It’s 9pm on a Friday night. I’ve spent months working hard on a new tech product and I’m finally ready to reveal it to the world. I decide to post it to reddit r/Technology and await the floods of people throwing their email addresses at my mailing list, accompanied by cries of ‘shut up and take my money’.
Unfortunately it soon became obvious that absolutely no one gave a damn.
The post was only viewed a handful of times and got about 4 upvotes in half an hour or so. I had a beer, gave up and went to bed.
Two hours later, I was awoken by my phone going absolutely crazy on vibrate and opened my emails to see new subscribers to my mailing list pouring in every couple of minutes or so…
The thing is, I had no idea where they were coming from. I checked reddit and my post was standing on an underwhelming 6 upvotes, so this traffic wasn’t coming from reddit.
A quick google search revealed that my post was one of the top links on Hacker News, a highly popular website amongst tech lovers and entrepreneurs.
At this point, a number of Twitter bots had got in on the action and started multiplying the effect by distributing my post across the internet.
Over the following 24 hours, I got over 10,000 website views and about 200 new mailing list subscribers… if only I had a slightly better landing page this could have been even higher but as you can tell, I didn’t see this one coming!
Here’s the google analytics pic:
As you might have guessed from the title, a bot had picked up my post from reddit r/Technology and put it on Hacker News. Clearly my 4 upvotes on r/Technology had just been enough to get noticed by the bot.
Now I’m no expert, but I have posted the same product on Hacker News once or twice before to absolutely no response. Therefore, I assume that posts added by a bot (which has hundreds of upvotes from previous posts) are more favourably weighted in the Hacker News algorithm, and this was the magic ingredient that caused the success.
By standing out in a small community with a very limited number of upvotes, I unintentionally leveraged the power of a bot which had an established reputation in a much larger community.
This is not replicable with 100% success and there was certainly a big dose of luck involved. However, the return on time was astounding — I didn’t even write anything, it was literally just a link to my website, so it’s worth giving a go — you’ve got nothing to lose!
Whilst I did not intentionally target the community from which the bot sourced its posts, I think it would be quite possible to look at some of the top bots on Hacker News and identify where they source their posts from, simply through google searching. Once you’ve found the root community, it’s just a matter of getting enough upvotes to stand out in that community. This could be achieved by rallying ten or so mates or customers, or even paying for upvotes (not ethical but all is fair in love and advertising).
I have no doubt that the same mechanism applies to other websites — bots source good content which stands out in small communities and bring it to the attention of larger communities. Perhaps there is even a business in this. Someone register botfarm.com.
Let me know your thoughts and comments… and yes, I will be posting this in r/Technology. Can 4 people please go and upvote it.
Happy (growth) hacking.