What Twitter can teach you about growth hacking

Growth hacking is the buzz job description of today, or should we say it’s the ninja/maven/whatever of today? Here’s what Josh Elman has to say about it.

Elman was product lead for “growth and relevance” (great job description, by the way) at Twitter, who helped Twitter grow its active userbase by 10x.

So about growth hacking:

1. What is growth hacking?

It’s not a great name, says Elman, but here’s how he defines it:

“It describes a new process for acquiring and engaging users combining traditional marketing and analytical skills with product development skills.”

It’s one of the best definitions of growth hacking I’ve already seen. Elman has an interesting insight about the way marketing and product are gradually becoming more integrated. He observes that a lot of the problems in the past were caused by the fact

that marketing had budgets to spend on advertising, but they couldn’t get the development resources to improve simple things, like a new landing page.

Like Gilles Babinet from Captain Dash said in an interview with Whiteboard: the giants like IBM (and probably SAP) are noticing that the budgets from the marketing departments for digital tools and development are increasing, while the role of traditional ICT has peaked.

Babinet said: the marketing department will drive the innovation in enterprises in the coming years.

If marketers can reinvent themselves as growth hackers – delving into product and analytics – this may well be the case. Says Elman: “This concept of “growth hacking” is a recognition that when you focus on understanding your users and how they discover and adopt your products, you can build features that help you acquire and retain more users, rather than just spending marketing dollars.”

2. How did Twitter use growth hacking?

Elman says that when he joined Twitter, there was a puzzle to solve. Twitter had many signups via referrals and media, but there was a lot of zombie accounts.  Instead of investing in display ads or marketing e-mail, the team decided to invest to make the product more viral.

“We dug in and tried to learn what the “aha” moment was for a new user and then rebuilt our entire new user experience to engineer that more quickly.”

“It turned out that if you manually selected and followed at least 5-10 Twitter accounts in your first day on Twitter, you were much more likely to become a long term user, since you had chosen things that interested you. And if we helped someone you know follow you back, then even better. As we kept tweaking the features to focus on helping users achieve these things, our retention dramatically rose.”

3. What’s the shortcut to growth hacking?

There isn’t any, says Elman. “Spamming friends on Facebook or Twitter, or hacking App Store download charts may result in spiky numbers, but rarely adds retained users.”

Instead, you should focus on what your active and passionate readers like: “discover the deep core patterns that encouraged those users to become active”. Then, build product features that help attract and retain these users.

Read more at Medium; Photo:  Loic Lemeur, Flickr

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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