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website Agile Project Management Blog | ActiveCollab
A blog about the latest agile project management techniques and productivity tips.
feed text Our content calendar - from start to finish
Thu, 06 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0400

It’s been an exciting ride since we decided to overhaul our blog, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. We’ve done our best to document this journey in posts about keywords, our brand of storytelling, the need for a hero, and our editorial checklist. All of our decisions and experiences along the way helped us refine this process, especially when it comes to our content calendar. This entire process takes place in ActiveCollab, so everything is communicated and decided there.

The Pitch

It all begins with a time-honored journalistic tradition - the idea pitch. Everyone has stories they yearn to tell, so members of the team present their ideas and write a short description - explaining why the concept is worthy of being expanded into an entire blog post. We discuss the pros and cons, with a particular focus on what our readers can get out of such an article - it needs to be both informative and useful. If the idea satisfies our "Is your story good enough?" criteria, we move it to the Editorial section.

The Editorial

After the pitch is successful, we see what the appropriate time slot to publish it would be. It can’t be the same author two weeks in a row - having them write too often could put a strain on their regular workload. The task is assigned a due date and an assignee - the person who’s in charge of delivering the initial draft.

In Progress

A week before the article is scheduled to be published, the Editor moves the task to the In Progress section, which notifies the assignee that the deadline is approaching. If, for some reason, the writer can’t meet the deadline, the Editor jumps in to help out - maybe by pushing the date, or by splitting the article into two smaller ones, with the second one slated to be released at a later date.

The Editing

When the draft is delivered, the Editor gets to proofread the entire thing, break it down into little pieces, and reassemble it into something slightly more pleasant to read - all the while simultaneously praising and cursing the English language for its beautiful, yet often frustrating, rules and structure. This also involves several rounds of back-and-forth between the Editor and the writer, to make sure that the article is as good (and on point) as it can be - particularly when it comes to storytelling.

The Graphics

The next step is to order the illustrations from our designer, and take relevant pictures or screenshots. This is a separate process in itself, and follows similar rules - first, the idea for the illustration is described, and the designer assesses its feasibility and offers a better suggestion if it is not. Naturally, when it comes to art and design, the designer intuitively understands what works and what doesn’t, and will call attention to elements that won’t work. Then, the designer shows the first version of the design, which can often go through several iterations until it’s just right.

The Final Touches

ActiveCollab is a tool for collaboration, and we adore the advantages synergetic teamwork can bring to any activity - including our blog. Everyone on the content team is encouraged to read the article before it gets published and say what they really think about it. If a team functions well together, criticism is seen as a means of bettering your work, and not as a personal attack meant to hurt your feelings. Having a few extra pairs of eyes go through your work is always welcome, and their insights and suggestions can prove invaluable - catching mistakes and oversights you may otherwise miss, or pointing out parts that can be improved.

The Publishing

When the article is complete, we publish it on our blog and send it out to our readers via newsletter. Then we sit back to take a moment and appreciate all the effort and hard work that goes into creating every single piece of content we put out.

text Marketing Automation Eliminates Manual Work
Fri, 10 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0400

As you all know, automatization is a process in which machines replace human labor, typically those repetitive tasks that computers can perform faster than humans. This was one of the founding principles of ActiveCollab - automatization should take care of as much boring busywork as possible so that we can focus our time and efforts on doing Real Work.

It’s the same way with marketing. In previous blog posts we’ve gone over user tracking, user behavior, lead scoring, user identification, and now that we have enough data, we can automate actions that guide the user to conversion.

marketing automation

All the marketing channels are at play here. The way we contact the users depends on their behavior and interactions - some prefer email, some social networks, and there are some we want to always pay special attention to. The tools for automatizing communication with users can easily be set up to send messages through defined channels to segmented leads. The most common use for this is in email marketing, where it’s used in different onboarding processes. Unlike mass email and newsletters, here it’s about transactional emails.

Email Drip Campaigns

Emails have evolved - from their primary, communicative function - into notifications at just the right time, to just the right person. Transactional emails are sent out to predefined triggers, or events. For example, when it’s your birthday, the system recognizes this in CRM and sends you a pre-composed email with a thoughtful message. When you complete your purchase, you receive an email confirming a successful transaction. When you start using some software, you get an email or a series of emails that will help you use it more efficiently.

marketing automation

To give you an idea of how the entire process goes:

  • In the user tracking post we talked about how to track where the user is coming from and what they are doing on the site. We then add a new parameter to the user behavior metrics and lead scoring of every user - their score based on which events they’ve triggered. This is the beginning of the flow.

