The Inconvenient Truth About ‘Growth Hacking’

The Inconvenient Truth About ‘Growth Hacking’


There’s a new buzzword sweeping across the digital landscape. It’s called “growth hacking” — perhaps you’ve heard of it.

Growth hacking is defined as a marketing technique that uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell stuff and gain exposure. Sounds kind of sexy, right?

The ability to maximize sales and exposure through “growth hacking” as it’s defined above is certainly a practice that every business should put their efforts and resources toward.

However, a predominant trend (and problem) that we continue to see across the social media landscape is the misinterpretation and manipulation of the term “growth hacking” to mean words like secrets, tricks, shortcuts and the like.

For example, take a look at these headlines from some widely respected websites:

– 12 Social Media Secrets From World’s Top Superstars

– 9 Social Media Hacks You Should Embrace Today

– 12 Secret Social Media Hacks You Want to Try Now

We all want to get ahead, identify competitive advantages, and unearth various opportunities for growth and exposure. There’s no question or objection about it. But when it comes to social media, the tricks of the trade (most of which encompass the media aspect of social media) blind us from understanding that social is the essence of social media.

This isn’t to say we should ignore the media in social media, because it too is important, affording us great opportunities to systematize and scale our efforts and results. But even if the media is the steering wheel of the social media car, social is the wheels. Without working wheels, you’re not going too far.

By first and foremost focusing on the social aspect of social media — that is, by focusing on providing relevant, added value that builds meaningful relationships based on awareness, reputation, engagement, and trust — we can then conclude that “growth hacking” is virtually meaningless, because there aren’t any hacks, secrets, shortcuts or tricks to building meaningful relationships.

So, how can you build meaningful relationships based on awareness, reputation, engagement, and trust? Truthfully, it’s quite simple: focus on being social, on being a good friend. Literally. Forget the media aspect of social media for a second, and instead rely on social conventions and norms.

Hone in on the sociology and psychology of what drives people to interact, to engage, to communicate, to trust.

Perhaps the article How to Be More Friendly and Social from a website that has nothing to do with social media can provide us with some insights:

1. Talk to people you already know.

I see this all the time on social media: business and organizations trying to attract new followers and customers who have never heard of them, instead of focusing their efforts on developing relationships with existing followers and customers, or people who have expressed interest in their product or service (both online and offline).

How are you funneling these people to your social media channels, where you can subsequently re-market to them time and again using relevant, added-value content?

Focus on building and developing stronger relationships with people who are already familiar with your business, because those people will help you attract more customers and relevant followers by virtue of social sharing and digital word-of-mouth.

2. Chat back to people who are trying to talk to you.

Are you responding to people who are engaging you on social media, either directly or indirectly? Are you encouraging and responding to engagement on Reddit, Twitter, Telegram, and other channels? Do you have a social media monitoring plan in place?

How are you handling complaints submitted via social media? And, how do you internalize these complaints to ensure that you and/or your staff are learning and improving from the complaints you deem legitimate?

3. Make sure everyone is having a good time.

This is arguably the most important of these three tips. If you’re only using social media for self-promotion and “free advertising” — no matter how amazing or special you think your business is — you’re not doing a good job of making sure everyone is having a “good time.”

For social media users, a “good time” means receiving content that is entertaining, interesting, informative, educational, motivational, inspirational, and whatever other kinds of content your customers want on social media.

Look at the content that brands like Red Bull, WeWork, General Mills, Shopify, and Heineken are publishing on social media. Their content focuses less on their products and more on what their products represent.

Certainly these brands have more resources to invest in social media than the average business, but if you’re not willing to invest in the social aspect of social media, you’re not going to generate meaningful results — no matter how many hacks, secrets, shortcuts, or tricks you try to implement.