Every successful business has a growing user base and increasing revenues at its core, growth hacking is responsible for boosting many of these companies to the next level and helping to improve their success.
Companies like Twitter, Facebook and Quora have all brought in experts to help them hack their growth, and attribute much of their success to growth-hacking strategies.
Essentially, growth hacking is the concept behind high-impact product marketing. Growth hackers come into a company and try every potential marketing tactic and as many ideas as possible in order to optimize growth. If something doesn’t work, it gets ditched, and the things that do work, get enhanced. It involves thinking about both minutiae and the big picture, and taking ideas from conception through to fruition. When done correctly, it combines just the right amount of traditional marketing skills with product development skills.
Growth hacking is meant to help companies stop wasting valuable money on marketing schemes that just don’t work. It’s a tricky business these days. Marketing tactics vary greatly across industries and audiences, and strategies that succeed with one group will fail with others. Without consistently acquiring and retaining more users, a company will find it hard to stay afloat. Growth hacking comes up with unique and creative ways to find out what kinds of marketing efforts are more effective than others, creating a new business model that actually delivers.
So, those are the basics of growth hacking. But in order to understand it better, it’s good to take a look at companies that have had success in using it and what their experience was like. There are dozens of great examples, but we’re going to look at six specific companies that have used growth hacking in interesting ways to ensure their success.
One of the best examples of growth hacking is the story of Twitter. Twitter is basically a household name at this point. Everyone uses it and if they don’t, they still know exactly what it is and have probably read other people’s tweets. When Twitter first started out, it had a lot of quick publicity. People were signing up by the thousands and sharing it with their friends via blogs and social networks.
But continued use of the product over time was not permanent. It seemed that Twitter had a large audience who signed up for an account, played around for a few days and then never logged in again. Instead of forging ahead with traditional marketing efforts or trying to persuade their users to come back with special offers and such, the company decided to invest in the product itself.
It began conducting in-depth testing on the user experience and the interface, and then rebuilt the entire system based on the information gleaned from the tests. Twitter learned a variety of things about its users, such as the fact that if users selected 5-10 accounts to follow in their first day on Twitter, they would be much more likely to become long-term users. This is because once you’ve selected accounts that interest you, you are more invested in your account.
Users who signed in but didn’t interact with anyone logged off without finding the value in the network. Twitter continued to make changes to their system in order to help users immediately access the personal value in their Twitter account and quickly saw a dramatic rise in success.
Facebook is another of the business world’s greatest success stories. Its method was a little bit different. It didn’t want to hire experts but instead hired a bunch of really smart people who all came at the problem from a different angle.
At first, the company met a lot of roadblocks; it wasn’t acquiring users as quickly as it had hoped, and the goals it had set (at one point the goal was to acquire 200 million users in 12 months) felt unrealistic. Facebook managed to accomplish this, however, with a number of growth-hacking techniques. The first hack was giving away embeddable badges and widgets that users could post on their websites and blogs, linking people back to their Facebook page. This alone led to millions of signups. Another hack was to buy service providers in developing countries. This move confused many business experts, but it turned out that Facebook acquired these companies for their technology in getting email addresses.
The imaginative thinking behind growth hacks like this is what helped to propel the company forward in a time of need. Another growth hack was acquiring highly desirable users with creative advertising campaigns that Facebook won’t completely divulge. Through inventive strategies, it was able to get influential people to sign up for Facebook and vastly increase its reach and audience.
Quora basically started its growth hacking by running dozens of experiments really quickly that immediately started producing results. It was able to take this elaborate and hearty approach because the developers and founders let the growth hackers run full steam ahead and could back up the findings by making immediate changes to the technical infrastructure. This ability to respond so quickly to reports on user experience enabled Quora to fine-tune the program and optimize user acquisition. One of the most helpful things it did was to observe the most active users and study their behavior patterns.
LinkedIn grew from 2 million to 200 million users by implementing a growth hacking technique that allowed users to create public profiles. This was a brilliant move on LinkedIn’s part as it ensures that the user profiles show up organically in search results. Anytime you search for a person’s name, company or title, it’s likely that one of the first results you’ll see will be a LinkedIn profile. Before LinkedIn, searching your own name usually meant digging through a number of other search results before finding a page that was actually about you, but LinkedIn has changed the whole game.
YouTube is actually a search engine, in and of itself, and happens to be the second-largest search engine in the world after Google. It began as a platform to share videos and grew from that into the giant it is today through growth-hacking techniques. When you visit YouTube to watch a video, you’re immediately presented with an embed code that allows you to share the video on your blog, website or social network.
This makes it extremely easy for users to upload videos and share them with the world. When users go on the site to watch a certain video and don’t wish to share it, they are presented with another list of videos that might appeal to them in the hopes that they share one of these. This is the idea behind a “viral loop,” which is a key part of growth hacking.
This site facilitates vacation rentals between peers and has grown into a billion-dollar business. It initially used a powerful email campaign in the first growth-hacking stage that helped boost the site to the next level of success. But the next brilliant move on Airbnb’s part involved Craigslist spam. Airbnb used Craigslist to find listings of houses for rent and reached out to the renters to ask them to place their ads on Airbnb instead.
This maneuver quickly earned thousands of users, and the network went viral nearly immediately. The power of tapping into another already-existing network should never be underestimated, although you don’t want to overlap with a company that is already closely competitive with you.
These are some of the best examples of growth hacking at work. You can see the importance of multiplying users from the very beginning, especially with smaller start ups that might not have a huge amount of funding. It’s not about putting a ton of money into marketing efforts or hiring a giant staff of growth hackers; it’s just about getting smart and skilled people to come up with creative ideas and to get over the fear of failure.
A huge part of the process of growth hacking is trying things that don’t work, as well as things that do. You can expect a good amount of your creative ideas to fail, but that’s okay! It’s all part of the process. As long as you can recognize when an effort is failing and pull the plug on it without wasting too much time or money, you can consider it a valuable part of the learning process. None of the companies discussed here would have risen to success without their share of failures.
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