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Photo by Nicholas Green on Unsplash

I was trying to get a sense of the market interest in a SaaS product I built. It was an early cut of the product but was functional. I tried using more conventional approaches to get sign-ups but none of them proved to be easy or efficient.

I’m not saying they are bad but to reach marketing efficiency with advertisement platforms you will need plenty of time and budget. At the opposite end of the spectrum is search engine optimization (SEO) which costs you much less but is tedious and slow to see results.

Before you plunge into any of the approaches mentioned above, here is a summary of my learnings on using ads that could save you many weeks and months of trying.

Google AdWords — Popular keywords are expensive; Google gives away $100 or so credit for newbies or if you get these discounts from web hosting companies — Less popular keywords have low traction — Needs repeated testing of ad copy, audience segments, timezone etc. to optimize which means it takes long time especially if you start with words with little traction.

Facebook Ads– Expensive, no free credits unlike Google — Same challenge as Google on the need for long periods of testing and optimization — Need to create attractive ad media like banners and images, an added dimension to just text.

Linkedin Ads– Comparatively most expensive option among the three listed here and may not be a suitable platform for B2C SaaS.

As a start-up, solo entrepreneur or creator, every dollar counts and you would not want to spend six months just looking for investors instead of focusing on what you like to do and what you do best in.

  • Before I discovered and formulated this strategy, I spent close to a thousand dollars buying ads and paying for freelancers to generate just leads. The effort lasted three months, only to reach just 100 sign-ups, by ads, cold emails and miscellaneous social forum postings.
  • With the strategy that you are going to pick up, I managed to get 300 sign-ups over a day. By rinsing and repeating, I did it three times to get over 1,000 sign-ups in just THREE days (see image below as proof).
  • By repeatedly using this strategy I have proven that it can work and the upside is relatively high and scalable.
Mailchimp showing sign-up contacts
A mailing list built from interested sign-ups

Some important caveats and points to note before we jump into the playbook.

  • Even though the strategy described here in this article was used specific for Reddit, the principles should be applicable and useful across other social media platforms.
  • You would need some online presence with at least a sign-up landing page.
  • If you product or business is outside of US but may be consumed by anyone in the world then you can still leverage on the tips in this article.
  • You get a list of tools mentioned in this article in the Useful Resources section below to start building your strategy.
  • Fish where there are shoals” — you need to shout your message at crowded marketplaces. Even if you have a solid product, shouting inside a cave won’t get you anywhere. In order to know where to hunt, you can make use of SimilarWeb, a browser extension for measuring traffic to a specific website or domain. I selected Reddit because of its sheer volume of traffic (see image below). Nothing should stop you from doing further research to understand the platform that you intend to use such as using a site that breaks down the user statistics for you like Backlinko.
  • If you hit the right note with the community, the results can be astonishing. I saw sign-ups and messages streaming in non-stop within hours. Even though the title of this article states “3 days” most of the intense actions happen within hours. Nevertheless, conditioning is required. This doesn’t mean you will get it right the first time but the time taken and cost to achieve your sign-up goal using the strategy in this article should be significantly less than conventional advertising.
Similarweb browser extension
How to check website popularity using the SimilarWeb browser extension.
  • Social platforms are very sensitive to guerilla marketers for simple reasons — They dislike marketers who leech traffic from their domain or those who leverage their platform for selling

Read on for strategies to overcome the mechanisms that weed users based on the two points above.

