Why is #moonfruit trending on Twitter? It's the rebirth of a startup

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It’s not often that Internet companies last 10 years, but Moonfruit in the UK has proved pretty resilient. It survived the dotcom boom the first time round, launching with VC-backing, growing to 65 staff and cutting back to two staff in the space of a couple of years. It’s a wonder why they didn’t exit in the most recent boom, but here they are still, plugging away. And their resilience is proving to be an asset as their 10-years old web site building business comes back into fashion, even as more recent competitors like Weebly, Yola, MyDragnDrop and Webnode, and many others, try to capture the market for people who want to build simple web sites.

So what’s the best way to re-invigorate an internet brand after 10 long years? Get trending on Twitter, that’s how. So Moonfruit has been giving away 10 Macbooks for every year of their operation, beginning this week. The result is that it has become the top trending term on Twitter three days in a row, as all people need to do is add the hashtag #moonfruit to their tweet. An algorithm is randomly choosing a winner. There are five days left. By the second day this week it had reached 2.5% of all twitter traffic. But could the stunt backfire as fast as it worked?

Using hashtags in this way can also be a double edged sword. Plenty of people are wondering about the bizarre #moonfruit phrase and searching on the term. Plenty of others might well be annoyed by the hastag suddenly filling their stream as their friends rush to try and win a free Macbook. So the campaign could end up having diminishing returns.

A similar tactic was used by Lenovo to run a discount promotion offering a big discount off a new laptop. But these tactics raise the issue of hashtag spam – something Twitter is probably going to have to address soon with some kind of feature for people to vote something as hashtag spam.

However, the Moonfruit promo not putting everyone off. London-based twitterer @gecko84 won the first Macbook and the Moonfruit hashtag doesn’t look like going away.

That’s one way to breath new life into a web site concept – easy to build web pages a Flash interface – which has come back into fashion recently.

Webnode and Jimdo are more recent startup entrants, but they use an Ajax interface for users to build sites. Indeed, I recall writing a piece trashing Moonfruit 10 years ago for it’s – at the time – heavy-weight download interface for web site building. Flash was used to make their websites more design focused but it wasn’t ubiquitous in those days and not enough people had broadband. However it has proved to be a USP today, as the site has a drag and drop interface because of Flash and Flex. Moonfruit users tend to be ‘design aspirers’ and want to customise their own site styles. Clearly they were 10 years ahead of their time – again, another double edged sword.

Moonfruit also had some pretty damn patient investors. At its height the now defunct Europ@web, part of LVMH, had a portfolio of 52 startups during the dotcom boom. With a couple of decent exits, and the rest closed, they continued to back Moonfruit and then gave the founders the choice of buying the site back and managing ongoing customer liabilities. Other investors Macromedia and Bainlab supported this move too.

Moonfruit’s Weny Tan White and co-founder/CTO Eirik Pettersen were tenacious entrepreneurs. They cut the staff from 65 to just them, ran the site from a garret in Soho and hired freelancers.

In the early days of Moonfruit it was ad-supported but with the dotcom crash they had to be open with customers and ask them to pay. A loyal base said yes – and that’s pretty much kept them going since. Moonfruit also has a sister company, domain registrar Gandi.net, run by Stephan Ramoin (CEO), Joe White (Tan’s husband) and lead designer Kevin Foster.

What of the competition? Weebly and Yola (recently rebranded from Synthasite) are their main US competitors. While Moonfruit has been profitable for 6 years on a subscription model, these competitors have entered the market more recently and focused on a free, no ads model. Sound familiar?

But with the latest downturn they’ve tried to monetise with premium features, even as Moonfruit is moving in the opposite direction towards a freemium model of its own, with a premium upgrade path for users. For instance Weebly recently added storefronts – something Moonfruit has had for some time.

So where now from here? Tan says Moonfruit has grown 70% since last year and the build rate has increased by 40% since a new software release recently. That Twitter promotion should help.

  • Phreddy Tran

    This article justifies the Macbook giveaway. Who wouldn’t want a featured post on TechCrunch?

    But prior to this, the giveaways were borrowed interest that had little to do with their product or their brand. Yes, it created a buzz, but did it lead to consumers actually using their service? That’s what I’d like to know.

