What’s one of the most famous social media growth hacks?
Switch sides with your users;
I am talking about user-generated content (UGC).
Do you know 93% of consumers find UGC to be helpful when making a purchasing decision?
And that is why social networking sites such as LinkedIn,
Quora and more have grown so huge over the years.
Reflecting on this, I decided to dole out
this post on some inspiring social media growth hacks.
Here you go:
Social networks were not apt for business networking in 2003,
encouraging Reid Hoffman to launch LinkedIn.
Unlike other social networking sites,
LinkedIn allowed users to the confines of trusted connections that they either
knew personally or were referred to by someone in their professional network.
What’s the growth hack of LinkedIn?
Stage 1 (2003-2007) was all about expanding the user base.
It was not easy given the economic downturn period.
Hence, the company focused on the Silicon Valley tech scene first.
Founders of LinkedIn would invite the connections they had built over
several years in the Silicon Valley.
While it grew from 500k to 13 million users, LinkedIn’s Freemium
subscription model did not generate profits until 2006.
The second phase from 2008 to 2011 was about investing more in this growth-
pushing user base to 140 million.
Adding new languages was a key growth hack here.
Once LinkedIn had the pool of professionals on its platform,
they focused on acquisition, activation, connections, retention, and resurrection,
via metrics such as quality signups, and engaged quality members.
LinkedIn’s growth to 500 million members was primarily due to its
expansion in China.
Tough as it was, it partnered with Alibaba and Tencent to hack
the Chinese market that boasted of 20% of the world’s professionals.
In 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26 billion.
With more than 330 million active monthly users,
500 million daily tweets, Twitter could easily become the
12th most populated country in the world.
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has an idea back in 2006
of creating an SMS-based communications platform.
The first tweet was sent by Dorsey on March 21, 2006, 2150 hours-
“just setting up my twttr”.
During those days SMS was not free, and this added up to the personal
phone bills of the Twitter team members.
Twitter saw its first tremendous growth at the 2007 South by
Southwest Interactive conference.
The social network registered more than 60k tweets on the day of the event.
The viral nature of the conference and participants
helped Twitter get the much-needed traction.
The 140-character limit in Twitter was because it was originally
an SMS mobile phone-based platform.
During those days, you could not send an SMS more than 140 characters.
It was in 2017 that Twitter increased the tweet limit to 280 characters.
One of the bottlenecks Twitter faced during its early years was that
although it has a large audience, many users would not login after using it for a few days.
The company tackled this by conducting in-depth testing of the
user experience and the platform.
And used those insights to rebuild the platform.
User-driven innovation such as the hashtag and @
went viral on Twitter.
How about you tweet this article? 🙂
Reddit is one of the most active online communities in the world.
It has over 250 million users.
The community grew viral through their unique approach to
letting everything happen organically.
Paul Graham shared the first link to reddit on his blog.
This created the initial audience and then the community grew via word of mouth.
While most businesses aim at the exponential rise,
Reddit had pretty linear growth. The founders aimed at steady growth.
The online community gave their users useful tools to
customize their subreddits; thus allowing more user-engagement.
Eric Martin, Reddit’s community manager said that it is important
to get over the fear of giving control to the users (or customers).
By allowing users to dictate their own experiences,
Reddit has generated a huge community and massive content.
You can start your own “subreddit” on possibly any topic you can think of.
That’s user-generated content at its best.
Within two years of its launch,
Pinterest generated close to 11 million visits in December 2011.
The website now has more than 150 million monthly active users.
Do not mistake it for a non-business platform.
In fact, 87% of Pinners have purchased a product because of Pinterest.
It is not a black and white kind of a subject to define a
social media success such as Pinterest.
The platform is host to photos of arguably everything you can think of.
The following image perhaps best defines Pinterest:
……you know it when you see it.
Word of mouth has been immensely beneficial for this community.
Pinterest was launched with little to no hype.
Unlike some of the other biggest sites on the Internet today,
Pinterest did not launch with an immense amount of hype behind it.