  • We continue through the flow by having the system issue a push notification that will invite the user - if they have an overall score above 50 and they came to the site via organic search - to subscribe to our newsletter.

  • So, whenever the system notices that an action greater than, for example, 15% has occurred, it automatically pulls a predefined template, lists the value variables related to a particular product, and sends it out to segmented users who subscribed to that newsletter.

  • Now we have a flow - we’ve identified the user, we’ve assigned them a score. They behave the way we want them to, they’ve subscribed to our newsletter, and so an appropriate email is sent to them. This is done by a machine, working 24/7, all year long. We continue to monitor this process with metrics, and improve the copy of the text in emails, calls to action, etc.

marketing automation

When a product is purchased, the system further recognizes a successful payment and sends out a different email, which can now be even more personal, since it is a complete account with the product delivery address. The CRM account for that user registers a successful purchase, and he gains further value for us - the user is now a customer. As a customer, they enter a new segment, because the system now flags all customers that spend, say, more than $50, as buyers, and those that buy more than once a month - as frequent buyers. You can create a separate segment for frequent buyers with a score above 40 who spent more than $70 and send them some token of appreciation for the holidays. They’ve earned it. Again, this is all automatic; you don’t have to bother with it (unless you want to tweak or change some parameters) once you’ve set it up.

Machine Learning - the future of automatization

This automatization is just about emails. But imagine if you could push all of these segments onto Facebook and create a custom audience there as well. It’s likely that machine learning will play a large role in the future of marketing automatization. To start with - in evaluating the probability of a sale happening or not, using all the parameters we have at our disposal. Over time, the system could add to the CRM of every user the likelihood of their conversion. Later on, when we have the user’s probability, behavior, and other metrics, we can be certain that every next contact with an already active user, will be a successful conversion.

When we round up one process, the potential of another opens up. Imagine if every email you send out contained a subtle upsales message. If someone bought a camera, besides the report of it being shipped, the option to buy batteries or a camera case at a reduced price - since he’s already our customer - could be included. This way, you gain a new metric - the customer is willing to spend more money in your online store.

marketing automation

So, with all this in mind, we come to the following important factors and requirements:

  • You need a CRM that can support all this information and easily connect to other tools.

  • An email system that will send out messages based on segments. The most popular services usually have the option to automate email campaigns. Although they are simple automatizations, based on one condition, they can be a good place to start and will showcase the value of this work. More complex systems or custom made systems are certainly a better option. It depends on how much you are ready to invest and how much your business needs, but it should be considered necessary.

  • A system you will use to track the analytics. Whether it is a third-party service or a solution that is located directly on your server - the decision is yours.

  • Pay attention to GDPR, and the consent you have to get.

When all of these come together, you will have a powerful automatization machine. It will do the work for you, and all you have to do is follow the metrics - not all of them - to occasionally upgrade the process to make it even better.

text From Active Chaos to ActiveCollab
Fri, 10 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Xhilarate is an experiential branding firm that creates visual brand expressions that engage, excite the senses, and inspire business growth. We are experts in branding, interactive design, immersive storytelling, and cultural engagement. Each of our partners brings over 20 years of branding experience across a range of industries.

Xhilarate Norman Alger

We help craft brand stories, create brand expressions, and establish experiential brand connections with our client’s employees, customers, and investors.

As we embarked on this journey, we were a small agency with big ideas. We recognized the need for an agile, intuitive, and robust platform for our internal staff, freelancers, and clients.

Get it together, man!

We were literally all over the place - using this app for that and that app for this. With a little digital digging, we discovered ActiveCollab and saw that the organization offered a live virtual feature walkthrough conducted by a representative. After about 15 minutes, it became clear to us that this was just what we needed, and best of all - no ugly duckling factor.

Xhilarate ActiveCollab quote

We generally create a new project and assign the client and resources to the initiative. We provide the brief and any supporting documents and invite the appropriate people to jump onboard.

Xhilarate customer story ss1

The shoemaker’s children cannot go barefoot

You may be familiar with the adage "The cobbler’s children have no shoes." This alludes to the fact that we are often so busy providing for our clients, we do not take proper care of ourselves. With this in mind, we are doing our best to create meaningful balance for our talented, hard-working people.

