses three or more channels when they buy. Only one out of three shoppers exhibits consistent “mono-channel” purchase behavior, using just a single channel to buy.

2. The average shopper makes on average 9.5 visits to a retailer’s site before deciding to buy.

Just let that one sink for a minute. Nine and a half visits to a website before deciding to buy. And rest assured said visits are being made across multiple channels i.e. mobile, desktop, etc. 

3. Customers who shop on more than one channel have a 30% higher Lifetime Value than those who shop on only one. 

This, perhaps more than any other stat, speaks to the clear and present need for a solid, robust cross channel marketing strategy. Marketers simply must be where there consumers are to fully reap the benefits. I know that sounds overly simplistic but it is the cold, hard truth.

4. A mere 5% of marketers say they are “very much set up to effectively orchestrate cross-channel marketing activities.”

This last stat comes courtesy of Econsultancy via their annual cross channel marketing report. Another key finding from the report showed that while over two-thirds of responding companies agree their 'priority is for all key marketing activities to be integrated across channels’, only 39% say they ‘understand customer journeys and adapt the channel mix accordingly'.

Keeping Pace

Here's another cold, hard truth: Marketers must keep pace with the modern customer – who is fast, digital and unstructured – to outpace the competition.

Today’s customers frequently interact with brands across multiple channels and devices leaving a trail of identifiers (like email addresses, loyalty accounts, browser cookies, and mobile device IDs) littered amongst the various technologies that power those customer interactions

In order to keep pace with customers in real time and effectively personalize each customer’s experience, it’s up to marketers to bring all of a customer’s interactions, preferences, and behaviors across channels together in a way that allows them to get a complete profile of each customer that’s up-to-date.

It's also up to marketers to download Cross Channel Orchestration Fundamentals: Aligning Web With All Marketing Channels. Download this brief to learn how you can deliver the most meaningful, positive, and consistent customer experiences across all channels that enhance loyalty and deliver results.


Oracle Blogs | Oracle Marketing Cloud

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Blogging is Back, with Darren Rowse

un-darren-rowse-2

In the beginning, there was blogging. And for businesses looking to build an audience that helped grow the bottom line, it was good.

In fact, many of the leaders in the digital marketing space started as blogs and evolved into multi-million dollar businesses. I personally have immense gratitude for what Rainmaker Digital has been able to achieve, and it all traces back to the early Copyblogger audience.

Then, around 2008, “business blogging” gave way to the term “content marketing.” Eight years later, as we wind up 2016, we’re drowning in content, and there’s no mistaking that much of it is just poorly disguised traditional marketing.

Something seems to have gotten lost along the way. The original business blogs provided valuable content, sure … but that content was delivered with perhaps the more important ingredient — a relatable and reliable human voice.

To be clear, blogging never went away. But perhaps it’s time to go back to the roots of business blogging to rediscover the foundational aspect of content that actually works as marketing, even though it doesn’t “feel” like marketing.

Tune in to listen to my conversation with the great Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. You’ll hear how the entire content marketing movement truly began, where blogging is going, and why we all need to first return to the foundational element of human connection before we focus on fancy automation, strategic funnels, and conversion optimization.

Listen to this Episode Now

The post Blogging is Back, with Darren Rowse appeared first on Copyblogger.


Copyblogger

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Using Kissmetrics to Find Your Most Valuable Marketing Campaigns

So you converted 3.1% of your visitors last month?

Awesome! How many of them spent more than $ 100 on their purchase? Or how many were on your Enterprise plan?

And how many of the 3.1% added a coupon to their order?

How many of them came from your Facebook ad campaign?

Don’t know?

That’s a problem.

Here’s why surface-level analytics can lead to bad decisions, and how the Kissmetrics Funnel Report can answer some questions that lead to better analysis and decision making.

How Bad Marketing Decisions Can Get Made

Let’s take this scenario:

You, the Director of Marketing for an e-commerce company, recently launched a Fall ad campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and AdWords. A month later you notice that your purchase conversions increase 1%, so you pour more money on all three ad platforms without knowing which campaigns led the most to conversion.

90% of the boost in conversions may be because of the Facebook ad campaign, but without doing research you’ll put more money on the effective campaign and burn money on the 2 ineffective marketing campaigns.

In another scenario, you see that most of your large purchases ($ 150+) come from AdWords, yet neglect that channel because it brought fewer conversions (when what you’re missing is fewer conversions but higher total purchase volume).