The biggest growth hack was to have the signup by invitation;
thus creating a sense of belonging to an exclusive club.
Pinterest used another growth hack by allowing users to
sign up with their Facebook account.
This would bring the user, and potentially their friends on Facebook.
The initial survey that shows the user a variety of images and
encourages them to choose the ones they like, helps Pinterest engage users.
The social site has an engaging user interface (UI) that facilitates multiple functions
with minimal clicks- comment, pin, follow friends, share a pin and more.
The infinite scrollability feature gives Pinterest a lesser
bounce rate, thus boosting its SEO rankings.
Pinterest’s business analytics tools allow businesses to collect data
on what images users are clicking on.
This is another reason why businesses are finding success with Pinterest.
Imagine a company with only 13 employees; and no furniture in their office space,
and yet acquired for $1 BILLION!
That’s Instagram for you.
Kevin Systrom’s what is the genesis of Instagram
(posted two days after the launch of Instagram) is a must-read.
A unique product that was FREE and easy to use
When Instagram (initially called Burbn) was launched,
there were no dedicated and free “social” photo sharing apps.
The simplistic user interface of Instagram appealed to users from
different walks of life-
you don’t need to be a techie to use the photo-sharing site.
Instagram has remained consistent since its launch.
Since its beginning, it allowed integration with
Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
This led to the virality of Instagram.
Just when the smartphone market was exploring growth,
Instagram launched their iOS app.
They launched their Android app only when Android reached
nearly 50% mobile market share.
Talk about right timing!
Instagram, since its inception, has remained clutter-free.
This enhances user engagement on the platform.
Challenge: grow user base
Growth hack: Piggybacking on MySpace, and Embed Code
Back in 2005, MySpace ruled the social network with around 25 Million users.
YouTube realized that their target audience hangs out on MySpace.
But there was a small hurdle.
It was not possible to share videos on MySpace.
Also, the cost associated with embedding their videos
and hosting on other sites was high.
Anyways, YouTube took the bold move and introduced
embeddable and shareable videos on MySpace, and other blogs/websites.
In fact, this tweak was so powerful that by 2006,
YouTube’s reach exceeded that of MySpace.
Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion (with a B) on October 9, 2006.
According to TechCrunch, YouTube has 1.5 billion logged-in monthly users.
The takeaway is similar to Airbnb’s- keep an eye on your target audience;
follow them and understand their behavior.
More importantly, do not be afraid to take risks;
even though they might sound impossible at first.
If you are looking to ask questions and find answers,
perhaps Quora is your best best.
The question-and-answer site was started in June 2009
by two former Facebook employees.
Initially, the site focused on tech topics as the founder’ networks
were primarily tech-oriented.
When the team observed that users were showing interest
in other topics as well, they quickly adapted the site to the changing requirements of the users.
They improved the website design to accommodate more categories
and made the navigation user-friendly in 2011.
According to a 2012 comScore report,
Quora was generating about 1.5M unique visitors per month.
Unlike traditional Q&A/reference websites,
Quora focused on developing an ecosystem of subject experts-
doctors, economists, marketers and so on.
The site’s credits- based Q&A ranking system
coupled with a well-informed collective intelligence facilitates
better answers than one found on Wikipedia, for example.
The website commands more than 190 million monthly users.
All of its search traffic is organic! (see below)
We talked about the typical social media sites.
The following apps have been dominating the scene
with their ingenious social media growth strategies.
That is why i chose to include their
social media growth hacks in this post.
Do you recall those days when you’d notice people
wandering around in a rather aimless manner, staring at their smartphones?
That was the virality of the augmented reality (AR)
game Pokémon Go that had more than 75 million users get hooked on to their smartphones.
When the Pokemon Go mobile app arrived in 2016,
it quickly dominated some other social media apps.
I will not talk about how it had
many lazy people get off their couch and walk for miles.
How did the game achieve this success?
Pokemon Go was not the first AR game.
But owing to its brand recognition and existing fan following,
it managed to generate the buzz.