Xhilarate customer story ss2

We are in the process of redesigning our website and, like any client initiative, it also has many moving parts. As mentioned before, we track our time just as we would for a client, and leave feedback and assign tasks as we move closer to launch. This has really helped us ensure we’re hitting the target date for our project.

The payoffs are rolling in

We are overjoyed to report that our productivity - both for our teams and our clients - has easily increased 25% by consolidating to this single platform. We are looking to the horizon, and we see a very bright future for our agency.

Xhilarate ActiveCollab quote

Because we are a very creative bunch, the simplicity of ActiveCollab allows us to concentrate less on the Microsoft Project-like, BaseCampy, JIRA-style interface and lack of functionality, and more on the tasks-at-hand and strategizing & concepting for our agency and the clients we work with.

text You’ve got your NPS score - Now what?
Fri, 03 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Humans love expressing things in numbers. By assigning plain numerical values to abstract concepts, we feel like we can understand and control them better. We also associate higher values with better quality, a preconception marketing often seeks to exploit ("The sequel will be bigger, better, with more exploding CGI dinosaurs!"). Still, when properly utilized and analyzed, they are invaluable to any business, and we recently conducted an NPS survey for that very reason.

The Net Promoter Score - NPS for short - is a customer loyalty metric first introduced by Fred Reichheld in 2003. Since then, it has been widely used to assess customer satisfaction. It’s an excellent way to gauge your relationship with customers. An outside perspective does wonders and can point you to a lot of things you would otherwise miss.

The score can go from -100 (nobody likes your product) to 100 (everybody loves it). While the score itself does, of course, tell you a lot, it’s not about getting the score higher. The real thing you need to address and focus on is people’s feedback - no matter if it’s good or bad. Depending on the score, these are classified into three main groups: Promoters (they give you 9’s and 10’s), Passives (7’s and 8’s), and Detractors (the rest).


These are the customers who award a low score. Usually, the cause for this is some bug they encountered, unsatisfactory communication with support, or app design that doesn’t suit them at all. Some are merely frustrated because their boss is forcing them to use the software. When contacting detractors, first examine all previous contact you had with them: conversations, tickets, etc. Because of this, we decided to forward these people to our customer support team, since they understand bug reporting better and have more experience in handling situations such as these. Even though you can never please everyone, you should always see if there’s anything you can do to make your customers’ time with your product more rewarding.


People in this category are probably the best group for interviews. They won’t tell you that you’re awesome, but also won’t be blinded by some recent annoyance like detractors can be. So, we conducted interviews to talk about our product, its features, the best and worst parts, experience with the people in our company, and so on. They appreciate your product, but are missing something that would make them love it. It’s like when you’re shopping, and everything about the product you’ve got your eye on is perfect - except that it doesn’t have some feature, add-on, or extension that would make it an insta-buy. This is the group you should concentrate on and give them a little push to show them that you really care. Above all, don’t neglect them or they will soon transit to become detractors, and eventually churn.


The people that love you the most - your biggest fans. You need to contact them to find out what it is that makes your product/brand so valuable to them.

With promoters, you want to go into as much detail as possible. That is why we performed a whole new survey just with them, where we asked about their motives when choosing a project management software, which challenges they want to overcome, as well as what is the main difference between us and our main competitors if they had any experience with them. This was a very different project, and we’ll talk about it more in a future blog post.

The main thing we do is to ask them if they would be willing to leave a review on one of the software review sites. This is also a project we are working on, so we combined these two and took an opportunity to establish our NPS campaigns as a constant source of reviews. You can offer your potential reviewers something in return (gift cards, a discount on their next purchase, etc.), but if you’re not in a position to offer them a reward, don’t worry - you’ll be surprised how inclined they are to leave a review when they love your product and are a happy customer.

Over time, we developed a strong relationship with some of our promoters. We’ll often work on bigger projects with them, such as exchanging guest posts or publishing a collaborative article about a mutual topic. Also, these are the companies we find the most interesting in terms of the business they do or the ways in which they use ActiveCollab. Those usually turn out to be the perfect topics for them to write about in our testimonials.

