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Beyond the Like: Learn the Growth Strategy Used by Facebook

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

Meenal Balar helped grow Facebook to 1 billion users. Learn her user acquisition strategy and how to apply it to your business.

  • Marketing is a challenge for most startups. Social media marketing should be a priority in any strategy.
  • Knowing your customer base and what they are looking for helps you develop a Facebook growth strategy.
  • Auditing your page and changing content periodically should be part of your marketing efforts on Facebook.

What's the hardest part of starting a business? You might think it's getting funding or nailing down the logistics of making your product, but actually, according to StartitUp, it's distributing your product to your customer base as it grows. "Most companies fail not because they fail to build a compelling or useful product, but because they were not able to distribute their products into the hands of their customers." What acquisition strategies can you employ to grow your business and products? [Read related article: Tactical Startup Growth Hacks That Never Stop Working]

Back in 2009, when she was the director of international growth for Facebook, Meenal Balar figured out how to grow the social media site to 1 billion users around the globe. Facebook continues to expand its customer base (over 2.6 billion users as of April 2020, almost twice the total population of China) at an impressive 13% annual clip, according to Charles Sizemore, CIO of Sizemore Capital Management. Benzinga cites Sizemore saying, "I think that their future strategy right now, their biggest strategy, is just increase their user base, which they are still managing to do, which is actually shocking when you consider that roughly half of the world's connected Internet population is already a monthly active user."

How does Facebook do that? Here are some lessons you can take from Facebook's strategy to grow your user base.

1. Know your customer base.

According to Balar in an interview with First Round Review, there are three kinds of prospective customers:

  • Those who have never heard of your product
  • Those who know about your product but don't use it
  • Those who know about your product but aren't interested

You want to focus on the first two. (If you're really successful with those groups, the third group might come around.) You attack the first group with the usual marketing weapons – advertising, viral marketing, promotions, press releases, industry events – to create buzz. The second group represents considerable opportunity but also presents considerable challenges.

"You want to dissect that second category of people who know about you but haven't converted," Balar said. "That will drive you to understand your audience more deeply, including how they view and experience the product end-to-end."

2. Make your product easy to find and use.

The way you convert the people who know about your product but don't use it is to make it easier for them to find and use. For example, Balar's team looked at how users in Africa could register for Facebook. In most parts of the world, you just provide your email address, but many people in Africa don't have an email address, even though they have the capability to go online. So, to make it easier, Facebook developed a way to sign up for its site without an email address. [Read related article: How These 3 Entrepreneurs Are Rethinking Their Business]

3. Don't assume you know your customer.

The people who know your customers best are, well, your customers. Identify key influencers in your potential customer base and partner with them to determine their needs. Then come up with solutions that satisfy those needs. If you can develop a few key partnerships and get them on your team, so to speak, word will spread.

4. Keep testing.

Fanatically Digital notes Facebook's emphasis on constant testing of what might be considered a mature product. "The premise of testing constantly is actually very humbling. By committing to constant testing, you admit you don't know." When you find out what you don't know, you find out what customers are looking for that you aren't providing for them.

5. Look at customer data.

Pedro Arellano of Infor Birst observes that the "availability of more data can help people make better decisions. Now, decisions made with data should be more successful than those made on hunches." As you get more conversions, you get more data on customer experiences based on the continual testing. More data may point you to patterns you might not have noticed before that could be applied to make the product better or different.

6. Learn to stand out.

An important growth strategy step is to take the time to audit your Facebook content. Put yourself in a potential buyer's shoes and see your page from their perspective. With the exception of your current clients, the average Facebook user isn't likely to care much about your product or service. If you're looking to increase your market share, you have to brainstorm a strategy to stand out. What type of content on your page is likely to appeal to your target audience? What desire or need does your content fulfill? Are you informing or entertaining your audience? Are you producing emotional responses?  

7. Focus on customer retention.

Never assume that once you've won a customer, you've always got that customer, or that you can grow your customer base just because you've won a few over. Keeping customers is what allows you to grow your customers. As Paul Boyce points out in an article for Popcorn Metrics, "If you lose every customer you acquire, then you will be in a constant race to find new customers just to replace those customers that you lost. That's a lot of wasted effort, which doesn't grow your business. Like a hamster on a wheel, you'll be sweating hard but not going anywhere."

Besides the fact that it costs you something like seven times more to acquire a customer than to retain existing customers, think of your customers as water pouring into a tub. Your objective is to overfill it by adding more water – it'll never happen if there's a hole in the bottom of the tub.

Image Credit: DMEPhotography / Getty Images
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