Timing

  • In Reddit or any social platform, always find a way to know how big is the community size (see how Reddit allow people to view the group size below). Find a sizeable community means you can get results quickly. By simple math — suppose 0.5% of the community is interested in what you say, 0.5% of 1M = 5,000 responses or engagements.
A drop-down list showing membership size of different interest groups
Membership size for different interest groups
  • The next important thing to note is the behavior of the community, e.g. what time is most members active. You can find clues from data points on the platform (see image below). This may require a bit of time to check around the clock if you are from a different timezone than US or the country which the social network originates from.
Information on membership size and number of members online currently.
How to determine users’ engagement at different times of the day.
  • Once you are able to lock into one or two time windows, e.g. morning when people are having their coffee and casual check-ins on social network or maybe late night after work and dinner when people have the free time to read social posts. If you observe closely for a week, you will pick up the active hours on different days especially the weekends. Weekends can be particularly powerful if you are capture the right time window that gives you maximum number of responses to the message you sent into the community.

Interaction

  • Before you simply think social networks are “free” marketing channels where you can get loads of qualified leads easily without spending a dime and by just posting some fancy sales pitches, think again. Both the platform and community owners are smarter than you think and nothing comes really free in this world given the fact that they have invested time and money to build the brand and the communities themselves.
  • Today, social platforms and communities are very smart in filtering users and they intentions. In short they want people who contribute and not seen as exploting the community. Hence there are community rules managed by both humans and bots installed to ensure the community thrives and not get exploited. These are some important points to note when engaging communities on social platforms:
  • Moderation mechanisms police both users and content to weed people who free-ride on the community’s growth and to prevent spamming or propagation of negative influences, e.g. explicit content, violence or discrimination
  • If your post is easily seen as a marketing pitch especially with a link-off to your own site, it would be prevented from being posted. Bots typically do this type of first tier scanning.
  • Some communities don’t allow new members to post new topics unless the member acquires a certain number of Karma points which is to indicate some form of community acceptance and affirmation.
  • Members also do communal policing help to flag posts or comments they see as spammy or of marketing nature.

These are the key points on how to navigate tight community checking regimes before executing your lead generation plan –

  • Build profile trustworthiness but participating in discussions and contributing your differentiate view.
  • Sharing experience usually helps, experience is an asset even though it is subjective.
  • Qualify you are not related to certain products or services if you plan to share useful tools or articles which are link-offs (bots are especially sensitive to members posting links).
  • Process what the community is interested in and ask good questions to solicit answers that majority would like to know.
  • To prevent being blacklisted, you can sometimes replicate content from online search by copy-and-paste into the comment section, instead of using links which can attract bots’ attention.
  • Another useful tip — certain social platforms bot scans are more tolerant towards domains with strong authority, e.g. Facebook, Twitter versus unknown and new domains. Hence it would be better to create Facebook pages or link-offs to Twits than using your own domain’s landing page.
  • Do not repeat posts across communities in order to save time because this can be picked up easily by platform bots. Furthermore, active members are likely to be in several related communities as well and this can catch their eyes to blacklist you as a spammer.

Two “drop-zones” to start getting interest and engagement that can to lead generation

  • Starting a topic: you can always test posting a topic in a community and check if the bot feels you are mature enough to be allowed to post. In Reddit, the community administrator may set the basic requirement of a cretain Karma point to reach before any member can post (see image below on example of building up profile with Karma points). This varies from community to community. The pros to owning a discussion thread is that your content is viewed first and remains sticky compared to a comment post that can be drowned by many other comments. Because of this advantage, bots are more stringent on discussion topics.
  • While some may feel this can take a long time to build profile maturity, the trick to shorten the time is to contribute good content to the community. In Reddit and depending on the community ethos, you can be surprised your profile maturity can improved within days if you hit a hot topic with many appreciative members.
Awards and engagement points given to members based on quality of participation.
Building trustworthiness within communities with peer given awards.
  • Posting a comment: posting a comment is the most basic and common action that a member can take and the controls are more loose than when a member posts a topic. Many social network users exploit this loophole by targeting topics with highest number of comments or engagement. This is a sensible approach if you do it well because members can upvote your comment if it is a valuable one, hence increasing its visibility and getting the engagement you want.

