There's a lot of really bad advice these days on how to grow a member base.
"Growth hacking" has become the latest buzzword for marketers dedicated to growing customer bases with scientific methods and practices to increase user counts. Unfortunately, much of what you'll read, in my personal opinion, is hogwash. Sure, there are some nuggets and concepts that you'll find beneficial, but it's the premise of the practice that bugs me. Why?
When you spend valuable resources trying to hack growth, you spend less time providing value for your customers.
Building a Business
A couple years ago, a friend and I built a community site, Gentlemint, which is "a place to find and share manly things," as a fun 12-hour project. Today, people visit Gentlemint often. In fact, most come back multiple times per day. Our members are insanely loyal. They send us ideas, they call out spam when they see it, and even promote us when they don't have to:
All that loyalty we get, we get for free—we spent $0 on marketing (or growth hacking). Our members want us to succeed.
Building a Community
While the site's popularity was a happy accident, we were very deliberate in how we would grow the community and the site. We wanted to be different, and decided to make the site less about our brand and more about our members.
Our thinking went something like this: If someone has entrusted us with their attention, we need to make their experience on Gentlemint as much about them as possible. How can we feature them? How can we help build them up? Promote them? Empower them?
If you're trying to build a community, everything you do must be about the people using your site.
How can you help customers do something better? How can you save them time? How can you make them happier? How can you save them pain? Save them money?
Frame everything your business does around how you can help your customers—from the largest detail all the way down to the smallest. Rethink everything, and put everything through this filter: product roadmaps, discussions with your team, emails to customers, site copy—there is literally nothing in your business that can't be framed around this mindset.
Building a Loyal Fan
Now, there is one thing you will have to wrap your head around for this strategy to work, and this is where I might lose some of you: You need to put your customers first even if it means sending your customers away to a competitor or making you less money in the short run.
Think about it. These people have trusted you with their time and attention, two of the most valuable assets on the planet. Now you need to let them know that everything you do is for them, not for a cadre of VCs or your Swiss bank account. If you don't have the exact product they're looking for, send them to someone who does. Don't waste their time giving them something that is almost like what they need ... they'll eventually figure it out, get frustrated, go elsewhere and never come back.
Just imagine for a second, if that doesn't happen. You put your customer first from the get-go. How refreshing is that for prospective customers? You've made it clear that everything is about them—and everything you say and do reinforces this.
They can just feel that you're different. That you're there for them. And you now have a customer for life.
When potential customers start to make this connection, they react positively. The love what you do, and more often than not, they pour themselves into your company. It's beautiful.
Bye-bye, huge marketing budgets. Hello, repeat customers.
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