And since this community did not belong to just one demographic,
the developers were able to market it to different markets.
The game was not rolled out simultaneously across all markets;
this allowed the developers to collect feedback and fix early bugs.
The development team worked hard to roll out updates to fix bugs,
and improve other areas such as load speeds and GPS signals.
The game monetized through in-app purchases.
While you could play and download the game for free,
you can purchase items such as Pokeballs as well.
Pokemon Go generated more than $1.6 million per day
in mid-July from iOS players in the United States.
The local and scalable nature of the game allows it to
be marketable in other ways as well.
For example, targeting physical stores via a digital platform.
I use the personal finance app, Mint, with passion.
It helps me organize and understand my finances.
It helps me keep track of my expenses;
something my better half hates with passion as well!
Aaron Patzer founded Mint in 2006.
In just two years, the company had more than 1.5 million users.
And all this without a high viral coefficient,
scalable SEO strategy, or paid customer acquisition channel.
What was the growth hack?
Jason Putorti (founding designer of Mint) believes that
the product itself had a mass appeal, which helped initial growth.
A product that can solve a real problem
is bound to be successful (as we saw in the case of Evernote).
This characteristic of Mint gave it the
initial traction despite the absence of high viral coefficient.
Content that is useful
Mint’s blog was all content-rich
and it targeted the young professional crowd.
This strategy made it the best blog in personal finance.
Mint enjoyed popularity on Digg and Reddit as well.
They also sponsored smaller blogs.
Mint tied up with a PR agency to bring high quality traffic.
The team focused on an extensive SEO strategy-
multiple landing pages, blog content, and articles on marketing sites.
They posted content and created a targeted landing page
for every popular finance query on Google.
The company also used content syndication to grow traffic.
iPhone App Store
When Mint released their app, the iPhone app store helped generate a huge number of signups.
The personal finance startup engaged their users with informational emails.
For example, they would send emails about interest rate changes.
Mint used social media platforms
such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with customers.
Their Facebook fan page ran
Mint haiku contests, customer tips, and referral incentives.
Intuit acquired Mint.com on On November 2, 2009, for $170 million.
In 2009, a group of students from the
University of Waterloo in Canada founded Kik Interactive.
Their first app happened to be Kik messenger or Kik.
Do you know how many users did the messenger gather in just 15 days?
Why did it become popular?
Twitter played a major role
in making the app popular during its early days.
The app did not require the user
to provide their phone number or email address.
The ‘privacy’ factor played an important role in Kik’s popularity.
Users could also see
if their message has been delivered and read.
The messenger app had a built-in
browser to share photos and videos with a group.
Talking about the US market,
most apps such as WeChat, Line, and WhatsApp did not do well.
In Asian markets, these are a big hit
as cellular companies do not generally offer free SMS messaging.
Kik, however, enjoyed popularity in the United States,
especially because users don’t require a phone number to sign up.
Kik received a $50 million investment from Chinese Internet giant Tencent in 2016.
Unfortunately, last year the app was removed from the Windows Store.
I am a fan of rags-to-riches stories.
They demonstrate dedication, perseverance, strength,
and determination to never give up.
WhatsApp’s story is no different.
Co-founder Jan Koum grew up on food stamps.
There was no running water in his house.
Jan Koum and Brian Acton’s friendship grew during their stint at Yahoo.
Both quit their jobs and 2007.
The Whatsapp idea was born in 2009
when Koum was enjoying a movie night at a friend’s place.
WhatsApp did not show any growth initially.
Koum was determined to have Acton work with him.
Interestingly, both were rejected for jobs at Facebook.
Finally, Acton was able to generate $250k in seed funding from old Yahoo pals.
As of December 2017,
the mobile messaging platform had over 1.5 billion monthly active users.
Whatsapp focused on business sustainability
and revenue instead of chasing exponential growth.
It tapped into an existing demand for communication.
What I like about WhatsApp is that it is ad-free.
The founders of the platform hated advertisements with passion.
And this helped generate more users.