Size matters, but it’s still just a number

You shouldn’t obsess about the NPS score - what you should concentrate on is digging deep and getting to as many people as possible so you can get as much useful feedback as you can. It’s important to compose the questions in just the right way, as you don’t want to have answers that are formulated to give suggestive or wrong impressions, which is a very common mistake. At first, you’ll be convinced that all is well concerning your brand/product, but they will tell you what is really up and soon set you straight. This way you can focus on the problems, bugs, and actual changes and improvements people want from you, and not those you wish were a part of your product/app. Only then will your NPS score go up.

At the end of the day you won’t be hung up on that number, but rather on the complaints, useful critiques, and suggestions and how you can solve them and improve your products and services. Because, when you do, and you receive positive feedback full of gratitude - there’s no better feeling.

text An editorial QA checklist for B2B blogs
Fri, 20 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Business owners are expecting the return on investment from their content marketing teams and we need to set a system that will do just that - make a positive impact on our business. Content production is not a cheap hobby, especially if you’re looking to captivate your audience with great stories that improve their lives.

We talked a lot about storytelling and the trials and errors we made along the way, but now it’s time to dig into the system. The one that works for us, and the one, we hope, will work for you.

As a result of those trials and errors, we’ve come up with a 4-step checklist for choosing the topics our team will write about. However great your idea might be, not all topics are worth the investment and that is something we learned the hard way. Note that this approach can be used when running a team of writers, as well as if you’re running a one-person show - you still need to know what you’re doing.

Let’s dig into our checklist:

Are you competent enough to write?

Yes, it is as simple as that. Work closely with your writers and have a clear overview of their experience and writing abilities. If you’re not sure your writers can match the quality to be referenced on the topic, then it’s safe to reject it. Do it some other time. Don’t be mediocre.

We’re not against writers who write about many different topics and do enough research. In fact, we’ve written about all sorts of stuff in the last couple of years. But in order to truly grasp what the readers are expecting and what they want to know, one definitely needs to write from experience. We’re talking impact and we’re talking about being there for our readers.

Is this something your readers need?

One can never overstate the importance of knowing your readers, and how your business impacts them. That being said, you need to know how if your content will help your readers in their day-to-day. There is a big between entertaining your readers and offering them something that will actually help them be better at their jobs.

It’s not that you’re not supposed to entertain. Sometimes, all your readers need is to be entertained. We’re saying you should primarily focus on entertainment only if your KPIs explicitly require that you increase brand love and brand awareness. Otherwise, you could have invested that time writing something else. Something else your readers need.

Another dimension you need to take into account is the fact that the topic might already be thoroughly covered. Do your readers really need another article on topic X?

Is there an actual demand for the topic?

Numbers don’t lie. If there’s no search demand, and you’re not aiming to generate it, maybe there’s no need to really go there. This has everything to do with keyword research and going through your favorite content insights tool.

If you’re not ready to invest in creating demand for your content, it’s completely OK to go with what potential readers are currently looking for. Go for the right keywords and set ambitious targets for our keywords in terms of monthly search volume.

Our’s might not be as ambitious as you might expect, but our weekly blog posts are targeting keywords with at least 1.5k monthly search volume. Some blog posts rank well, some are in the process. This is producing a steady growth for the past 18 months and we are now at almost 30k organic visits/month.

If you’re not generating demand, generate interest.

Are my readers going to learn anything new?

It goes without saying, but this aspect of blogging is often overlooked. We often think that we have a great insight that we need to share with our audience as soon as possible. But more often than not, we end up reinventing the wheel. How do we know if we’re actually crafting a story that adds value?

We’ve come up with a very simple trick to verify this. Since we’re writing from experience, we ask ourselves one single question:

Would this article have helped me if I had read it a year ago?

We can easily extrapolate this and think about all our peers and other creative professionals that could profit from what we have to say. Fairly simple question, completely bulletproof. And it works so well with previous questions, like a final piece of the puzzle.

Note that this checklist is an integral part of our editorial process, and it might seem a little out of context when taken on its own. Therefore, we’re going to finalize the story about our content marketing process in the coming weeks. We’ll talk about the whole process, from start to finish, referencing the articles that already explored the most important individual steps - research, planning, storytelling, and QA.

Until then, keep up the Real Work!

text User behavior and Lead Scoring
Fri, 13 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Behavioral analytics is comprised of metrics which determine how the user behaves when using an application, or visiting a website. These metrics go beyond standard ones, such as page views, sessions, monthly active users, etc. They show us the engagement our product has with users, how it affects retention, conversion, revenue and this is why understanding these metrics is so important.

