The phrase “growth hacking” equates to a creative mindset towards online marketing. It’s a way to drive large leads on a low budget and was covered extensively by Ryan Holiday, the writer of Growth Hacker Marketing. But even though growth hacking seems complex, it’s actually built on the same principles as traditional marketing.
As the old adage goes, “there’s nothing new under the sun”. This is very true of growth hacking which is just the online equivalent of guerrilla marketing. If you can think of an interesting and unique way to reach your audience and drive conversions, then you’re practicing growth hacking.
But how do you even get started? What’s the real purpose of growth hacking?
In this guide I’ll explain the core basics of growth hacking and how it can be applied to any marketing campaign. This is primarily directed at the concept of viral growth so the ideas of virality, content, and social hacking intertwine nicely to create a unique method of online marketing.
Fundamentals Of Growth Hacking
The concept boils down to how you should grow a site quickly. Strategies usually follow unconventional means to grow a site quickly by increasing the number of signups, current users, or any other similar metric.
Growth hackers don’t consider traditional advertising or sponsorships to be the best avenues for new projects. Both cost money and can feel unnatural. Growth hacking principles aim to be much cheaper than traditional marketing.
There are many different techniques of growth hacking and some of them work better than others. Posting content on forums to directly reach your audience is one option. Building recognition for your product through a viral campaign of infographics or free giveaways is another option.
In fact, there really aren’t any specific techniques other than past successes. Growth hacking is so interesting because you can do whatever it takes to succeed. This means new ideas are birthed all the time and they work very well.
Here are a few growth hacker rules to live by taken from this presentation.
- Be willing to test anything and rapidly change ideas
- Learn who you’re targeting and think like your audience
- Track all metrics; look for patterns over time
- Leverage social media channels with the largest audiences
There is no single tried-and-true method for achieving success with growth hacking. It’s really a numbers game and the more you try, the more you’ll learn. With some progress it gets easier to repeat your results.
Here are some other introductory articles to get you digging deeper into the subject of growth hacking:
- What is Growth Hacking? (part 1)
- 8 Insider Secrets To Growth Hacking Your Blog
- 21 Actionable Growth Hacking Tactics
Studying Your Audience
Most growth hackers are concerned with increasing conversions and building a userbase for their product. They want to get the word out to people who might be interested in whatever they’re promoting.
The hard part is determining who might be interested and where they are online. Do they read certain blogs? Are they on certain forums? Do they visit specific Facebook pages or Twitter feeds?
There are many ways to learn about the audience and it’s always a matter of testing. The more ideas you try, the more you’ll learn. The audience’s reception will tell you a lot.
Sometimes you might hit the right audience on the right website, but the product might just be unusable. This is more common than you think so it’s a good idea to keep communication open. Let visitors contact you and share their thoughts.
Also don’t be afraid to ask your audience direct questions either. This is a strange yet viable method to learn what people want directly from the horse’s mouth. Although some businessmen believe customers don’t know what they want, it’s fair to say they will know if they like something placed in front of them. Use this to your advantage whenever possible.
Integrate With Social Media
A big tenet of growth hacking is reaching channels that already have large audiences. This is often how viral growth occurs, because most large social networks are the initiators of viral growth.
But there’s one key factor that most people seem to forget: things go viral when they’re genuinely awesome. You can’t fake viral growth. But you can give something a little jump start and hope your audience picks up the rest.
So you could focus on growing an audience through communities like Reddit, Voat, LinkedIn, and the big guys like Twitter and Facebook. These sites have wide audiences that cover many different areas of interest. Users are also happy to share great content.
Study what sort of content people are frequently sharing by browsing through these websites. Then try to replicate that same style of content. If you’re marketing a startup you can go further than just slapping a link onto Reddit with the title “check out my startup!”.
Build a small company blog with useful content around your subject matter. This is considered content marketing and it’s a way to drive traffic over time if you do it right. You actually help people by solving problems or by providing insight with valuable content. If you post something really cool there’s a good chance it’ll go viral.
You might also try this social strategy with Quora marketing. The goal here is to provide real genuine answers to popular questions while also plugging your site. Some may feel this is spammy, but I disagree. Spam is complete nonsensical plugging with no regard to the consumer.
If you’re offering some actual value to the Internet, plugging a link is fine. These are the ideas that growth hackers look for.
Growth hacking can be a steady yet also unpredictable process. Sometimes you’ll see great results. Other times you’ll fall flat.
But the more you test the more patterns you’ll find to replicate. It really does get easier over time.
Build Enticing Technology
Sometimes you don’t need extensive social campaigns if you know how to leverage technology.
Everyone refers to the Dropbox story where Dropbox offered extra free space for every successful invite. The offer spread like wildfire and pretty soon everybody and their grandma had a Dropbox account.
This exchange created value for everyone involved, which brings us back to the same lesson about growth hacking: create real value.
Spammy campaigns are becoming more obvious as Internet users have seen them for nearly two decades(and counting). The concept of banner blindness is very real.
Your campaigns need to be genuine, valuable, interesting, and solve real problems.
But also consider the value of enhancing things on your current website to improve performance. This is where usability tools come in handy.
A similar hack was performed by AirBnb to take better quality photos for each listing. Over time sales increased and the number of users grew rapidly.
This didn’t require external marketing or even major tweaks to the source code. It just required an eye for design; a recognition that perhaps people were turned off by the plain generic look of poor-quality photos.
Think about your technology and your site’s design. Rather than reaching out to external communities for more visitors, consider what you could do on the current site to improve retention rates.
As often as you build new campaigns and try breaking new grounds, you’ll frequently want to study which options are working. The only way to do this is through data analysis which means studying your current campaigns to learn which one(s) work best.
You’ll obviously want to track number of visitors, signups, and time on page. Other metrics may be a concern depending on the type of website/product.
Think about marketing from a growth perspective and always get back to the bottom line. This could be revenue earned through sales, new users/subscribers, or recurring users/subscribers.
It’s also suggested that you track heatmaps on your website. This is a usability test experiment and it’s known to work very well to see how people behave on your webpage.
If you’re looking to foster an environment of activity, fake it ‘till you make it. There’s nothing wrong with creating fake accounts for yourself to grease the community—in fact it’s common with online forums and this technique was used by Reddit to grow the initial audience.
Metrics change based on the structure of your website and the monetization strategy. Check out this Quora post to learn more about the options and alternatives.
The best way to learn is to study other sites and try your own ideas. You can read plenty of growth hacker stories, but those strategies mostly apply to the companies that used them.
You’ll want to get creative and try new ideas. Yes you will screw up, and yes there will be campaigns that don’t offer a glint of success. But as you practice you’ll learn more and be able to apply these principles everywhere.
And for good measure here are some related posts about customer growth, social marketing, and the overarching concepts behind growth hacking.
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