Here’s how to see the whole picture with the Kissmetrics Funnel Report.

Viewing a Funnel With Revenue Data

Continuing with the e-commerce marketing director scenario, let’s say we just ran our Summer advertising campaigns. We had campaigns on Twitter, Facebook, and AdWords. We’ve tagged all three with UTMs, which makes for pretty easy tracking across Kissmetrics and other SaaS platforms. We want to see which campaigns brought customers who spent at least $ 100.

We’ll need to create a fairly elaborate funnel. Here’s what we’ll do.

The first step is to look for people who came from an advertisement. We’ll have the first event be “Ad campaign hit”.

has-done-event-ad-campaign-hit

We’ll add additional conditions to this event. This is where we’ll narrow in on these three campaigns and be able to distinguish between each. We’ve tagged each campaign with a respective Campaign source. Twitter has campaign source twitter, Facebook is facebook, and AdWords is tagged as adwords.

Let’s first enter the Twitter campaign source:

campaign-source-twitter-funnel-report

We’ll add an Or condition by clicking here:

campaign-source-twitter-add-condition

We’ll then do the same thing, but this time enter the Facebook campaign source:

campaign-source-facebook

Finally, the + button you see on the right allows us to add another condition. We’ll click it, create the same condition but this time use the AdWords campaign source:

campaign-source-adwords

Next we’ll add a step the funnel. Since most people visiting an ecommerce website visit a product page before adding an item to their cart and purchasing, we’ll add those next two steps:

viewed-product-added-product-to-cart

The final step, Purchased, needs some conditions added to it. We’ll look for the customers that have made a purchase of at least $ 100.

First we’ll add the step:

has-done-event-purchased-funnel

Click that arrow button on the right and we’ll add that we’re looking for purchases being at least $ 100:

purchased-order-amount-funnel-report

Keep in mind that your naming of events and properties will probably differ than what I’m showing in this example. We don’t have any default events or properties named Purchased, order amount, added item to cart, etc. You can set this up with a little help from a developer.

UTMs and Ad Campaign Hit are tracked automatically, however.

So here’s how our funnel looks:

summer-ad-campaign-funnel-setup

That’s it! Now it’s time to run the report and see our data:

summer-ad-campaign-funnel-performance

This is looking at all the ad campaigns together. We have pretty good traffic – a little over 26k people, of which about 2k converted to purchasing. Given that all of these people are spending at least $ 100, we’ve likely made some solid returns on these campaigns (if we were able to keep costs down).

To select each campaign’s performance, we’ll simply click on each of the three Ad campaign hits. Let’s click the top one, which is Twitter’s ad campaign:

ad-campaign-hit-1

The first couple steps of this funnel perform well, but falls off pretty quickly. Only 88 people purchased, leading to a putrid 1.1% conversion rate. This means that the other campaigns are likely performing better. Let’s check Facebook’s campaign performance:

ad-campaign-hit-2

We can see that this campaign is performing much better than our Twitter campaign, with about 10x the conversion rate. We’ll have to check what we’ve spent on both campaigns. If we’ve spent more on Twitter (with fewer views) we know we should definitely cut off ad spend there or try new a new ad set.

Finally, let’s look at the AdWords campaign performance:

ad-campaign-hit-3

This one is performing even better than AdWords (although both are performing very very well). We achieve a 12.3% conversion rate off about 3,400 visits, making this the highest-converting campaign of the three. We’ll see what we’re spending to see if it delivers a better ROI than the Facebook (and keep in mind that each of these orders are over $ 50).

What to do with This Data

This data provides great information – we see which campaigns are performing well and which are falling short. We can cut off the ineffective campaigns or try different ads on the platform.

And since these are valuable customers, we’ll want them coming back to purchase again. To remarket to them with ads or drip campaigns, we’ll just click on the Purchased button to find all the people that have purchased:

purchased-viewed-people-funnel-step

We’ll click those 2,126 people and we can export the list to MailChimp, a CSV, or create retargeting ads.

Where Are Your Marketing Dollars Best Spent?

Want to get more high-paying customers?

First find out where they’re coming from.

With the Funnel Report, you’ll be able to breakdown each marketing campaign and easily track the performance of each. And with the ability to further drill down by only viewing campaigns with high or low revenue from each, you’ll be better able to track ROI.

About the Author: Zach Bulygo (Twitter) is the Blog Manager at Kissmetrics.


