Every so often I’ll get an email from a business founder or a marketer asking me how to get traffic to their websites or sign ups to their new products pages. Most of these people have heard of how successful the Vizualize.me pre-launch campaign was (the site that spawned Venngage). In a span of less than 3 months, we garnered over 200k email sign ups. For a product that didn’t even exist yet! There’s even an infographic from Launchrock that celebrated the successful campaign:
Most of the people who emailed me wanted to know how to create a viral infographic for their own launch campaigns. I’ve recounted the process various times, but this time, I thought it would be good to put it in an article. So, here were the 5 things we did that I thought really contributed to the success of the campaign.
1. Create an anchor content – a great infographic.
During the start of the pre-launch campaign, we had a steady stream of sign ups, mostly from people who heard of us from Startup Weekend, where the idea had initiated. But after a week or so, the sign ups stopped growing. We had maybe a few thousand sign ups and I knew we needed a boost if we wanted to boost our numbers. I knew we needed an “anchor content” to build the campaign around. An anchor content is the flagship content of your website that gets the initial buzz and shares. The rest of the content builds around it. An example is Hubspot’s “Inbound Marketing” book. We needed our own.
Since the site was about resumes, I knew that the content needed to be an example of an infographic resume. That was pretty obvious. But the tough question was, whose resume would it be of? Of course, the devil was always in the details.
After a lot of brainstorming and bouncing off ideas with our network of friends and advisors, we settled on a few options. I wanted the resume to be from someone famous. Like a celebrity. At first we thought a sports celebrity would be a good choice because it was easy to get data on their achievements. We could’ve done one on Michael Jordan and put his stats as an infographic. But then there were already a lot of infographics on sports figures. We eventually settled on Ashton Kutcher. (My memory is fuzzy on this but I think it was @andyyangstar who suggested this) It was perfect – Ashton was popular with our target demographics, and an active tech angel investor.
Surprising, Interesting and Practical
I would like to think I was a great copywriter but I didn’t known any better then. In retrospect, the infographic we created hit on a few elements that made it viral. It was interesting, novel and had some practical value. Infographics had just become hot, and few had seen a resume version of it. Not to mention, everyone wanted new ways to self promote their achievements on social networks, and a cool visual resume fit that need.
Apparently it was funny. The infographic had a graph that rated Ashton’s skills. I didn’t think the harsh rating of Ashton’s acting skills was particularly funny (it’s more true, I mean, he’s not winning an Oscar any time soon) but the “Skills” section on the infographic is what people commented on the most. It was the memorable piece that made people share. The lesson here is that humor works. So Shut Up and be Funny.
Creating the actual infographic was not that difficult once we had the copy. It was a matter of finding out the details from Google and IMBD, then getting our designer to put it together. That took maybe 2 days. You can see the full infographic here.
2. Find your target audience
Now that we had an awesome infographic, all we needed to do was to release it to the internet, tweet Ashton and wait for the sign ups to roll it, right?
So I posted it on Reddit, Stumbledupon, Digg, and about 2 dozen other popular social sharing sites. Here is how many upvotes I got on Reddit: a bit fat zero. Similar results in other sites.
What about tweeting Ashton and his followers? Surely, that must work. That’s the reason we picked a celebrity – so we could piggyback on their fame to launch our product. We spammed @aplusk and his followers several times (with a few accounts). Again, zero retweets and very minimal impact.
It turns out you have to put in some effort to find your target audience. The shotgun posting or tweeting approach rarely works. There is no free lunch. You have to find the readers who would be receptive to your content.
For us, this would be people who were into design and tech novelties. How do you find the sites that cater to your audience? First, ask them. That’s right, email, call or DM them, but ask your potential users or target users where they get their news. Talk to people who liked your idea (Please do this. Get out of the building and talk to people).
Second, also fairly obvious, is to google the the question that people ask for the problem your product solves. For example, I would google “How to make an infographic resume?” . Take note of the sites the search returns. Keep going past the first page to look for the smaller, niche sites. I go beyond page 10 all the time (more on this later).