    I’m sure I could create a lot of publicity for myself if I started giving Macs away — but would it be worth the investment?

    • igniguy

      I had no idea who they were until they started the twitter campaign. Now they are a notable company for me.

      Their campaign was excellent and I trust that the results will be excellent too.

      The downside is that, if hundreds of companies start doing this, twitter will end up a sweepstakes and quiz results stream.

  • http://www.stoptwitterspam.com/blog/2009/07/hashtag-contests-clever-marketing-or-twitter-spam/ Stop Twitter Spam » #Hashtag Contests: Clever Marketing or Twitter Spam?

    […] TechCrunch: Why is #moonfruit trending on Twitter? It’s the rebirth of a startup […]

  • http://Hollywoodmetal.com Brendan Biryla

    It’s probably true that customer conversion doesn’t happen on the spot but I bet business picks up over the next few month as people remember “moonfruit” when they need a website… There’s a bug difference between advertising that creates brand awareness vs point of sale.. (This is the former)

    The amount of buzz they are getting is probably worth about a million dollars when compared to traditional methods… Think about it, it’s crazy to see people willing interacting and evangelizing a company to friends and followers

    • Puranjay

      This is why advertising on the internet needs to change. Too much of it is concentrated on instant gratification – get a click, make a sale, over. But advertising that sticks – without leading to a sale – is equally effective in the long term. A smart ad I saw yesterday might make me a customer of the service 4 months down the road when the ad “sticks” and I remember the service from 4 months back.

      This is how advertising in the print and television medium works – there is no instant return, just “memorability”

  • http://concertaholics.com Jeff | concertaholics

    Been using them for over 4 years now. Great little company that keeps plugging away with new releases. Interesting offering thats easy to use and they keep adding new stuff so .. it keeps you there if you are a client. I haven’t tried the others mentioned in this article. I know alot of IM people seem to use weebly.

    • http://www.itsdigitalmarketing.co.uk Gary Robinson

      I check the site out after seeing the trend on Twitter and I’m impressed to the point I may use them for a little project i have.

      Jeff, have you found any SEO issues with it being Flash based?


      • http://concertaholics.com Jeff | concertaholics

        The SEO abilities have been addressed in a very unique way of serving an html-text based version of the site to the spiders.

        I have a handful of sites all ranking on page one of Google for 20+ phrases. They offer total hook up with Analytics and webmaster tools. You can do all you own title tags & meta for each individual page plus alt text on all images, H1- H8 + and on and on.

        Drop me an email if you have more questions thecompletist at gmail

      • andrew

        I’ve created several all flash websites and google seems to find text content within the swfs as well. It’s really not as bad as people would have you believe.

      • http://www.clickbrain.com Brad Nickel

        I’m sorry, but I was pretty excited by the interface screenshots they had available on their site to represent their product, until I went to the featured sites area and realized that all of their sites render as Flash. I could probably have considered a small business using a Flash based tool to build the site, but it is completely unacceptable to build Flash only sites for both SEO issues and usability issues. It was unacceptable before and its even more unacceptable now with 80 million plus new devices on the market that will never support Flash.

        Disappointing, because it is a great success and perseverance story and it looks like a nice model.

  • http://lancebrown.org Lance Brown

    There’s a bigger question lurking behind the scenes, which is “Is Moonfruit’s contest honest and fair?”

    Twitter has a well-documented problem with its search index, where many many Twitterers are not having their tweets included in the search. (Meaning, if those folks tweet #moonfruit, no one sees it but their followers.) Moonfruit is presumably using Twitter’s index to choose their winners from, and if that’s the case, then thousands of Twitterers may be promoting the moonfruit brand without any hope of winning their contest.

    Moonfruit has not answered several tweets of mine about this, nor the email I sent to them via their website. See here for more info: http://bit.ly/brrNk

    Please spread the word about this until Moonfruit answers the question of whether they are relying on Twitter’s faulty search index for their contest drawings.

    And journalists – read Moonfruit’s contest guidelines (paraphrasing: “If you tweet #moonfruit you will be entered in the drawing”). Then read the following comments, which closely resemble dozens more which have been posted in Twitter’s support forum to no avail.