The Kissmetrics Marketing Blog

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CMOs: Data and Martech Key To Driving Revenue and Increasing Margin

According to a recent reportThe CMO Shift to Gaining Business Lift from the CMO Council and Deloitte, "the CMO of today has denounced the traditional role of mere brand ambassador, instead opting to actively assert their role as business driver, change agent and customer experience champion."

Before I get to the top two methods CMOs identified for driving revenue and increasing margin, here's some other key findings from the research, which consisted of a global survey of CMOs and senior marketing leaders.

  • Now, more than ever, CMOs believe they are the business-drivers of the organization and that senior leadership has high expectations for them to own growth strategies and revenue generation.
  • The best of intentions to advance the growth agenda are often being sidetracked by a legacy of brand-centric strategies and campaign-focused actions, calling into question the realities of the CMO truly becoming the primary growth driver.
  • The CMO has the opportunity, if not the requirement, to become the primary driver and orchestrator of the customer experience. However, CMOs are bogged down in operational and functional tasks, like budget meetings and approval cycles, leaving less time to collaborate with the C-suite and advance the digital transformation needed to meet the expectations of tomorrow’s customer.
  • Tremendous opportunities await CMOs in 2017 as they more fully embrace the roles, actions and strategies that drive substantive growth for the entire organization. From influencing strategic planning and business development to advancing customer-centric shifts across the enterprise, CMOs are ready to become corporate change agents, driving the development of next-generation products, services and business models that fundamentally shift the business and lift the bottom line.

Data and Martech

The chart below clearly shows you where CMOs priorities are when it comes to driving revenue and improving margin. CMOs realize that to be successful it's all about data- the right data and using it the right way via the right marketing technology. 

Not sure about the use of "intrusive ads" checking in 3rd in the priority list but that's another story for another time. 

As I have written before (and will do so again) marketing leaders must create a data-driven marketing culture and organize the required people, processes and systems. They need to eliminate data silos and create a single source of truth – a 360-degree view of customers to reliably and efficiently target the right message, to the right person at the right time.

According to research from Deloitte Digital 76% of consumers say they interact online with brands or products before arriving at the store, and are therefore making digitally-influenced decisions much earlier in the shopping process. So it is vitally important for CMOs and marketing leaders to use a marketing technology platform that provides the ability to link online digital marketing efforts to offline purchases to give them the true ROI on dollars spent.

The Truth About Martech Stacks

Did you know since 2011 the number of martech solutions available has increased 2500%? No, that's not a typo. That's twenty-five hundred percent. Download The Truth About the Martech Stack: What You Don't Know May Cost You and learn about the value of choosing an open platform that offers pre-integrated apps, offering an open infrastructure for future innovations.


Oracle Blogs | Oracle Marketing Cloud

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Stanford students are using lean startup principles to help fight ISIS

Thousands of foreign fighters went to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.


The ISIS beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The radicalization of San Bernardino shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. The Orlando nightclub massacre. Social media, encrypted messages, or online propaganda from ISIS played a role in these horrific events and countless others like them.

Yet Silicon Valley’s approach to combatting ISIS might be compared to a game of whack-a-mole at best, largely a top-down affair. Terrorists use services like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to publish extremist propaganda and recruit followers. The tech companies, in turn, shut down the terrorists’ accounts only to have them spring up again.

But this fall, a group of five Stanford graduate students devised a promising, bottom-up approach to prevent the radicalization of Americans to ISIS. They developed their solution — called FAVE (for Friends and Families Against Violent Extremism) — using lean startup principles to identify those individuals at risk of radicalization and prevent them from joining ISIS.

The number of Americans who joined or tried to join ISIS more than doubled to about 250 in 2015, from 100 people a year earlier, according to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Carlin. And as many as 31,500 people from across the globe have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS since 2011, although perhaps only 15,000 remain, according to recent figures. Even as ISIS continues to lose ground in Syria and Iraq, there’s the threat of bombings by so-called lone wolves or by small cells of people like last week’s Christmas Market attack in Berlin.

Hacking for diplomacy

The students behind FAVE — Anusha Balakrishnan (MS Computer Science), Hyeryung Chloe Chung (MA International Policy Studies), Gloria Chua (MS Computer Science), Jian Yang Lum (MS Statistics), and Vinaya Polamreddi (MS Computer Science) — formed a team called HackingCT, for hacking counterterrorism. It was part of a 10-week course, Hacking for Diplomacy. Led by Steve Blank of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and father of the Lean LaunchPad methodology, students in the course partnered with the U.S. State Department to apply lean-startup principles to global challenges.