We learn all of this through various events. These events represent any actions that a user can make. For example: opening the app, creating an account, watching a video, and any other activities tied to a specific user, such as making a purchase. However, it should be noted that analyzing just the right amount of data is key - if we are too eager and follow too many variables, we won’t be able to extrapolate the result we want.

It’s like going to an airport. There’s a perfect route that the staff wants you to take - through the main entrance, over to check-in, baggage registration, and so on. The passenger can also go have a cup of coffee, buy some souvenirs - all of these are good for the airport, so they are deliberately placed in enticing locations in order to lure them there. Every such action brings with it a certain score that’s attached to the visitor and triggers an event - this is how businesses project for and plan their user journey.

Before we start to analyze the user’s behavior, we first have to define what our goal is. What we track and why. Because adding various events without a goal only serves to muddle the analytics that we have. If we wanted to track the onboarding conversions or the user’s behavior on our landing pages, we would have to be aware of all the steps the user goes through and mark them all. This means that every time the user triggers one of these events, our analytics will make a note of these interactions. After that, we count these events, and that’s it. It sounds so simple.

And that’s because it’s not at all that complicated. Let’s take a standard SaaS that has a webpage that serves to promote their app. In order to buy the app itself, the user has to go through the following steps: arrive at the site > register for the trial version > purchase the app. Each of these steps has additional branching in the form of different pages on a site that a user can preview before making a trial version.

Lead Scoring

Another important metric we always take into account is lead scoring. It is a methodology that assigns each user a particular rating depending on the behavior they’ve exhibited. It helps us to understand which users and visitors are closer to the goal we defined. There are two types of lead scoring.

The implicit kind - where, based on the behavior of the user, we assign an estimate for all the steps they’ve undertaken in our ideal user journey.

The explicit kind - where, after we make contact with the user, based on their demographic or firmographic characteristics, we assign a rating that tells us if that person has a smaller or bigger chance to work (meaning - to use our product) with us.

Now that we have a defined goal, the user journey they should (ideally) make becomes clear. We’ve defined all the key points that every user can go through on that journey, all that’s left is to make sure that our tools for marketing automatization and CRM are in line. This means they monitor and supplement each other.

How do we rate this?

We define the ratings for each point that the user triggers along the way. It’s important to point out that we also have negative ratings - when the user does something that’s not beneficial to us.

By adding these ratings up, we get a final calculation which we use to filter users and prioritize them in the sales funnel. Meaning, we don’t use lead scoring just for sales, but we also apply it to various other actions. For example, when we want to see how complicated the ordering process is, if the users stray too far from the imagined journey - then we give these processes a negative rating.

One of the most interesting things about modern marketing is that we can hack just about any methodology if we understand it enough. We can then adapt it to our system and know that we are doing the best possible thing - both for us, and our users. These hacks are sometimes extremely successful, and this gives birth to new methodologies, and sometimes they’re not - which still leaves us with valuable experience and new knowledge into why a particular method or approach doesn’t work.

text The art of finding referral targets
Fri, 29 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Referrals have, in one form or another, been a part of human interaction ever since we figured out how to communicate past guttural growls and chest thumping. From an anthropological perspective, this gave us the means to find the best services and the best people for the job in our environment. It’s a mutually beneficial process, one that’s good for all the parties involved. It strengthens social bonds and empowers individuals, businesses, and economies.

Even though the basis of referrals and word-of-mouth marketing has remained the same, modern referring itself has changed quite a bit - especially now that we use the internet. It’s become infinitely more vast and often hard to pinpoint, and many of the old rules we used to take for granted now no longer apply.

Referrals hinge on trust, and in our current climate of fake news and suspicion-laden paranoia, trust is a valuable and scarce commodity - a resource that’s hard to earn and all too easy to lose.

But, then, who do we trust? Well, we trust our peers - our family, friends, people with opinions and outlooks similar to ours, blogs and publications we find informative and engaging, customer reviews and best/top lists. As buyers, these are the places we now look to when searching for info on places, products, and people. The added layer of anonymity online also ensures that we can now freely post negative reviews and opinions. It also means that we usually don’t give as much credence to referrals as we once did - now that anyone can make them - and that freedom made people somewhat prone to overreacting ("The fork wasn’t as shiny as the knife - 0 stars!").

