Target audience: Startups, corporations, small businesses, marketers, digital PR agencieis, social enterprises, Web publishers, educators.
In my role as an evangelist of new technology products, I have pondered and researched this question for years now. In my research, I have recently come across a highly interesting discussion happening around this question on Quora.
There were many interesting answers given to this question. However, one of these responses, given by Rick David, stood out, and I wanted to use some of the points illustrated in his response as the basic outline for my post, shed more light and detail on each step and include my own insights from my years of working in the industry.
So …. How do social sites go from 1 to 100K users? What techniques and methods are used to grow early?
- Create a good, simple product that solves a need in the market. No matter how great your marketing is and how thoroughly you follow each one of the steps written below, unless you have a good product that is clear to understand and fulfills a real need that exists in the market, you won’t be able to succeed in growing your network of users. Make sure the need is there before going forward.
- Do one thing well rather than doing a few things not so well. Make sure your product offering is good. Really good. It’s better to do one thing well than spreading yourself too wide. Have a simple product that does what it proposes to do and does it well. In many cases this will also enable you to focus on a niche market first before conquering the whole world. Once you figure out that your value proposition works in one niche, you can take on the whole world. Too many startups try to take on the whole world too quickly. Take it one step at a time.
- Invite all your friends and acquaintances. Once you’ve determined that your product is good and provides a solution to a real existing need, invite everyone you know to it. This should get you your first few hundred to a thousand visitors/users. Not only would this phase get you your first set of users, but it will also give you valuable feedback regarding what sort of response you get for the product, how to improve your offering and valuable time to fix bugs that are found. If even your friends are not entering the site, then you know that you’re not in the right direction.
- Word of mouth. When a site is good, people tell their friends about it even if the viral loop isn’t yet perfectly optimized. If you see that this viral loop is not occurring, you need to find out why. Go over your site offering, see what can be added/changed/integrated in order to make this viral loop a reality. Have you integrated enough social incentives in the product in order to make it viral? Have you added gamification features that will make the landscape more competitive and sticky? Are all the sharing options in place? This is very important. Make sure that you’re enabling your users to evangelize your product easily and spread the word.
- Blog and media coverage. Make sure to be where the early adopters hang out. This includes: Social networks and top tech blogs. If you’re going to pitch to a blogger for coverage, make sure you know what you’re doing. Otherwise you will probably damage your brand more than help it. If you’re not sure that you know how to pitch, hire a professional to do it. In the same way that you wouldn’t fix your car in-house, unless you’re a mechanic, you shouldn’t do your own pitching in-house unless: 1) You know how to pitch to perfection and 2) You have the personal connections with bloggers who you desire to write about your product. Make sure to nurture those media connections and be in contact with them on a regular basis.
- Buying traffic/users. Facebook ads and Google AdWords are some of the most common ways of bringing traffic to your site/product. No other company on earth knows more about you than Facebook. Facebook knows your age, your marital status, your hometown, your friends, your job, your likes, your dislikes, your hobbies, etc. Therefore there’s no better way to bring the correct target audience to your site/product, than via Facebook.
- SEO. Even a social site can be structured to generate a bunch of content pages that will do well in search engines. Yelp is great at this, and it looks like Hunch is going that way too.
- Viral growth – Invites. Your user flow and service need to be optimized so that users are incentivized to invite their friends. Add in an invite structure that will, on the one hand, give your site a feel of exclusivity (a limited number of invites), but on the other hand give the first users/influencers the power to invite up to a certain number of contacts so that they can better enjoy the service and feel “a part of the founding team of members.”
- Viral growth – Content creation. Sites like YouTube, Flickr and Posterous grow largely because users create content that draws in visitors, and some of those visitors convert into users that create more content, which draws in visitors. Take a look at your site or app. Does it require users to upload interesting content? If not, maybe you should rethink your strategy. New fresh content is what’s going to keep people coming back to your site.
- Retention. The often ignored aspect of growth is keeping your old users around. If they’re leaving, then you have a leaky bucket and your true active user count lags behind your registered user count. Try to find the source of your leak . Ask users for their feedback, ask people who have never been on your site to come with a fresh pair of eyes and tell you what’s wrong with your current offering. Don’t trust your own judgment. You’ve been around this product for way too long and are already blind to seeing what a fresh pairs of eyes can catch in seconds. Once you figure out what’s wrong with the process, you can start brainstorming on ways to stop the leak. Once users love the service enough to stick around, then you can take the time to figure out the right way to get them to invite others.
I hope you find these tips valuable. Do feel free to share in the comments section what you consider to be some of the ways to get from 1 to 100K users.