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Why “Hacking” Growth May Not Be The Best Route to Success

Kirsty Sharman
Kirsty Sharman
Founder of Aerialscoop at Aerialscoop

Plan for the rule, not the exception.

Everyday in the news we’re reading stories about some fantastic ‘hack’ that made a startup’s user base explode or generated a sudden spike in leads overnight. Just like the lottery, it can be fun to imagine what we would do if we suddenly hit on some unknown way to bring in massive amounts of revenue overnight.

If you've found that hack, you're in the lucky 1% that we all envy. Please don't forget us when you're famous!

This article isn’t meant to trample your dreams of overnight success. If anything, understanding the dangers of seeking hacks over solutions will be more likely to drive long term success for your business.

I’m aware that may not sound as sexy as finding a social media hack that will blow up your Instagram account, but there’s a reason for this, and the reason is rooted in a business principle I’ve come to love and appreciate over time.

The one key growth strategy I’ve shared with all my clients is to: Plan for the rule, not the exception.

The rule is that, ultimately, long term strategies, like writing great content and posting regularly, will in time increase your organic traffic and build your brand up as an authority in your niche.

The exception we all hope for is that our content goes viral – if this happens – amazing! But as a responsible business you should plan for the rule, not the exception.

Finding hacks is great, but if you’re building a business that needs to stand the test of time, you also need to build a foundation based on long term strategies that will bring stable predictable results.

Here are three tips to ensure you’re planning for the rule and not the exception.

1. Set realistic data driven KPIs

Fast easy hacks can lead to exciting spikes in your data that leave you with a natural high. But they can also just as easily drop off due to a sudden change in algorithms or when your competitors inevitably catch on and start using the same tactics. This just makes the drive to find the next quick fix that much more enticing.

However tempting it may be, ultimately, these aren’t strategies you can scale and continue using in the future. The main difference between true growth marketing and quick hacks is that the former is based on data driven insights, while the latter is based on lucky breaks and hunches.

Finding stable growth strategies for your company takes testing, data analysis and even more testing to find the right formula. Overall it’s a longer term process, but it rewards you with deeper insights into your customer base/audience and long term scalable gains.

A study by MIT and Google found that only 26% of companies agree that their functional KPIs are aligned with their company’s strategic objectives, revealing a disconnect in short and long term planning. The study cites one reason being that only 27% of respondents agreed that their organization is mostly or predominantly data-driven in its decision-making.

Set functional KPIs with your longer term strategic objectives in mind. Teach your workforce to aggregate, analyze and interpret your company’s data with a long term focus. Instead of looking for an X% increase in followers after one event, share the value of tracking smaller, but consistent daily growth increments over the space of a month or quarter.

2. Create a culture where failure is celebrated

Experimentation is key to innovation, but the fear of failure is what prevents most people from actually acting on great ideas that may take more time and resources. Studies show that focusing only on short term gains actually blocks the organizational learning that comes from putting effort into finding more difficult to reach solutions, ultimately hurting your business in the long run.

Invest time and resources into building a culture which encourages weekly data driven experiments, that teach you great lessons when they fail and help you make marginal improvements when they work.

The best way to offset experimentation fails is by keeping them small and contained. Instead of focusing 80% of your time on an unsure bet, try testing it on a small scale using 20% of your time. Dedicate the 80% to building more stable long term growth strategies like lead nurturing journeys and SEO content. Atlassian and Google have been using the 20% time tactic for years, leading to some of their most innovative services including Gmail and Google Maps.

So try new things, experiment, but most important of all, share results and learnings transparently. Try holding a five minute weekly standup during which teams can openly discuss something that failed that week and what they learnt from it. This practice really helps to show people that failure is simply part of the learning process and, as long as we take the time to reflect and draw insights, the experience is valuable. We do this at Aerialscoop and it really helps people to be more comfortable with the five step process we follow:

3. Look for quality, not quantity

Growth isn’t always about quantity. Focus on gaining active users, not just users. One of the biggest mistakes companies make is just acquiring as many users as possible and assuming they add value. If a user isn't actively coming back to your product and building a relationship with your brand, the likelihood you can monetize that user is vastly decreased.

Similarly, tools and hacks that promise to grow your Instagram and Twitter followers overnight may sound great on the surface, but in fact, inflating your numbers with followers who aren’t actually interested in your product or service won’t give you any useful insights. Instead, using your social channels to test the impact of different content strategies and develop a strong online brand will help you gain loyal, active followers.

Finding smart creative ways to find users is a good thing. Just make sure you’re planning for the rule and not the exception by: making experiments data-driven, sharing both successes and failures transparently and valuing quality over quantity.

Image Credit: Ken Stock/Shutterstock
Kirsty Sharman
Kirsty Sharman
business.com Member
See Kirsty Sharman's Profile
Kirsty Sharman is the founder & CEO of Aerialscoop, the leading tool driving growth through data-driven insights. She is a Growth Marketer and Product Builder. Listed in M&G as one of 200 Young South Africans to watch. Co-Founded Girl Geek Dinners JHB in 2012. Founded one of the first online media buying agencies in SA, merged with Webfluential (Influencer Marketing Platform) in 2015.