Do you have a great idea for a company, but aren’t quite sure where to start, or how to grow it? Have you looked into advertising and all of the things that you’ve been told you “should” do to draw more consumers to your site, but comparing the cost of those strategies to your budget makes you queasy? Well, I’ll let you in on a secret - I had the same thought when I was getting SidelineSwap off the ground. We used growth hacking - which led us to mastering social media - to bypass the budgetary constraints and make SidelineSwap explode in popularity.
Here’s how you can do the same:
What Is Growth Hacking?
After spending months building the technology that would power our marketplace, we released SidelineSwap into the wild in June of 2015. We had spent most of our shoe-string money in building the website and didn’t have a much left over for marketing. To make up for this, we had to find ways to grow the business without spending a ton of dough on marketing. Our solution was to rely heavily on a tactic called “growth hacking”.
So, what is growth hacking? While it may seem like a buzzword - and by some definitions, it is - the term actually refers to a specific marketing methodology: the best way to grow is to experiment with many different marketing channels, collect data as to their effectiveness, and then focus on what works best for your brand. At it’s core, growth hacking refers specifically to data-driven marketing that prioritizes brand growth over all other outcomes.
For SidelineSwap, our priority was finding inexpensive ways to connect with our audience. Unsurprisingly, our best results came from high quality social media activity. It takes more than sending out a few Tweets, though!
It’s Okay To Do Things That Don’t Scale
Posting to Facebook groups and forums every day is not something we can do forever - but it definitely played a huge part in our early success! When we were first getting our brand off the ground, we were inspired by AirBnB’s story about using Craigslist to win over initial sellers and buyers. We did something similar by posting the gear listed on SidelineSwap to trusted sports communities, and linking back to our own site.
It’s great to be focused on scaling from the outset of your brand, and doing so will save you a lot of heartache and money in the long run when it comes to engineering, accounting and HR - but marketing is unique in that, if you have an unscalable idea that will effectively seed a community, you should absolutely do it! You can adapt your marketing strategies as your brand grows, so don’t be afraid of spending your soon-to-be-super-valuable founder hours making sure as many people know about your brand as possible (however you choose to do it).
Authentic Beats Canned, Every Time
Most of us spend the majority of their waking hours looking at a screen. Yes, we work online, but we also socialize and shop through the internet as well. The entire time we’re using the internet, thousands of brands are trying desperately to get our attention - through advertisements sponsored content and social media posts.
So what is your brand going to do to stand apart?
The driving factor behind SidelineSwap’s success is that we make sure to keep our brand’s online presence genuine, instead of giving into the temptation to serve canned content and activity. We don’t post articles just for keyword metrics, we don’t pay for followers just to make our account look more appealing - we operate our brand’s online presence the same way we run our personal social media accounts. While we truly discovered the importance of authenticity through our social media activity, this principle applies to every aspect of your brand.
After all, the whole point of having social media accounts for your brand is to form relationships with your audience, and not many people want to be friends with a robot.
Focus On What Makes You Unique
We realized early on that there was more to our community than used sports sports equipment. Behind each user’s “locker” on SidelineSwap, there is an athlete who lays it all on the line each time they step on the field. We wanted our marketing to represent that, and it turned out to be a great growth.
SidlineSwap’s social media accounts incorporate highlight videos submitted by members of our community and unbelievable plays we find while browsing the internet. Our Instagram posts receive tens of thousands of views and hundreds of comments. Some of our more viral Facebook posts have reached hundreds of thousands of sports fans. We pay close attention to which types of videos and photos get the highest engagement, and look for ways to find more like it.
Hundreds of professional and former college athletes use SidelineSwap to sell their extra gear. Their unique gear, like these game-worn Syracuse lacrosse gloves, is great for marketing. We focused on bringing top level players into the marketplace because they helped to attract more players to and established as the best place to go to find game worn college and pro equipment.
When you get started with growth hacking, understand that the whole point of this marketing strategy is to find the solution that works best for you. Clear your mind of assumptions about what should work for your brand, and instead cast a wide net, collect data on each, and then focus on what is actually effective. Once you find your medium, invest in quality content and differentiators - even if that means not posting quite as often as a bot could. If your brand is genuine and valuable, and you’re talking where your audience is listening, growth is a guarantee.