How Crew turned one upvote into thousands of visitors

How Crew turned one upvote into thousands of visitors

If you’ve been around the startup scene long enough, you’re sure to have heard one of the most contentious pieces of popular advice being flung around:

If you build it, they will come.

While some people argue that a unique and valuable product will always succeed regardless of any marketing behind it, just as many are quick to call the whole thing BS. For writers, marketers, and content creators, the dilemma isn’t any different.

We can just as easily rephrase the same advice to:

If you publish it, they will come.

In other words, should you be spending the bulk of your time building or promoting? Will your perfectly crafted blog post attract an audience even without spending time spreading the word?

When it comes to splitting your time, expert marketer and blogger Derek Halpern recommends applying the popular 80/20 principle to content marketing — spending only 20 percent of your time on creating and 80 percent on promoting:

If you spend time writing a piece of content, and that content only gets 1,000 readers, chances are there are one million other people in the world who can benefit from what you wrote.

Again, Derek’s stance has brought on the naysayers. In his post Pimping your posts and the myth of the 80/20 rule, Mark Schaefer argues that cutting down on the amount of time you spend creating great content will only get you ‘blog tourists’—those first-time readers who are unlikely to become your blog residents.

Mark goes on to say that, instead, you should spend time creating quality content to engage your loyal return readers as they are the only people who will create long-term business value for you:

What makes a reader love your stuff enough to want to return again and again? Is it the amount of time you spend on a blog post and audience engagement, or the amount of time you spend promoting your site?

Only quality builds a loyal audience. Only a loyal audience creates business benefits.

So, just how much time should you spending promoting? And how?

The truth is, it depends on many factors.

For instance, an experienced blogger like Mark Schaefer, who has been blogging since 2009 and has built a massive, loyal audience, might not need as much content promotion as a beginner blogger.

And, experience aside, it depends greatly on what your goals are in writing. At Crew, we have three goals guiding our content strategy for our blog and side projects:

  • Create value
  • Build trust
  • Raise awareness for Crew

It’s almost impossible to build trust and create value without starting off by creating top-notch content. That’s why we have the ‘don’t publish if it isn’t good enough’ caveat. Which is exactly as it sounds. If we get to a point with any project where we don’t think it will engage our audience or provide them value, we scrap it.

However, when we talk about ‘creating awareness’, that’s where things get a bit more nebulous. It isn’t as simple as making damn good stuff. We need to get that stuff in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

Our company values walk the line between ‘build it and they will come’ and the 80/20 rule of promotion. But it’s in this in-between space where we’ve found serious success, with our writing and projects being seen by millions of people around the world.

When we publish any content, there is a lot we do to distribute and promote it, from sending it to our newsletter subscribers, sharing on social media, pitching to influencers, and even spending a bit of money on ads (depending on the purpose of the content).

But, among all of these promotional methods there’s one that we’ve found has brought some of the most attention with the least effort.

When one upvote is worth a thousand visitors

Over the next few years, there is no doubt content and attention will continue to shift from tens of millions of web sites to a few centralized networks that people access via apps on their phones.  — Ev Williams

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And in Ev’s words, those tens of millions of websites are the “loosely connected islands” that few people know how to optimize.

Today, instead of visiting your loosely connected individual website, an increasing number of people look for answers on Quora, pictures on Instagram, videos on YouTube, slides on Slideshare, or articles on Medium.

And such centralisation isn’t only happening across different content verticals. People tend to group around certain topic areas, too.

Thousands of design junkies meet on Designer News, inbound marketers on Inbound.org, tech geeks on Hacker News, product people on Product Hunt, and growth marketers on Growth Hackers.

And, in a world full of these ‘centralized networks’, a writer is able to attract 32,540,152 views simply by answering other people’s questions on Quora.

Or a homeless guy can become so famous on Vine, that when he organizes a meetup in Brazil, the riot police are called in to quell the crowd of thousands.
So then, it’s no wonder an increasing number of businesses dedicate significant marketing resources to managing these distribution networks actively.

Indeed, those centralized networks have become so powerful that there are now even businesses like Panda or Muzli that solely focus on curating all those networks in one place.

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The power of centralized networks

Now, the fact that there are sites curating sites that curate your content might sound a bit ridiculous, all of these networks offer an incredible opportunity for your online business (and one that we take advantage of as much as possible at Crew).

