If you've ever worked at a startup, you may have heard of growth hacking, a new approach to marketing that enables many new businesses to expand their user base, increase brand awareness, and uncover new opportunities at a lower cost than typical marketing alternatives. This practice uses the marketer's creativity, curiosity and data acumen to bypass traditional marketing. TechCrunch describes growth hacking as a mindset instead of a practice:
It is a set of disciplines learned through doing and out of necessity. Growth hackers have a common attitude, internal investigation process, and mentality unique among technologists and marketers. This mindset of data, creativity, and curiosity allows a growth hacker to accomplish the feat of growing a user base into the millions.
New insight communities and startups have some essential similarities that make growth hacking applicable to community management. For one, new communities and startups need to exponentially increase their base, often within a short time period and on budget. And just like startups, insight communities need to engage current users and participants to ensure that they come back and continue to partake.
Using some of the tactics mentioned on The Next Web, here are three ways community managers can apply growth hacking to their recruitment efforts:
1. Viral acquisition
The most widely known growth hacking initiatives are those that have gone viral. As the following examples from BetaBeat show, growth hackers use built-in product features to encourage people to share a product, a piece of content, or a link with new users:
Think Hotmail's "PS I Love You" (perhaps the first example of growth hacking). Think Dropbox's "Get Free Storage" referral program, which drives something like 40 percent of its user sign-ups. Think Mailbox's massively viral 1.25 million person prelaunch waiting list. Think Airbnb's early integration with Craigslist, which built the service on the back of another - for nothing.
Imagine how quickly you can recruit people in your community if your efforts go viral. People who are not as keen on getting invited by brands may find it more appealing to hear from friends and family. Get the help of people in your community to spread the word about your community.
To do this, one thing you can try is applying an old but proven technique: the refer-a-friend program. As we recently found out in a refer-a-friend program we implemented for our market panels, making it easy for people to invite their friends and family via Twitter Facebook or email can bring a spike of quality people joining the community, including the elusive Millennials. The lesson is not surprising, but it is reaffirming: people are more likely to join a community if invited by people they already know. And if you empower people to use social media to tell their friends and followers about your community, you'll get quality results sooner.
2. Email marketing
Running our refer-a-friend program, one tactic that worked in addition to social media sharing was using our monthly newsletters. We added "Refer-A-Friend" buttons at the bottom of the emails, making it convenient for people to tweet or post a Facebook update about the community.
This approach demonstrates the importance of having a solid email marketing program not only in your research practice but also in all aspects of your marketing. Our market panel's monthly newsletter allows us to engage people in the community on a regular basis, share some of the insights we're getting, and promote any recruitment efforts we currently have on the go. Consistency is key: if people know that your newsletter is packed with valuable information, they are less likely to unsubscribe and they are more likely to amplify your messages.
3. Content marketing
Through blog posts, infographics, and social media platforms, growth hackers use content to generate leads. By providing content that is useful, relevant and interesting to a target audience, brands build their reputation and increase awareness of their products and services. This technique is what many marketers refer to as content marketing.
If you're managing an online community, content marketing can also play a role. For instance, we regularly share back articles and infographics to market panel members to show them where their opinion has made a difference. This information is always well received and is something that can easily be shared with friends and family to encourage involvement among peers.
Also, a more general technique is to have blog posts and sponsored articles appear on popular websites that your target group frequent in order to increase awareness of a community. We have found that this is a subtle way of promoting a community while also providing value and validation to current members.
It's easy to simply come up with content and release it out to the world wide web, but what if it doesn't achieve expected results? Growth hackers bring all these techniques together by consistently doing A/B testing and analytics to enhance landing pages, blogs, online ads and other messaging in order to convert people into qualified leads and customers in the most cost-effective manner.
Having a data-first approach can also help community managers recruit new quality people. Recruitment doesn't stop after the initial launch of the community, so having a well-optimized portal or using effective online ads are important steps in ensuring that you're reaching the right audience and attracting new people who might participate in your insight community.
Are banner ads really helping you attract more people into your insight community? Is a PR push really more effective than an SEM campaign with Google AdWords? In the same way that growth hackers rely on data to answer questions like these, community managers should also look to data for guidance on how they can enhance their recruitment efforts.
Growth hacking grew out of necessity from starting a company with virtually no marketing budget. And as these examples show, with creativity, curiosity and a focus on data, community managers have the opportunity to step up their recruitment efforts without spending a fortune.