So, in today’s volatile market that’s oversaturated with content that’s both real and constructive - as well as otherwise - how do we at ActiveCollab handle referral traffic? Because we operate on a global B2B market, we mainly focus on web publications and online magazines, and we pay special attention to cultivating reviews and testimonials.

News publications - targeting

We divide our targets into:

  • Organic - these are high-traffic publications that are mostly made up of respectable tech magazines that conduct extensive research and product testing before writing their articles and lists. These are the places people go for advice because they trust their recommendations - since they are sincere and unsponsored opinions by leading experts. It’s very difficult to get a position on such publications.
  • Competitors - predominantly comprised of Top 10 lists, lists that our chief competitors are on.
  • Single competitor - these are most often blog posts where a single competitor is mentioned (and it frequently turns out the competitor sponsored that blog post). It’s very important to pay close attention to the context, as we don’t necessarily want to be a part of an article that talks about an application of ActiveCollab that we don’t support, since we are primarily a B2B product, and want to be used as such.

In every such referral target, we follow the same strategy we apply to our outreach efforts - we look first to make contact, build a relationship, and only then do we broach the subject of doing something more. Our goals here are:

  • To be included in articles (for example, to be added into "Top 10 Best Project Management Software" lists)
  • If we are already on a list - to be given a backlink
  • If we are already a part of the list, to be moved up to first place (the first place in lists, the same way as it is in Google searches, gets the biggest number of clicks - about 30% - and those percentages progressively fall off the further down the list you go)

Concerning the above-mentioned single competitor articles, first, we have to determine whether we even want to be a part of the article and if we even can - considering someone else already paid for it

A golden rule here is - don’t be afraid to ask. Most publications like this depend on sponsored articles so they don’t have to rely on ads, and they are more than open to collaborations such as this.

Pay Attention To Your Analytics

Just like in every other aspect of doing business online, analyzing metrics gives you a clear, quantifiable view of what you are doing right, and what you can and should improve. Services, such as Google Analytics, can help you pinpoint these areas. Like with any other marketing strategy, you need to track your progress and success of the investment, so you can react when needed. Then, you can establish a process to monitor, track, and test this data, which will provide insight into which channels and practices yield the best results.


When we get a satisfied customer - be it through customer support, Net Promoter Score, customers who answered one of our surveys, etc. - we ask if they would like to leave a review.

This is because people (meaning - potential customers) trust what other (un)satisfied customers say about you more than they believe in your own claims (which can often appear as unfounded boasting, or even outright lies). The reviews themselves can often convert still unsure buyers, since they are devoid of any marketing speak, and are distilled into plain "I like X because it allows me to do Y better." candid opinions. Every company should always take the time to ask their customers for a review - it’s one of the best forms of marketing there is.

Customer stories

Particular care should be made to recognize which reviews are so good - well-written, positive, engaging, and informative - that they can be expanded into full-blown customer stories. These are stories that demonstrate the value of ActiveCollab, and how it can be used to establish a process, improve inter-team communication and collaboration, often in interesting and imaginative ways. Many of our customers have their own blogs where they write about products they use and appreciate, so reaching out to them is a logical step. Just like with regular reviews, customer stories are relatable and honest experiences our customers have with our software, so they are an excellent way to promote our brand.

Referring to referrals

Every business should tap into referral targeting and make the most out of this rich source of inbound traffic. To neglect it is to waste the opportunity to pass on positive impressions people have about you and give you the chance to market yourself in the best possible way - by having others do the praising for you. With the right approach, referral traffic can serve as the perfect gateway to your brand and product.

Every brand needs a good story, and every good story needs a hero. One who the target audience can relate with, who is always ready for action and able to jump in and save the day. But I’m guessing you already know that.

What you might not be aware of is that, once upon a time, ActiveCollab embarked on an epic quest to tell stories that would captivate the audiences. And failed. Utterly. The premise was simple - we wanted to write better stories which would attract and maintain a loyal audience on our blog. What could have possibly gone wrong?


This article is intended to serve as a testament to a period in our brand history where we spent an unjustifiable amount of time and effort meticulously designing "perfect" content that, in the end, had zero return on investment.

A premise of the story

We agreed on a simple narrative structure we felt confident about. The stories started with the exposition of a problem and its negative impact on our users, transitioned to the moment of clarity when they realize that something needs to be done, culminated with ActiveCollab jumping in to save the day, and ended with a general feeling of relief because life is so much easier now that it’s all over.

