4 Growth Hacks That Changed Web History

4 Growth Hacks That Changed Web History

A short list of growth tactics that were instrumental to creating some of the web’s biggest institutions — and ideas on how you can use them.

1. The double-sided incentive

Incentives are good; two-sided incentives are better. Normally, you encourage your users to invite their friends. These companies went one step further and sweetened the deal by giving both the inviter and invitee something for the effort.

Invite a friend, and if they install Dropbox, you both get 500 MB of bonus storage.

During PayPal’s aggressive growth phase, they offered everyone $10 just to sign up. Users could get another $10 if they got a friend to sign up (who then receives their own $10 just for signing up).

In both cases, the incentive is such a no-brainer. Dropbox and PayPal gave the inviter something of value – bonus space and cash – which gives them something they want while making them look good to their friends.

Also see: Groupon

2. Syndicated distribution

Businesses are constantly trying to get users to share activity on social networks. For some, it makes sense and their users will agree to do it (“I just posted an answer on Quora, everyone go read it”) and sometimes it’s a bit of a stretch, and only a small percentage of users will comply (“I need more tickets in Candy Crush”)

While the latter strategy can still result in explosive growth, you’ll need massive numbers to make it work. The key is to align your goals with those of your users, as these companies did:

One of the reasons that Instagram grew so quickly is because they allowed users to auto-publish their pictures to Facebook and Twitter. They made great photos with Instagram and naturally wanted to show them off to their friends on other social networks.

Airbnb wisely created a “post to Craigslist” feature for people who were listing on Airbnb. It made perfect sense: Airbnb users simply care about filling their empty rooms, so they were happy to further publicize their Airbnb listing on another site. Anyone who saw the ad on Craiglist then had to use Airbnb to book the place.

Also see: Nike Run+, FarmVille

3. Email notifications

On their own, email notifications are plain vanilla. But when you combine email notifications with a sense of FOMO – fear of missing out – you get an unstoppable cocktail. Never underestimate the power of social proof on influencing someone to act.

Photo tagging was crucial to Facebook’s growth in its early years. If a non-user was tagged in a photo on Facebook, they got an email that lured them to register a Facebook account in order to view it. Imagine getting a deluge of these emails the day after a big birthday party – you suddenly feel the digital peer pressure and go on to create a Facebook account.

The important part is to really create that sense of intrigue and social proof. Email notifications are standard these days, but few have really nailed it the way that Facebook did all those years ago.

Also see: LinkedIn, Yammer, Tripadvisor

4. “Powered by…”

By using your current users as a vehicle to expose your brand to potential users, you create an army of promoters. As with many growth tactics, this one can be extremely obnoxious when used incorrectly. The case below illustrates a time when it was used perfectly.

Simply by appending a short call to action at the end of every email (“Get free email at Hotmail”), Hotmail became the de-facto free email service for most of the late nineties and early noughties.

Sometimes, a product is so remarkable that a subtle nudge is all it takes to become a viral sensation.

Also see: YouTube, WordPress, MailChimp

Applying these growth hacks to your own work

The important part when undertaking any strategy is to first ask a lot of questions. Here are some thought starters on how you can use the above growth tactics for your work.

1. The double-sided incentive

  • How can you make the user look good to their network?
  • What bonuses can you provide as an incentive? (and the inverse: What limits can you increase?)

2. Syndicated distribution

  • What are your user’s goals? How can sharing help them attain those goals?
  • What already-existing behavior can you tap into?
  • Why will sharing your users’ activities be interesting to their own networks?

3. Email notifications with FOMO

  • What features of your product inherently have social proof?
  • How can you tease non-users to chase more information?

4. Powered by

  • How can you tastefully brand your product?

David Fallarme

Hi, I'm David Fallarme. I've been doing marketing in companies big and small. I like learning new things, so I'll share what I know with you.

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