Let’s talk about virality and viral growth. I live in New York City and work in online marketing, so I’m on the Internet pretty much all the time. And since I am on the Internet all the time, I notice trends. One trend that I have noticed is that a lot of tech startups are focused on viral growth. When asked how they plan to go, I get an answer along the lines of:
Oh, you know, we’ve got this rockstar developer guru who has hooked us into the OpenGraph, so we’re going to autopost everything you do on our site onto their wall. Then, their friends will see it and we’ll have millions of users in no time and we’ll get bought for 1 billion dollars just like Instagram!
Newsflash for you: this is a terrible idea if your only way to grow is through Facebook.
It’s bad for a few reasons:
- Your reach will not be as much as you think. In fact, each user’s posts only reach about 12% of their friends. If they have 1,000, you’re lucky to reach 120.
- If Facebook goes away, you’re screwed.
- If Facebook shuts down your OpenGraph integration, you’re screwed.
- If you want any users that are not on Facebook, you’re screwed.
- If your users turn off the auto-posting, you’re screwed.
Is that enough for you? I’m going to rant for a bit about some “viral” things that REALLY annoy me, and I am sure many other people as well. Doing these things will NOT endear you to me, and I will not talk about your product.
Don’t make me tweet your link
I received an email yesterday inviting me to a private event with a bunch of tech influencers. Pretty cool, I thought! Then, I went to sign up, where I entered my name and information. I was then taken to a squeeze page where, in order to get to my ticket, I had to tweet the link to my followers.
Follow me here on this logic:
- I get invited to a private party.
- I sign up.
- I have to tweet a link to my followers (who I care about) in order to get in.
- They will not be able to get in.
- They will be annoyed.
Does anyone else see the lapse in judgment here?
Lesson: Don’t make people tweet your link to get something. Some people want something more private, such as to provide their email address (and while we’re on that note, don’t spam people with emails). I don’t want to share your link to my 3k+ followers, because I don’t want to annoy them. So give other choices.
Don’t make me automatically follow you on Twitter
This next one grates on my nerves as well. How many of you have ever signed up for a service and seen this:
I’ll never forget Rand Fishkin talking about how he does not believe in any kind of shady marketing, including even when the person has opted in. For example, they email you if you have not used the software after you have taken a free trial, which requires a credit card, to let you know that they will be charging your credit card if you do not cancel. Most companies do not do this. Moz’s position shows that they care about people, not just money.
Making someone automatically follow you, or forcing them to tweet your link, will often not make you friends. If I must follow you to sign up, guess what? I’ll follow you to get in, then instantly unfollow you. And I won’t like you.
So don’t do that.
Don’t make me pay to get simple data
I’m a big believer in free things. Most of us online are. I am not adverse to paying for a service that offers me a lot of value, something that I will use every day. A lot of services, though, try to make you pay when you want simple data. Today I went to TwitterCounter to try to get a historical count of the number of RTs I get compared to the number of tweets I send. Basically, I wanted to track it over time for a post.
But when I tried to get this from TwitterCounter, I saw this:
Or this when I try to get 6 months worth of data:
Are you out of your mind? If your product is so weak or niche that I have to pay for this sort of data, you need to re-evaluate how you are going to monetize your business and if you should even be in business in the first place. People hate being squeezed for stuff like this.
Provide me value first. I see nothing special about TwitterCounter as compared to services like Followerwonk or Crowdbooster, so what impetus do I have to pay for this data? I’m not even sure it’s going to have what I need!
As you can tell, these sorts of marketing and growth tricks really annoy me. As I wrote about last month, you need to provide people as much value as possible if you want them to sign up. I would happily pay $5/month to Crowdbooster if they came out with the retweets over time option, because they have provided me value through my free account for almost a year and a half now.
I guess this all comes down to how you think about growth. I have seen products work better when someone influential likes and talks about your product. Why do you think Robert Scoble is asked to endorse products, or why there is a service to have a celebrity tweet about your service? Celebrities and influencers can drive a lot of users.
If someone who is an influencer likes your product, they’ll naturally share it with friends. You don’t have to trick them into doing it. Think about who your Tim Ferriss is. To be realistic, you’ll probably lose the influencer’s support if you make them do the above things I’ve mentioned.
Viral is not a prop for growth. It’s most often used by people without a real business model or quality product. At least provide an opt-out option.
The choice is yours.