An overture to heroism

The first thing that went out of hand was the process of determining the protagonist of our narrative. The most obvious choice was to make ActiveCollab the hero of the ActiveCollab story. And so we did. Hence, the codename ACHero, which was also the title of the project.

Our product was to be the glimmer of hope to all those project managers, team leaders, designers, developers, marketers, and other creative professionals that are overloaded with busy work.

But it just wasn’t relatable enough. It’s not that ActiveCollab isn’t part of the solution, it’s that the stories sounded more like a sales pitch than a blog post that talks about real-world situations. To put it simply, there was no reason to love the hero. You can use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of the dirt, but you don’t really harbor any feelings for it.

We portrayed ActiveCollab as the tool that gets the job done, but we completely missed the opportunity to present how it actually made people feel. It didn’t have a unique voice, it didn’t have a distinct personality, it was just a faceless tool.

The main reason behind our blog sounding like this, rather than an archive of good advice, was our factual approach to problem-solving. We never managed to put that moment of relief into words. All we got was "ActiveCollab does X, and that is awesome!". For example, we were really happy with 4 Reasons why you need a project management tool. But it definitely wasn’t good enough.

Stories are not about what we do; they’re about how it makes you feel. Strike one.

Did you just assume my pain?

Assumptions are the bane of the marketing world. In this case, we made a lot of them, and they backfired on us. We thought we had an excellent idea about the pain points our customers are dealing with. Almost the entire marketing team had experience working in digital and marketing agencies, which made us confident to assume that the majority of agencies and digital businesses share the same set of burdens.

Although thoroughly researched, the topics we chose to write about were never validated. Once again, ActiveCollab was the solution to the problems we were writing about. This time, the issue was that those were not the problems our users were solving with ActiveCollab.

It all started with How to keep track of your customers’ project requirements. When we looked at the numbers, it was clear that not a lot of people needed ActiveCollab to solve this problem. But we wrote about it anyway because we were so sure of it.

A year in the future, we now have a much better idea of how our customers use ActiveCollab, because we actually validated our assumptions and performed a large-scale customer survey.

Stories are not about what we expect; it’s about what you desire. Strike two.

About to crash

The "ActiveCollab does X" stories were meant to resonate with potential new users, make them fall in love with our solution, and, ideally, buy our product. But ACHero stories were written with users in mind. As a result, they sounded more like how-to guides for people who wanted to get more out of ActiveCollab, than a warm, natural welcome into our ecosystem.

And that was the biggest ACHero blunder. It did offer a solution, but because of the way we went about it, it sounded like there isn’t one without ActiveCollab. The accent wasn’t on showing that we understood our readers’ pain, we were simply charging head-on towards the culmination. We were so bold in our undertaking that we produced articles like How to deliver a quality product on a tight schedule and budget. Our frame of mind was that this sort of endeavor wasn’t possible without ActiveCollab. You can see why this approach didn’t thrill our audience.

In most cases, our blog is the first contact people have with our brand. And we wanted to make the most of it by introducing our product as a part of the solution they were looking for. Instead, we ended up flaunting our product in their faces and coming off as arrogant and preachy.

Readers won’t care about your solution if you don’t show them you understand the problem. Strike Three, you’re out!

Losing time

We had a reasonable premise, good intentions, research we were confident about, and a plan to outreach and distribute our content to new readers.

Still, we ended up losing time because we didn’t tell good stories. To summarize:

  1. Our hero was not relatable
  2. Our assumptions were off target, and that made our stories irrelevant
  3. Our stories didn’t have an appropriate narrative hook that would engage people to read on

For reference and further reading, all the content from the ACHero era can be found in our project management category, starting from Hot to keep track of your customers’ project requirements, and ending with How to meet the deadline every time.

If anything, this was an important learning experience. Brand storytelling is probably the only thing on the content marketing horizon that seems like it will never go out of style. Now, more than ever, the first touch with customers comes through the stories you tell. It can either pull them in or send them running away from your brand. All it takes is one blog post, one landing page, a paragraph of text, or even a single sentence.

Use your words well, and tell good stories.

text A great day for collaboration
Wed, 13 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0400

For those of you who’ve been looking to improve your team collaboration, this is going to be a great day. The Reactions are up and running in ActiveCollab 5.15.0! We are bringing you a new way to make your day-to-day communication more expressive and engaging.

