Millions of people and businesses are competing for the attention of internet users, so you need a well-thought-out strategy, which corresponds to your product and business model. After having built and promoted my start-up, these are the ideas I would suggest:
1- Public Relations
Don’t be scared, public relations can easily be bootstrapped, and can be highly efficient. You certainly don’t have to hire an expensive PR agency to generate good PR.
Start by letting tech blogs know about your product. The odds of being featured in the most prominent blogs are rather slim, so you should consider writing posts related to your industry. If you have a product that people want to talk about, and a few interesting ideas about your industry, this is definitely the way to go.
Build a web-presence, contribute online, and provide valuable input to the people you want to reach. Not only does this generally deliver good results, it also gives you the opportunity to reflect on topics that interest you.
Advertising is worth considering only if your product addresses a need that users express (i.e. things they search for on Google, Bing or Yahoo), or if your product targets very specific users (i.e. people you can target on Facebook based on their Likes.)
You know the drill: figure out which search keywords attract the most relevant users, and create an ad people want to click on. This solution, however, is very expensive and won’t fit most business models. Expect to pay at least $15 per new active user, which might not be profitable for most websites, especially if your revenue model is based on advertising.
3- Referral Programs
Use referral programs to incentivize your users, so that they refer your product to their friends and followers. This requires giving something away to the users who get other people to sign up.
The results can be impressive if the incentive is real. For example, if you share a link to the Dropbox website, you can get free space if your friends sign up. This is also what we did at Wingsplay; people can earn 10% of what their referees make, which drives our number of new users to grow exponentially.
Utilizing social rebates is the other way of achieving what I like to call “Organic Promotions”.
When someone wants to buy a service or a product from your website, apply a conditional rebate: if your customers share your product through social media, the rebate applies.
This model is especially relevant to e-commerce websites, for which margins are usually high, but for which fierce competition makes it difficult to generate significant sales levels. Online stores give rebates for what they have the most of (which is margins), to get what they have the least of (revenue, sales).
Partnerships are the most efficient model by far, but usually require specific functionalities to be implemented.
A partnership involves finding out who has access to your target audience, then providing them with services that turn their audience into your audience.
The perfect example of this is Facebook. Facebook first got traction as a social network for college students. It informally provided colleges with a way to connect their students, before becoming the media property we all know (with more than 1 billion users as of today).
6- Send links to your social media connections
Consider yourself awesome if you get 200 active users this way.
No matter how great your product is, getting your initial active users is difficult. As always, with digital marketing, you can achieve significant results by being creative and methodical, without having to spend a lot of money. If you are ready to put in the time and effort, your results will definitely be worth it.
Olivier Lasry spent 3 years working in financial services at Ernst & Young, with clients mainly operating in the new tech / media industries. Passionate about the new technology industry and its disruptive forces, Olivier then created Wingsplay, the first viral video advertising network ever, which connects influential social media users with the best viral video advertisers.