Everyone has a different definition for growth hacking but most people would agree that it’s a mindset rather than a process. I really like Aaron Ginn's definition of growth hacking as a non-traditional approach to increase adoption through use of a testable and scalable methodology.
First, I took a step back to analyze the situation since there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution to growth hacking. You have to understand the assumptions in play and find a strategy that accounts for them and exploits any opportunities because of them.
I knew that I would be sharing my referral link. A lot. So I went to bitly and snagged bit.ly/getsignals to shorten my referral link. It was short, simple, and matched HubSpot’s domain for their Signals product (getsignals.com).
My premise was that competitors would all approach people with the same message, “download Signals using my referral link #kthanksbye,” meaning that differentiation, by adding value, would be key.
To stand out from the noise, I wrote two blog posts that would be relevant to a potential Signals users. Both of these posts would have call-to-actions to try Signals, both within the tweet about the blog post and the post itself. The first post was “Yesware vs. Signals”, which compared the two main competitors in the space. The second post was “Top 5 Productivity Tools (2013)”, which looked at tools that made my day-to-day life easier. I made it a point to write from my personal experiences with Signals; I knew that it would be very obvious if I was “writing for the sake of writing” to hit certain key words.
I shared my blog post on Twitter, Facebook, Craigslist, and Meetup. I also actively approached people directly; friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.
Right away, I found that Craigslist was not effective since my shares (of a free product) were quickly taken down. Facebook was effective, but only for the first share (which received likes and comments); later shares were largely ignored (and I subsequently took them down).
I found that Twitter, Meetup, and directly approaching people would yield the highest return.
On Twitter, I shared my blog posts multiple times throughout the day. I always made sure to incorporate call-to-actions in the tweets themselves:
"Check out my top 5 favorite productivity tools (including Signals!) of 2013 [blog link] Try Signals now! [referral link]"
"Curious if Yesware or Signals is better? Check out my blog post comparing the two [blog link] Try Signals [referral link]"
I mentioned my blog post and the Signals product in #rbchat (relationship building) and #blogchat which are weekly, hour long, discussions on Twitter.
I reached out to prominent tech bloggers or technologists asking about cool tools or productive tools.
I even got retweeted by HubSpot.
In total, I shared bit.ly/getsignals 26 times during the contest.
From my experience leading growth at my startup, DapperJobs, I knew that Meetup limited people to 10 messages sent per day. However, these 10 messages did not need to be to people, they could be to events (which would then message/email all attendees of the event). I targeted entrepreneurs and job seekers.
With entrepreneurs, I targeted Meetup groups where I knew they would be. I mentioned how, as a fellow entrepeneur, Signals has added signficiant value to fundraising, partnerships, and business development.
With job seekers, I did something similar but changed my messaging to focus on getting a “signal” on whether you’re getting blown off as a candidate.
Out of about 20 messages, only one received negative feedback from someone who insisted I was breaking the contest’s rules (I wasn’t) and kept calling it “HubStop”.
I’m not going to lie, directly approaching people probably played a big role in my acquisition rate. I initially tried talking to random strangers at Starbucks without much success. Realizing that I had no credibility as “just another stranger” I focused on a location where I would be able to borrow credibility — Betaspring.
DapperJobs was part of the Fall 2013 class for the accelerator and we still had an office (with a giant poster above our door) in the main space where large-scale events were held 2-3 times a week. I talked to everyone I could, be it founders from other Betaspring companies, the Betaspring team, or strangers.
In total, I had 313 conversions during the weeklong contest.
I didn’t keep track of —and in all honesty, it seems a bit over the top if I did — the impressions for each approach, so I sadly don’t have a conversion rate or analytics. I have my Google Analytics for my blog but conversion may be independent from actually reading the posts.
Interestingly, about 100 people have signed up using my referral link since Dec 6, 2013 — even with a signup today (Dec 28, 2013). This is long-after I stopped sharing and tweeting about Signals or my blog posts.
Is this really growth hacking? Isn’t it just sales or marketing?
Growth hacking is one of the most hotly debated terms right now, and for good reason. Some focus on the “hack” part while others, like Andrew Chen, see growth hackers as the new VP marketing. I see growth hacking as the user acquisition version of life hacking.
Some of you, upon reading the title of my blog post, may have instantly assumed that I scraped emails, mass-emailed people, and A/B tested my copy and call-to-actions. I considered it but decided against it. Even though it wasn’t against the rules (I read over them way too many times) I knew it was against the “spirit” of the Signals product.
As a growth hacker, you have to weigh the risk and rewards for each campaign. A technical growth hack would have drew the ire of HubSpot. My inbound marketing approach, which HubSpot loved, resulted in a reputation cost (I was continually viewed as “The Signals Guy” by Yesware employees at the Boston Tech Co-Party).
Growth hacking is mindset to find non-traditional paths — loopholes — to a goal, and to exploit them. When growth hacking, there will always be a risk, but is the reward worth it?