    How does one (and how does Moonfruit) reconcile the claim that all #moonfruit tweets will be considered contest entries, when not all otherwise-eligible #moonfruit tweets are being included in the public tweetstream or search?

    I don’t know – I’m asking. Anyone in the media or at Moonfruit have an answer?

    Here is a sampling of what untold numbers of Twitter users are going through (from this forum: http://help.twitter.com/forums/31935/entries/39776?page=29)…

    user: clannadlore
    I’ve just sent in a ticket asking twitter to check out the 29 pages of folks having problems with Frozen Timelines and Problems tweeting. I tried posting to #twitterfail but the only page it posted was to my home page. I am also new with twitter and have been following #IranElection. The only thing I had done prior to my Frozen Timeline going down was to block a bunch of spammers all at once 8 days ago.
    Jul-03 2009 09:22 am.

    user: butterflywind
    AGAIN, My Updates are not showing up on the public timeline even though I am using hashtag. IE #iranelection….

    HOW can I get help for this? Or some sort of an answer?
    Jul-03 2009 09:29 am.

    User: Laibcoms
    It is also happening to me – I can post tweets but I do not show in the public timeline or in any searches.
    …[snipped URLs linking to searches so this comment won’t get flagged as spam]…
    Now I don’t show up in both Timeline Search and People Search. ^_^;;
    Jul-03 2009 09:39 am.

    Seems to me that with that being a known issue, Moonfruit’s big PR stunt is inherently using bunches of Twitter users who are unknowingly pimping the Moonfruit brand with no hopes of reward for their efforts. Lame!

    • Sean

      Get over yourself. You act like this is life or death. Of course they’re using Twitter’s search API – there’s no other way to monitor tweets. Yeah, maybe some get lost – oh well, it’s not like Moonfruit is intentionally making them get lost. You make it sound like both them and twitter are the scum of the earth. Again, get over yourself. Who cares.

  • Katseviool

    Check also Jeremiah Owyang about this subject:

    We will probably see alot more similar iniatives in the near future, so your brandname will vague away by time.

    Secondly they are just holding an ordinary lotery where mln’s of ppl compete every day for one MacBook.
    It would be more interesting to held a competition which is closer to your products and ask for more creativity from their followers then putting a #-tag in your tweets.

  • http://heliumasia.com helumasia

    Moonfruit managed to make it to number one at twitter because it was “mysterious” and it “invited” public participation of the promotion. Nothing beats getting people to “get involved”!

    • some dummy

      what’s up with the “quotes”?

  • http://www.mandy.com john

    Chk out Mandy.com

    UK company, been around 12 years, and thriving and profitable. Largest film production job site in UK.

  • http://www.cornwallseo.com/search/2009/07/03/latest-moonfruit-twitter-promo-press/ Latest MoonFruit Twitter Promo Press

    […] Rebirth of a startup Techcrunch New Media Age, they seem to have forgotten to link Moonfruit Just Moonwalked All Over Michael Jackson, Ryan Healy How brands are buying and earning followers on Twitter, Jeremiah Owyang […]

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan_Deamer/730675486 Jonathan Deamer

    The use of an image of Linkin Park’s “Re-animation” album cover on the main TechCrunch.com preview of this article confused me for far longer than it should have done… ;-)

  • http://www.moritzhanebeck.de/index.php/333/twitter-marketing-extrem-moonfruit/ Twitter-Marketing Extrem: Moonfruit | moritzhanebeck.de

    […] Kampagne ist ein Erfolg. Auch in anderen Blogs ist die Marketingidee ein Thema, z.B. hier, hier und hier. Allerdings sehen viele das Thema mit gemischten Gefühlen. Teilweise werden […]

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Simon_Dennett/720440422 Simon Dennett

    “something Twitter is probably going to have to address soon with some kind of feature for people to vote something as hashtag spam.”

    Objection your honor, this is pure speculation.

    I think this would be very low if not non existent on the twitter product road map.

