Chances are your product isn't as naturally viral as a Draw Something or Instagram. However, that doesn't mean you can't reach your audience and see explosive growth. At our company BrandYourself.com, we built a product that helps people improve their own search results. While our product isn't naturally viral or sexy, we have well over 150,000 users since launching in March. Our tipping point started with a strategic press push that ended up signing up over 60,000 users in less than 60 hours. While there's no way to guarantee a press push will go viral, I do believe there are a few lessons anyone can apply when getting press for their product. (for a comprehensive breakdown of the source of all our traffic, read my original blog post).
1) Promote one feature at a time. Make sure it's the one people care about.
So many start-ups try to tell their entire story every time they pitch the press. This makes your story hard to digest and easy to ignore. By focusing on one thing that a consumer would really care about (in our case: the fact that BrandYourself can tell you when specific companies or employers Google you), you not only make the story easy to pitch to a journalist, you also make it easy for readers to understand. This ensures they'll actually check it out and share it with their friends. Find that thing you do that no one else does, and push it to the forefront of your pitch.
2) Pitch the right publication to make your announcement (choose very wisely).
When you're a start-up, only one major blog or publication is going to cover you (if any), so you need to get the biggest bang for your buck. You need to know who's going to use your product and care about your story the most. Is it the techie demographic (VentureBeat readers)? Will it be the self-improvement crowd (LiifeHacker)? Are PR pros your niche (PRWeek)? We've been covered in many places, but we realized Mashable was the best way to reach our target market. Getting published there worked; the announcement trended for three days, got 13,000 shares, created 15,000 signups, and did so well that other great places like The Huffington Post and Yahoo! picked it up, giving us even more sign-ups.
3) Focus on a user story.
Nobody cares about the new feature you just built or how hard you worked on it. They care about how it might improve their lives. The easiest way to do that is through a story. I used an advertising student going on job interviews as an example, and how he could now find out if interviewers looked him up afterwards. This made the story easier to understand and much more exciting.
4) Focus on your signup flow (optimize conversions).
All the press or traffic in the world doesn't matter if your product is confusing, hard to sign up for, or under-delivers. We spent months perfecting our signup flow and making it easy to get started. Did it make a difference? If 8 percent of visitors convert to free users, that's considered good. We converted 30 percent. If we had settled for 8 percent, we would have lost 40,000 signups.
5) Understand where and how your product can be viral (even if it isn't a social network).
Even if your product isn't a game that's meant to be played with friends, you need to understand how people will share it. Depending on how your users view your product, there are different motivating factors. You can offer financial incentives (Dropbox does this by giving you free space), or just make the consumer feel good about your product. For example, we realized two things:
- People like bragging to their friends about cool accomplishments. We let people share their achievements, like owning their entire first page of Google. This is a great way to let users share their experience in a way that entices their friends to try it themselves.
- Our users' profiles send very high quality traffic. BrandYourself profiles show up high in Google. Someone will Google one of our users, find their BrandYourself profile, and end up wanting one too. Once we learned this, we increased traffic even more by adding a strip on the top of profiles advertising the service (Premium members can remove this strip).
6) Have a great product.
There's an old advertising saying, "The fastest way to kill a bad product is good advertising." All the press or traffic in the world doesn't matter if your product is confusing, hard to sign up for, or under-delivers. More than anything else, we've worked hard to create a product that helps people solve a real problem. Once we get you to sign up, we've done the hard part. You'll have a great experience and there is no marketing tool more powerful than that.