This is an era where one upvote/recommend/thumbs-up on a centralised network like Hacker News can easily drive a few thousand visitors to your website, and a few hundred new subscribers/customers/sign-ups.

Let’s get out of the hypothetical view for a moment and look at some real examples of how we’ve utilized these networks to drive our own growth at Crew.

Below are some of the things that happened immediately after I published one of my latest Medium posts, Side Project Marketing is The New King:

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The power of these networks comes in how they’re often used as discovery platforms where people regularly return to find new, cool stuff. And those people who have just found that new cool stuff share it on other networks — personal or not — leading to a potentially infinite viral loop.

We can break down the flow to a few pretty simple steps:

  • Every passing second, thousands of crowdsourced links are submitted on those centralised networks by the community
  • The community then rewards the best content with upvotes or thumbs-ups, where each additional upvote brings up to a few hundred more views on the submitted content
  • The most upvoted content slowly floats to the top and once it hits the front page of one of these sites, each additional upvote, which used to initially drive only a few hundred views, now becomes a traffic machine and brings a few thousand additional visitors
  • Congratulations, your content just found the right loop and will be seen by people who never would have visited your site on their own.

Here’s another example from an article we published recently on Medium,  How we’re designing Dream Crew:

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We’re in an era where you no longer have to rely on those top blogs reserved for an elite few to feature your startup. An era where even a randomly submitted link to a niche sub-Reddit can bring traffic equal to what you would get by spending $20,000 on advertising platforms.

And, instead of hoping or waiting for other people to submit your content to those networks, you can submit it yourself and use those centralized networks to your advantage.

If you are just beginning…

or don’t have an audience who will help you gain momentum on those networks, here are a few tips that might help:

If you don’t have a ‘gang’, you’re probably missing out on 90 percent of what’s really going on behind the scenes. By gang, I mean a group of friends and teammates who constantly support you by sharing or upvoting each other’s stuff. Ask your gang to show some love, but keep it with only a few friends and never explicitly ask for upvotes on any network (but do ask for feedback). At Crew, we always share any link to our content in our general Slack channel so that every team member has a chance to check it out and can share with their own community if they choose to.

  1. When asking your gang to show some love to your content, never send them the direct URL. Unusual traffic from the same direct URL might spark an alert and get you blacklisted. Ask them to search for and find your content on those networks on their own.
  2. If you want to better your initial chances you can always spend $5 to $10 on Facebook or other ad services to send visitors to your content. You’re doing this to give you content a chance. Good content will pick up, but spending a fortune on ads can’t save bad writing. This $5 to $10 range is just a boost to see if the momentum will pick up on its own.
  3. Some networks allow multiple submissions of the same link, and indeed, sometimes it takes submitting the same link a few times before it gets traction.
  4. Submitting your content to as many relevant networks as possible works in most cases. Below I picked some of the random networks that have been driving significant traffic to the articles we’ve published in our Medium publication
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    (Note: If you’re using networks like Reddit, never underestimate the power of sub-channels such as reddit.com/r/programming orreddit.com/r/web_design or reddit.com/r/webdev)
  5. You can turn the same content into multiple formats and distribute it in different content vertical networks. You can cross-publish your blog post on Medium, turn it into a presentation and upload it on Slideshare, use some of its paragraphs to answer top-followed questions on Quora, or turn it into an infographic or a video tutorial.
  6. While these networks represent a huge opportunity, we, the marketers, have a reputation of ruining everything by exploiting any opportunity. Try to game the system and some networks will put your IP on the blacklist forever, or downgrade and punish your content immediately. Again, you’re doing this to give yourself a chance to go viral  —  good content will pick up, but even an army of bots won’t help bad content.

With so much writing and content being pumped out every single day it’s no wonder that we’re seeing this shift from tens of millions of individual web sites to a few centralized networks.

And these centralised networks continue to grow in influence and power. If you want to get the most out of the work you’re already doing, you have to realise that distributing your own content isn’t only about sharing a blog post on Facebook and Twitter in hopes of getting some likes or retweets.

In our case at Crew, these networks have proven to be such strong growth drivers that we now have a dedicated team member who is managing our entire distribution exclusively for centralised networks. If you want to get your work in front of as many people as possible it’s time you started making good use of these networks as well.

This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.

This post originally appeared on Crew.

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