The HackingCT team.

Above: The HackingCT team.

Image Credit: HackingCT

Some students addressed human trafficking, others the refugee crisis in Europe, and still others several vexing problems. The HackingCT team was drawn to ISIS because of the large number of people it has killed. According to Chua, “In 2015 alone, there have been 11,744 attacks in 92 different countries. ISIS has also been adept in recruiting individuals to their cause. The urgency and severity of the issue is what drove us to work on this.”

Working with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism and with the Special Representative to the Muslim Communities in the Office of Religions and Global Affairs, the HackingCT team followed the three key lean startup principles: 1) sketch out a hypothesis, not a business plan; 2) talk to customers, iterate based in feedback, pivot as necessary; 3) use agile development for rapid and responsive product creation.

While the students ultimately conducted more than 100 interviews to develop FAVE, they spoke with about 20 people during the first two weeks as they attempted to understand the characteristics of those at risk for radicalization. They quickly realized that this would not help them. “It wasn’t long before we found out that there are already many in-depth and long-term research and analysis in this area,” Chua said in an email interview. “Radicalization pathways are complex and multi-causal, and there is no one single defining characteristic. It is not about poverty levels, about education levels, mental health, etc. There is just no one general trend.”

Help ecosystem ISIS terrorism HackingCT

The team also looked at the usually unsuccessful efforts by various well-meaning institutions to reach at-risk individuals. Too often the messages are regarded with suspicion and lack credibility because of their overt agendas. For instance, the team examined the Global Engagement Center’s efforts of using Twitter to send messages against violent extremist groups, which received negative reactions online.

However, the group saw that “grassroots efforts like YouTube videos posted by youth that use humor to ridicule ISIS, or a local respected religious leader sharing their thoughts” could be effective, Chua said. “We identified that a message needed to be credible in the following: the message itself, the messenger, the channel, and the form.”

After several weeks, the HackingCT team had a breakthrough and, in Silicon Valley parlance, decided to pivot. “We realized our learning plateaued because we were unable to reach these at-risk individuals themselves to learn more. As in design thinking, we decided to look for analogous situations to research off of,” Chua said. “We explored gang violence, drunk driving, and suicide.”

Countering violent extremism

The team saw many similarities between suicidal ideation and online radicalization. “In both cases, the individual is in a vulnerable state, is highly susceptible to outside influence, and talking about the problem is often taboo. Also, suicide intervention and prevention is relatively new — while 20 years ago one might be hard-pressed to find any resources to intervene, today there is a wealth of resources like hotlines and more. This gave us hope that a similar transformation can happen for the CVE [for Countering Violent Extremism] space as well,” Chua said.

But for a person contemplating suicide, they can call 911 and get help. A person contemplating joining ISIS who calls the police is likely to be arrested. The HackingCT team determined that only family and friends can help “rescue” a person from becoming radicalized online. Trusted people could form an effective bridge between at-risk individuals and the organizations that could help them. The team also saw that 1-800 helplines could be effective, but not in the way they expected. They also looked at efforts by Google to use online ads to reach at-risk individuals.

“When we talked to NGOs, the State Department, and more, we learned that at-risk individuals were not likely to reach out and actively engage in these resources. They also pushed us to think about the people around the individual,” Chua said.

Chua explained how one of their sponsors at the State Department suggested they consider a 16-year-old who sees their friend acting differently, but then who has no idea where to go from there. She also described how an expert at one of the NGOs they spoke to showed them a presentation slide that read, “Most friends and family have an idea their family member is radicalized” but have “nowhere to turn to but the police.” The team also learned about helpline initiatives for friends and family in Austria and Canada.

MVP for fighting ISIS terrorism

Armed with this information, in the final weeks of the course the students created a minimal viable product consisting of a helpline and textline, which resonated with the NGOs. FAVE can act as short-term, lightweight, and scalable solution that serves as a bridge to long-term, personal intervention by an NGO. It’s a solution using decades-old technology — 1-800 helplines staffed by experts — borne of a new approach — startup principles.HAckingCT ISIS

According to Chua, the team is discussing next steps with the State Department and seeking sponsors. They are planning FAVE pilots in one domestic and one international English-speaking city by mid-2017. Candidate cities are Minneapolis and Luton, England, two areas where individuals joined ISIS and went to Syria.

“We hope that as a team of 5 providing a fresh perspective to a growing and emerging field, we might be able to move the needle in a meaningful way,” Chua said.

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