Sunday, 14th November 2010 - 3 Comments
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An extremely effective, but often underutilised marketing channel is the targeted email subscription list. Even though the media love to discuss Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, email really does dwarf social networks as a communication device. Furthermore, social networks are not often targeted. An opt-in email list is the first method of validating your business idea. When launching a new product I'd much rather have 5,000 targeted leads to send a newsletter to than the equivalent followers on Twitter.
In the following paragraphs, I'm going to relay the story of how we achieved a 50,000 strong email list in 5 days and give you some good pointers on how to do the same.
In December 2009 we were spending a lot of time trying to attract users to our humour-based social networking site, PopJam. Much of our content "had the potential to go viral" and so we concentrated on making it easy to share via permalinks, Twitter and Facebook integration. We all knew the power of email lists - even for a product such as PopJam, so we began brainstorming methods for generating a large list of people who would be interested in internet jokes.
We concluded that a game or a form of interactive joke might be exactly what we were looking for. Thankfully, serendipity struck. Many will remember the incident where George Bush had a shoe thrown at him while visiting Iraq. The press jumped on it and it rapidly became headline news. We quickly capitalised on it by creating a humourous Flash game, called Sock And Awe.
We managed to piece together the game up on a dedicated URL within 24 hours. The only distribution channels we used to get the word out were our respective Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates. Within another 24 hours 500,000 people had played the game and the following 24 hours saw 2 million. After 4 days we had received more than 10 million unique visitors to the site. As of today, over 100 million shoes have been thrown at George Bush!
Somewhere in the fray, we realised that adding a high-score mechanism with a newsletter signup would be a smart move. By the end of the week we had amassed over 50,000 email addresses of people who were keen to be notified about PopJam's upcoming launch.
I believe that the following attributes helped SockAndAwe to become such a worldwide phenomenon:
- The site "rode a wave" as the press were already writing about the topic - it helped sell THEIR stories
- The site had a great catchy name and a .com to go with it - easy to share and remember
- The site was launched rapidly, with the minimum of features in order to get it to spread; we added more throughout the week
- It was obvious how to play and what was going on - you didn't need a 50-page manual to start
- The site was kept extremely simple from a technical perspective, which allowed us to scale rapidly
I've expanded upon these points below.
Determine your goal
We didn't have much time to put together the game, but you may do. Give some prior consideration to the metrics that you are trying to optimise. Are you interested purely in traffic? Do you want a targeted email subscriber base to launch a product to? Are you interested in cold prospects converting to your product? When the opportunity does come along, you will be in a much better position to make use of it, knowing that you are only seeking a specific outcome.
Catch a rising (and possibly controversial) wave
There was a lot of luck involved with our site, I'll admit. However, we knew the press were jumping on this as it was a controversial topic that hugely polarised the entire world. George Bush is an extremely controversial figure - you either love him or you hate him. The press knew this and made use of it.
All we did was give them extra selling points for their stories. If you take a look at the articles on the Press page for this site, you'll see that the majority of the stories written about Sock And Awe are mainly discussing the incident, not specifically the game. Thus we were able to be carried along by the hugely polarised sentiment that the press had whipped up.
Give your story a home
There were many other George Bush shoe throwing games. Some were well designed, if a little late to the party. What they all lacked was a proper identity. As far as I remember, Sock And Awe was the only game that had a dedicated URL. In addition it had a fantastically catchy name which made it easier for people to talk about.
Provide an incentive
What compelling reasons are you providing to your users to sign up to your mailing list? What value are you offering? What problem are you solving?
Giving your users some value in return for your ability to market to them. Make sure you are solving a specific problem and can actively demonstrate that. A tried-and-tested method, which still works very effectively, is to offer a free targeted report or other informational resource about your product. This can always be A/B tested, but make sure that you have sufficient volume for the results to be meaningful.
We signed people up by adding their score to the global rank. This is compelling for video gamers - everybody likes to know that they are the best! Make sure you provide value that is equally compelling.
Launch with the bare minimum of features
Don't waste the opportunity to get your product out of the door by debating what users may or may not want. Build the bare minimum featureset that makes it fun and easy to use - then just release it! The World's most used website is primarily blank, with a search bar. Don't forget that.
Be prepared for scale
We were completely unprepared for the volume of traffic that Sock And Awe received and had to improvise thoroughly. The technical details of such implementations will be left to another post, but needless to say we didn't sleep much that week.
Nowadays, on-demand scaleable systems like Amazon EC2 exist. Make use of them. However, if you are unable to use infrastructure like EC2 then much of the rulebook goes out of the window. Here are some methods that we used to stay up:
- Keep the product simple and eliminate all non-essential items and requests.
- Hardcode your CSS into your HTML
- Minimise or eliminate dynamic requests
- Keep your structure (HTML and CSS) extremely simple so that there are no cross-browser issues
- Do not use JS, if possible
- Reduce the quality on all of your images to the bare minimum acceptable level
- Tune your web serving stack for multiple concurrent connections
- Find novel ways of serving your items - put a media file system into RAM, for instance
- Compress and reduce the size of any external media, such as Flash, video etc.
Be prepared for attacks and haters
Scale attracts haters, crackers, attacks and other nasties. We were the subject of a SYN flood. My former co-founder has been the subject of another DDoS attack. Expect it to happen because it will. If you are not hot on your networking system administration, then make sure there are people around you who can help.
We estimate that we lost about 250,000 visitors to our attack over a few hours. This is a non-trivial amount of traffic! We were lucky - we were surrounded by extremely talented technical developers who were able to help out. Make sure you are too.
In addition, you will receive barrages of emails from people discussing all manner of irrelevant points. Don't respond to haters - just let them hate, it is a full time job for them. Don't make replying to them yours.
Use your network and other distribution channels
Admittedly, we could have done a lot more to market Sock And Awe. Twitter actually did the work for us. This will not always be the case, however. You should use every (moral and legal!) means at your disposal to get the word out. Whatever you do though, do NOT spam. Everybody hates it and you will be blocked from many services. It just isn't worth the cost. Here are some good marketing methods you can try:
- Add a signature to your outgoing emails
- Add a signature to your relevant forum posts
- Post to your Facebook status
- Post a tweet
- Email relevant bloggers and let them know how YOU can help THEM
- Email your network and ask for help promoting the site
- Construct a press release and try tying it in with other stories that are currently htop topics
Although 50,000 sounds like a lot of people to get on your list, it is possible with the right PR stunt. Next time you see a media opportunity present itself, make sure you are in a position to capitalise on it right away. Build a network of contacts starting today. In particular, journalists are always looking for story sources. Make sure you can be there to provide them with the help they need and you may just get a worldwide phenomenon on your hands.