  • http://yoshy.wordpress.com/2009/07/05/links-for-2009-07-04/ links for 2009-07-04 « 個人的な雑記

    […] Why is #moonfruit trending on Twitter? It’s the rebirth of a startup (tags: twitter) […]

  • twitter sucks

    If I use #iranelection with my affiliate program links to get more tweet reads I will get my account suspended…. How is this different.

    IMO they should suspend moontweets for this gaming of the system.

    Twitter is so two faced it makes me sick

    • twitter sucks

      They have kicked #moonfruit off the trending topics…

      I think it was because of my comment here :)

  • http://visitmystartupplase Jenn

    Spam aside, it’s just the evolution of what Zappos did when they first joined twitter by offering a prize to a winner selected from their followers.

  • http://blog.gadodia.net Vaibhav

    They haven’t been trending topic for some time now. I guess they got banned :)

  • http://www.ukstevieb.com/2009/07/05/steviebs-shared-items-july-5-2009/ StevieB’s Shared Items – July 5, 2009 at Lost in Cyberspace

    […] Why is #moonfruit trending on Twitter? It’s the rebirth of a startupJuly 4, 2009 […]

  • http://www.anothernewworld.com/2009/07/trending-is-the-new-viral Another New World » Blog Archive » Trending is the new viral

    […] company’s hashtag… and they’re putting Twitter’s paid sponsors to shame. TechCrunch reports that the latest stunt is using 2.5% of all Twitter […]

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/07/03/breakdown-how-brands-are-buying-and-earning-followers-on-twitter/ Breakdown: 4 Ways Brands Are Earning –and Buying– Followers on Twitter « Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang | Social Media, Web Marketing

    […] Results: Big wins.  Moonfruit is a trending topic 3 days after the contest landed, there are thousands of retweets and tweets about the brand, as well as an increase in followers of about 10,000 a day (graph).Update: It’s now July 6th and the Moonfruit account has stalled out at 43k followers –it didn’t grow 10k as the first 3 days did. It’s also no longer a trending topic. Techcrunch Europe comments. […]

  • http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/07/06/what-the-hashtag-your-guide-to-enigmatic-twitter-hashtags/ What The Hashtag: Your Guide To Enigmatic Twitter Hashtags

    […] and makes it easier to search for Tweets about specific topics and events. This weekend’s “Moonfruit” and “GorillaPenis” trending topics on Twitter were examples of trending topics that […]

  • http://cellphoneultra.com/what-the-hashtag-your-guide-to-enigmatic-twitter-hashtags/ What The Hashtag: Your Guide To Enigmatic Twitter Hashtags | Cellphone Ultra

    […] and makes it easier to search for Tweets about specific topics and events. that weekend’s “Moonfruit” and “GorillaPenis” trending topics on Twitter were examples of trending topics that […]

  • http://techdozer.com/what-the-hashtag-your-guide-to-enigmatic-twitter-hashtags/ What The Hashtag: Your Guide To Enigmatic Twitter Hashtags | TechDozer.Com

    […] and makes it easier to search for Tweets about specific topics and events. This weekend’s “Moonfruit” and “GorillaPenis” trending topics on Twitter were examples of trending topics that […]

  • http://www.techdare.com/2009/07/06/what-the-hashtag-your-guide-to-enigmatic-twitter-hashtags/ What The Hashtag: Your Guide To Enigmatic Twitter Hashtags | Techdare

    […] and makes it easier to search for Tweets about specific topics and events. This weekend’s “Moonfruit” and “GorillaPenis” trending topics on Twitter were examples of trending topics that […]

  • http://taser.freei.me/wordpress/?p=253 What The Hashtag: Your Guide To Enigmatic Twitter Hashtags | TopBlogs

    […] and makes it easier to search for Tweets about specific topics and events. This weekend’s “Moonfruit” and “GorillaPenis” trending topics on Twitter were examples of trending topics that […]

  • http://blog.viningmedia.nl/2009/07/what-the-hashtag-your-guide-to-enigmatic-twitter-hashtags/ What The Hashtag: Your Guide To Enigmatic Twitter Hashtags | Viningmedia Nieuws

    […] and makes it easier to search for Tweets about specific topics and events. This weekend’s “Moonfruit” and “GorillaPenis” trending topics on Twitter were examples of trending topics that […]

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