ActiveCollab Reactions - add new reaction

Not all comments are created equal. More often than not, all you really need to do is give a thumbs up to a good idea your teammate just posted or give a simple feedback on a proposal you’re discussing. Imagine the whole team voting yes or no on a new design concept. That’s an awful lot of comments and a needlessly long discussion thread.

That’s why you probably didn’t have these sort of discussions in ActiveCollab, and we completely understand that. But with our new Reactions, and the efficiency they’re bringing to the table, you are now a step closer to keeping all important communication under one roof.

You’ll be able to choose one of the Reactions (or more if you’re feeling like it) and your teammates will receive a notification in their Updates section.

ActiveCollab Reactions - Updates

Hooray, your comment just received a couple of party poppers!

Additionally, you can check who took part in the celebration by hovering over the Reactions.

ActiveCollab Reactions - Updates

The tooltip lists people chronologically

ActiveCollab Reactions can be used for a couple of handy things, other than the ones that were mentioned. We’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks so stay tuned.

If you want to learn more about the logic behind our reaction feature, we advise you to read the "under the hood" article which can be found on this link.

Keep up the Real Work!

text Lo and behold - ActiveCollab emojis Reactions
Wed, 13 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0400
You probably noticed a nifty new feature in our latest software update. This is a story about seven brave emoji, how they found their way into ActiveCollab and became ActiveCollab Reactions.

Since their creation in 1999 by Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita, emojis have been an integral part of our everyday communication. Just like their more primitive ancestors - the emoticons - emojis represent a natural, almost universal means of communicating, that transcend language barriers by tapping into our emotions and wide-spread pop-culture norms we immediately recognize and identify with. They’ve had such an impact on the way we perceive emails, texting, and Social Networks interactions, that the Face With Tears of Joy emoji was even chosen as Oxford Dictionaries’ "Word of The Year" in 2015.

The reason for this is because our brains have evolved to seek out patterns, even where there are none. That is why, for example, we see a face on the Moon, or think that a chimpanzee grinning must imply that the animal is happy - when, in fact, it is baring its teeth, a clear sign of aggression. This is called anthropomorphism, and it’s in our nature to apply human traits and emotions to objects and phenomena.

All this means that emojis occupy a special place in human communication, that, in many ways, predates most modern types of writing. These first forms started out as cave paintings, the ancient art that many speculate served the same function - cutting down on superfluous exposition, to get to pure data. Odds are, cave art is the precursor to the "show, don’t tell" rule.

That is why we decided to introduce ActiveCollab Reactions - so we can give you the option to speed up your workflow and make it more fun. As part of our internal vision, we strive to strike that perfect balance between features that enhance work productivity and the ones that make ActiveCollab a more enjoyable workplace. Luckily, Reactions fit both of these criteria.

ActiveCollab Reactions - animated

Today’s users expect to be able to use emojis wherever possible. Instead of writing a lengthy comment to let the other person know that you have read and understood their instructions, you can just give it a simple "thumbs up", summarizing the entire process into one single "Yup, got it!" button click. This way, all participants in the conversation can be kept in the loop at all times and get faster feedback, while reducing time spent on confirmations.

It’s similar to how people use Facebook, where they’re often used to indicate (dis)approval of a status, comment, or video someone shared by choosing an appropriate reaction. This adds a much-needed emotional layer to an otherwise faceless application - we can express support, condemnation, sorrow, anger, all in a concise and efficient way.

With this new feature, we want to incorporate a range of emotions our users will value and benefit from the most and will expand the way they interact with ActiveCollab. To accomplish this, we read up on consumer psychology, analyzed which symbols and their combinations are used the most in our app, and spoke with outside sources and industry experts. We knew we had to have at least one (the always reliable thumbs up), but apart from that - what is the right amount?

Too many, and the flow of information can get impeded by the sheer amount of choices that are slight variations of one another - a cognitive process known as overchoice. Too few, and you can’t accurately express yourself, which can be just as frustrating.

Our goal is always to be a part of the solution - never the problem - which is why, after a lot of iteration, back and forth design changes, and re-examining our core principles, we finally came up with our current set of Reactions. These (for now) seven ActiveCollab Reactions are the result of all that effort and planning, and the ones we ultimately chose to include.

You can see ActiveCollab Reactions in action if you take a look at this article.

We believe this addition to ActiveCollab will prove invaluable to you, our users, and will make your Real Work more enjoyable in the long run.

Keep up the Real Work!