Content

  • The most important keyword you should learn in this section is VALUE — create value through your post. While the content you plan to post is supposed to lead to sign-ups, always think from the community’s perspective — what interests them and sticks with them. If you contribute a good post or comment, this gets picked up by search engines as well which means the effect is perpetual.

How to create valuable or useful content? I have observed many threads and seen the following patterns in posts which gartnered most attention. They basically help people to (1) save time, which means saving money and (2) make decisions

  • Aggregate data (things that people know but reluctant to invest time to search and summarize), e.g. price comparison, list of tools
  • Provide insights (things that people did not discover or not aware of), e.g. article or knowledgebase, solutions to problems
  • Regular updates of the above if they change over time, e.g. company earnings calendar, news, unusual occurrences of something
  • Experience or perspective that is relevant to the topic, e.g. how you achieve something in a different way, additional considerations or common blindspots in buying a property etc.
  • Good questions — surprisingly it’s not always what you answers you give but good questions will capture attention as well. You can sometimes stage questions that you can answer subsequently when the momentum of discussion builds up.
  • The other important point to note is the frequency of contribution. Bots are sensitive to frequent postings even if you have the best intentons to help the community. Time your posts to traverse the bot scans (pick up the point mentioned above on the best time or days of week to post) in order to get maximum impact. It is fine if you get good engagement via replies to your post or comment and you can keep the engagement going. It helps to get the thread bumped up as well which delights the platform owner.
  • In short, instead of dumping one or two liners with a link-off to your site for sign-ups, first seek to understand the community’s interests by analyzing which types of content get their attention.

Capture

  • There are many ways to capture your leads. Using a landing page with a sign-up form is just one way. The important point is to realize eventually you need at least one contact point per lead and where and how the majority of these leads prefer to communicate with you.

These are the methods I have enlisted to capture my leads from Reddit –

  • Redirection to a questionaire (form) where they can share their email address.
  • Redirection to my landing page where sign-up is just by their social login or email. It is super critical that you create a frictionless experience for users to get into your system where they can just register with a single click not typing lengthy email addresses especially on mobile devices. There will always be leads who are conscious of loss of privacy through social account logins. In such cases, make sure email sign-up is easy with tools like MailChimp.
  • Direct messaging with community members — it is important to note that bots are not allowed to operate in the private message space. Though you are free to ask for email addresses or redirect them to your sign-up sites, this is a very manual process. What I did was just to prepare a reply template to reduce the engagement time.
  • Redirection to other messaging platforms like Discord or Telegram — this can help me keep the leads warm with real-time communications.
  • Another advantage of Reddit is the daily email digest it provides — millions of Reddit members receive a summary of top posts in their mailbox (see my post which was featured in the daily digest from image below). If you post gets picked up, it gets another free ride to the massive user base Reddit has and this can create more momentum on your post and even more leads. I had the experience of communities members reaching out even after many days when the post was featured.
Daily email digest on hottest community topics
Most upvoted topic gets into daily email digest
  • The playbook here is mainly a strategy for low-cost, speedy lead generation. You can follow the steps but as every product or business is different, the devil is in the details, e.g. the content you generate or the questions you ask on the social platforms.
  • Do not short-circuit the “Conditioning” stage by jumping straight into posts or comments with link-offs. You are likely to fail with impatience.
  • Freebies always work, you can generate content quite easily with the resources in the Bonus Section below.
  • SimilarWeb Chrome extension for viewing traffic stats of websites to help you decide which social platforms to take on to generate leads.
  • SimpleScraper, tool to scrape website data and provide API access — you can easily aggregate data from different websites and share the data in a structured format with this tool.
  • TypeForm, for making beautiful online forms to capture user information
  • Mobirise, super easy to use landing page creator that has email capture forms
  • Backlinko, for statistics on Reddit users

Thank you for reading!

I write to improve the clarity in my thinking and to prevent dementia hopefully. If you enjoyed this article and would like to read nuggets of my serendipitous reflections in your mailbox, follow me on Medium or Twitter.



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