Jan even has a note from Brian on his desk
saying “No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks”.
I was recently asked by a friend-
what are the best mobile app growth hacks you’ve seen?
Whatsapp is definitely one of them.
Launched in August 2003,
Skype had a massive 23 million users within 18 months.
Fast forward a year,
the telecommunications application had about 50 million users.
Five years later, Skype had a mind-boggling 405 million users.
Was Skype on steroids? 🙂
What was their growth hack?
Skype was a powerful product.
It had all the features of a champion.
The product development team kept improving the product in each update.
In the words of Skype’s CEO and Founder, Niklas Zennström,
Product Virality was perhaps the only way to achieve this.
The engineering, product,
and marketing teams at Skype started working as one team.
This enabled more brainstorming and improved product features.
In the spirit of true growth hacking,
the Skype team tested several strategies to improve the product.
For example, they started the “Customer Wednesday,”
where customers would exchange their feedback about the team’s
new ideas for a slice of pizza.
More feedback, both sweet and ruthless,
translates into a better product.
Skype started looking at retention and referral (using Cohort analysis)
instead of focusing on customer acquisition.
This led the team to focus on long-term growth, and not short wins.
Microsoft purchased Skype for $8.5 billion in May 2011.
When we think of freelance workplace,
Upwork does ring a bell.
The global freelancing platform
was formerly called Elance-oDesk.
It has 12 million registered freelancers
and 5 million registered clients.
Elance-oDesk was the result of
the merger of Elance and ODesk in 2013.
Clarissa Santoso has written a detailed post
about the growth of Upwork and ODesk.
Odesk, during its early days,
aimed at building a base of freelancers-
that was its inventory.
You know, the typical chicken-and-egg problem!
The team focused on the demand and supply sides-
understanding the requirements and behavior
of buyers and sellers on their platform.
Next step was to create trust by providing
transparency and visibility.
Since users spend a lot of time to sort and hire someone;
and there is exchange if sensitive information,
the risks have to be taken seriously.
That is why Upwork offers a time tracker tool for clients
to check their freelancers’ progress.
During the early days,
time tracking feature and freelancer guarantee helped Upwork generate early growth.
The website generates over 39 million monthly visits.
It has generated $168.8M in fundings to date.
Talking about a marketplace where
employers and workers can communicate,
the Sydney (Australia) based Freelancer.com
surely deserves a mention in this list of 101 growth hacks.
The world’s largest freelancing and crowdsourcing platform has over
16 million registered users globally from beyond 247 countries, regions and territories.
Matt Barrie started Freelancer
when he could not find anyone to do a $2,000 data entry job.
He looked online and bumped into GetAFreelancer,
which he finally ended up using for his job.
This experience encouraged Matt to build an eBay for jobs and services- Freelancer.com.
Later, his company acquired GetAFreelancer.
Freelancer acquired Escrow.com in 2015.
Here are some other acquisitions by Freelancer:
The marketplace provides value by building products
that facilitate seamless online communication between the employers and workers.
This enhances the trust and reputation of the company.
Freelancer took the global route by creating 40 regional portals,
all translated into a native language.
Transactions can be done in 19 different currencies on the website.
The 24x7x365 support team can handle ten different languages.
While the audience of other marketplaces is concentrated in certain regions,
Freelancer differentiates itself in a global user base.
The platform supports instant messaging and even video chat.
Put together an idea of a freelance marketplace where
purchasing a service is as easy as buying a product on Amazon,
and you have Fiverr.
The Israeli startup, in the capable hands of Micha Kaufman,
has been following Amazon’s model to grow their business.
Kaufman observed that there was a vast pool of freelancers available globally,
and yet most of the transactions were being done offline.
As a result, Fiverr was born-
an online marketplace where freelancers can offer their services for as low as $5.
What are their growths secret?
Fail, make mistakes, learn and grow!
Fiverr is present in 200 countries;
it generates about 1 million monthly transactions.
That was quote a post, isn’t it?
Which of these social media growth hacks is your favorite?
Share your comments below.
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