In 2016, there were an estimated 50 million new startups launched while some studies show that 75% of venture-backed companies fail. The hard truth: whether you’re a startup or social influencer, learning to grow your user base is one of the most difficult challenges you’ll ever face.
The simple truth is that unless you’re a first mover, have a phenomenal network to create an unstoppable networking effect, or you’ve immediately reached product-market fit, then you’ll struggle with this.
But it’s not because you don’t have an amazing product or because the world is against you, it’s simply that there could be too much noise & competition for you to be noticed. Harsh but true.
So what should I do? Where do I start? I’m glad you asked. A few readers inquired and here is a beginner’s guide to building your userbase.
Take these as simple starting points, “prototypes” for more tailored tactics you could pull regardless of who your audience is.
I’ve broken it per a simple 3-tier breakdown of the marketing funnel where you can leverage the tactic respective to your objective. For example:
If you want to…build awareness.
#1-Give back: Contribute to online forums as an expert in “your universe”
Answer questions on subreddits (communities you can subscribe and contribute to) or Quora where there are potentially hundreds of thousands of ears & eyes looking for guidance. If you do have valuable knowledge to share, as a “Redditor” you can earn points for your comments and build a positive reputation.
More than anything, this is an effective awareness play and could drive traffic to your website or social handles, in turn giving yourself a chance to raise your hand & tell visitors something interesting or useful.
#2-Rub Elbows: identify the top 10 influencers your audience engages with & make friends
This is a powerful PR play where you get the shot to pitch yourself to people with megaphones who share the same audience. You’re probably wondering, “how do I befriend someone with 100K followers?” or “how do I rub elbows with people inside Fast Company or Thought Catalog?”
The answer is quite simple: if it’s Twitter, simply follow them, engage with their content for a 2-6 week period (likes, comments, shares) and then direct message them to ask a question you’re chewing through or to provide something valuable (i.e. a business contact, a new app that solves a problem they’ve been cranking through, or some relevant research in their industry).
With some above average emotional intelligence and wordsmithing, you can nurture that connection for the next 6-12 months so when you do need a megaphone, they’re the 1st people you reach out to. Often, they’re glad to cast a wide net for you.
If you want to befriend reporters or journalists respective to 10 sites your audience visits, then get a little creative and actually GO where they go. For example, journalists & bloggers often go to conferences like Collision, SXSW, TechCrunch Disrupt, or Content Marketing World. So why not join them?
Attend and make your sole objective to network with other attendees who will often be writers, journalists, and technophiles. By being a good conversationalist, asking the right questions, and asking “Is there anyone you think I should meet?” you can quickly get in front of the right people.
And if you lack the funds to go, consider applying to volunteer instead (ex. Collision takes volunteers where the likes of Marc Mathieu, Eric Lempel, and Jager McConnell will be present).
Credit to: Tim Ferriss
If you want to…educate & engage
#3-Level up: guest write on reputable, “next level” blogs with a similar audience
Aside from building your tribe by getting in touch with these influencer, you’ll also be able to share their burgeoning mailing lists to 1) drive awareness of your product/service/brand and 2) educate them modestly on what value your product brings while you 3) reciprocate to the blog with a relevant article that presents a fresh & unique perspective on a related subject. Overall, a win-win scenario for all.
Credit to: Ramit Sethi
#4-Content is king: provide value 1st before expecting anything in return
“Give before you can expect to receive” is becoming a popular mantra in my life and fittingly explains why content marketing can be slow moving “lightening in a bottle” for your product.
Influencers and thought leaders often provide hundreds of free blog posts, podcasts, newsletters, and shared content that undoubtedly enriches your life and makes you more interesting and educated. So why not do the same?
Create an editorial calendar for the next 12 months and map out the social media posts, blog posts, guest articles, evergreen material, and any other content that you’ll publish over the year, respective to a theme and objective (ex. the 1st 3 months, make the only goal to drive consideration by looking at the metric of time on page).
This has massive benefits, the most potent being 1) establishing you as an expert in your arena, 2) giving you practice as a true thought leader, and 3) providing constantly fresh content for new & regular visitors to engage with.
Credit: Andrew Dumont
If you want to…drive purchases or conversions
#5-Over deliver on just one benefit
If there is one element of your product that is truly remarkable, what would that be? What would you want your product/brand to be remembered by?
For many companies, customer service is their differentiating factor (Amazon, Zappos, Nordstrom, REI, Airbnb) but yours could be a painless user interface, a streamlined payment process, or phenomenal storytelling through imagery (ex. GoPro & Red Bull’s content speaks so loud that people often forget that they’re only a camera and energy drink company).
Define what this is and put time, money, and people behind it to make sure it’s front and center when purchases start coming in. You’ll do yourself a massive service by doing this ahead of time (hence the importance of product development before marketing)
#6-Use intelligent tools to automate email outreach
Let’s pretend that you’ve done all of the above and in the process have been building your mailing list. Brilliant. Now you have an audience to turn to when you release a product, update, or feature. But how do you reach all of them, while still being personalized? Yes, an ambitious request but like the saying goes in negotiating, “You don’t know if you don’t ask.”
Reply.io is one of the smartest tools I’ve seen to automate the email outreach process by providing simple but deep insights while still keeping the tone authentic & as close to a 1:1 dynamic as possible. A recent colleague of mine used it to reach out to 200 vendors, ultimately resulting in 5 big sales in a matter of 12 days. Unbelievable (no this is no a paid product plug).
Credit: Yalor Jackson
Important disclaimer: similar to pick up artistry, building an audience is NOT about pulling a few gambits or openers/kino escalations/[insert pickup jargon], but about an underlying understanding of your audience, creative brainstorming, and experimenting to test what works and what doesn’t.
Only then can you really let your creativity flow and your user growth become boundless. It’s a mindset, not a bag of tricks.