You can also look at a competitor or a complimentary product’s referral sites. There are many tools out there: OpenSiteExplorer, SimilarWeb, Alexa, Buzzsumo..etc, which allows you to type in a site and find their referral sites or influencers sites.
We used a combination of all the techniques above and made a list that was a few hundred strong. Now for the fun part of prioritizing our list and figuring who we should reach out to first.
3. Focus on small & niche influencer sites
Whenever I tell people we made a list of design and tech blogs to target, they immediately assume that the list included big names like New York Times, TechCrunch, Mashable,…etc. Sure, they were on the list, but they were not our immediate target. The majority of our list had sites that you would never have heard of. Most of these sites had perhaps a few thousand readers in total.
If you were to take the list and categorized them by readership and stack them one on top of another, you’d get what I call the Influencer Pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid, where the base is the widest, are the blogs with the smallest readership, and on the top are the few blogs that have tens of millions of readers. Here is what it would look like:
The Influencer Pyramid
Most marketers or entrepreneurs tend to target from the top down. They go for the TechCrunches and New York Times of the world and then complain that no one will write about them. The trick is to focus at the bottom. Many niche blogs have small but loyal followings. Start there first. This may seem like a dumb thing to do. Why “waste” your exciting story on these small blogs. You’re thinking, I want a big launch, from the biggest site out there. But the truth is, it’s much easier to pitch a story to a small blog than it is to pitch the New York Times. There are so many niche bloggers who would love to get the scope on something interesting if they had a chance to.
I must’ve emailed over a hundred sites to ask them to share our prelaunch story with the Ashton infographic as an example. Many obliged. Then, something interesting happened. Interest in the story trickled upwards. Some of the medium blogs reblogged the story, and eventually the “big” media sites took notice. Fastco Design was the first “big” blog to contact me. That got the ball rolling and soon we were featured on larger sites like Forbes, Mashable and Techcrunch. Some mainstream media such as NBC and BBC picked us up as well.
Contrary to popular believe, most stories actually travel up the influencer pyramid, from the small/niche bloggers to the big media sites, and not the other way around.
4. Create some built-in virality
After all the hard word, we were finally getting some serious press, both local and global. Heck, I was even interviewed by a national TV station for a news segment and appeared on a local “Shark Tank” like TV show. (I don’t watch much TV so I have no idea if they even aired). Does that mean it was time to relax and reap the sign ups? Wrong! Another popular misconception is that once you get featured on big media sites, you will get an ongoing increase in traffic. Somehow your sign ups will just continue to grow and grow, magically, forever. The reality is that the impact of any PR campaign is temporary. It will give you a bump at the most. Paul Graham illustrates this beautifully in his “startup process” chart below:
The trick is to leverage the temporary increase to fuel your engine of growth. For us, the engine of growth was referrals. We incentivized users to share by promising early access. Whenever someone signed up, we asked them to tweet or post our site on a social network. In mid 2011, this technique worked like a charm. 67% of our signups were from referrals from other users. We had a viral coefficient of around 2x. That means on average each new user was referring another 2 other users to our site. These days, the “pay with a tweet” technique has limited effectiveness. But the point here is not the actual technique but the fact that you need to have some some sort of built-in vitality or referral in the product if you want to maintain the growth that was sparked by PR.
5. Follow up and continue engaging
I sent thank you notes to most of the bloggers and influencers who wrote about us (if you didn’t get one, I’m sorry, I must’ve missed a few). These were emails from my own personal account, not from an email newsletter blast from MailChimp. I actually manually sent out hundreds of emails. (Yes, I used a template so I didn’t write every email from scratch but they were still personalized)
Here is an example of an email I sent out late 2011 to someone who wrote about us.
So there you have it. If you would like more details on what we did for this campaign, or how we created our infographic, please drop us a note at email@example.com or leave a comment below.