Market Your Website Before You Launch It

Social media start-ups suffer from a special problem: scalability. It’s hard to know whether the features will scale unless you get a lot of beta testers. You don’t want to throw your service wide open to the public until you’re certain it won’t melt down – but how do you get people to sign up while you’re still in stealth mode? Keep reading for some tips.

Let me give credit where it’s due: Shane Snow first wrote about this for Mashable. He pointed to the example of social media startup Kohort, which managed to get thousands of users to sign up for it while it was still in stealth mode, and no one outside the company knew what it would be. In fact, Kohort is still in stealth mode. So how did they do it – and how can you duplicate their success?

It all starts with a shareable “Launching Soon” page. This page needs to be more than a placeholder, though; it needs to be interactive. Kohort’s page asks users to enter their email address. You can also add a button that lets users easily share the page with their friends. Kohort raises the bar on this by encouraging visitors to “stake a claim” to their username, inspiring a sense of limited time and resources (“Get here before everyone else does”). I’ll be talking more about that in a bit.

To lure users to your yet-to-launch website, you need to create viral content. In one sense, that may sound a little counter intuitive; if you don’t have content on a public website yet, how do get viral content out there? Fortunately, sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook come to the rescue here.

Snow describes one example, infographics startup Visual.ly: “They attracted curiosity and in-bound user potential with an infographic-type video describing the site. It wasn’t just a plain (read: boring) video about some company launching. It was a spin on its own market: data visualization. People shared and watched the video more than 50,000 times in a couple of weeks.” Find a creative way to express what your startup does in a video – not something boring, but something that’s an actual reflection of the market you’re getting into – and you could strike gold.

Use Facebook and Twitter to help get the word out about your viral video content, and your landing page. You could try to get major blogs such as Mashable and TechCrunch to write about your company. Or if you  have your own blog, talk about the kinds of problems that your startup is going to solve. Other people who have the same problems will definitely get curious, and that’s the first step to signing up.

The third thing you can do is make a game out of it. But not a stupid game; make it fun. Give people something for playing. Snow cited the example of game developer Chris Carella, who gave users the chance to get early access to the site if they talked their friends into joining the waiting list. For every friend that joined, they got bumped up in the queue.

A spokesperson from Sumazi commented on Snow’s article to say that they’d gone a step or two further. They integrated Facebook and Twitter into it, and reward their users for sharing “by showing them what # they are in line to get access to beta, moving them in our beta list, and even serenading them. We have also been tracking who is inviting who (and from what platforms) and thanking them in the process.” Reward interaction with more interaction.

If you’re still wondering how you can get users to sign up for something when they don’t even know what it is, believe it or not, that can actually be a strength – at least initially. Snow notes that “anything that sparks curiosity – in the right way – gets under our skin.” Hence Kohort’s landing page urging users to “stake your claim,” even though they don’t know what they’re staking a claim to, exactly. So play on the sense of exclusivity and/or mystery surrounding your startup. No early adopter wants to miss getting in on something that turns out to be cool.

Which brings us to the final point: make sure your product or service really IS cool. As Snow notes, “if a startup’s product sucks, it doesn’t matter if it has four users or 4 million when it launches. But if a company has something cool or useful to show the world, an extra thousand users or so to share your message can be pretty nice to have around on launch day.” Good luck!

For more on this, visit: http://mashable.com/2011/05/04/startup-launch-buzz/.

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