Digital strategy

Five Useful Things to Know About Growth Hacking

Last week, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $16bn (read more about this in our digital marketing news). It’s safe to say the social networking giant has come a long way in its ten-year history – from humble beginnings in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard University digs to the social media behemoth it is today.

Integral to Facebook’s enduring success is the concept of ‘growth hacking’: the use of resource-light and cost effective marketing tactics to help grow and retain an active user base.

In this blog post, we talk through five of the most useful things to know about growth hacking, and how it can be utilised by online businesses effectively.

1. What growth hacking actually means

Startup marketing growth hacking blog post screenshot

Image source:

First coined by start-up marketer Sean Ellis in 2010 (as shown in the snippet above), growth hacking, otherwise known as ‘lean marketing’, involves employing low-cost and innovative tactics to grow a user base, sell products and gain exposure. Although typically associated with start-ups, it is a concept that is scalable for any online business keen to maintain the growth and retention of an active user base.

In the words of Wikipedia, growth hacking is a marketing technique which:

“… uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure. It can be seen as part of the online marketing eco-system, as in many cases growth hackers are simply good at using techniques such as search engine optimisation, website analytics, content marketing and A/B testing, which are already mainstream.

“Growth hackers focus on low-cost and innovative alternatives to traditional marketing, i.e. utilising social media and viral marketing instead of advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper and television.”

 2. Growth hacking is marketing, but a growth hacker isn’t necessarily a marketer

 Growth hacking diagram

Image source:

Sounds confusing, right? Not once you’ve got your head around it, we promise. Lauren Hockenson spells it out clearly in her Mashable article from 2013 – Growth Hacker: A Buzzword Surrounded by Buzzwords.

She explains that growth hacking is exactly like online marketing in that its primary objective is to get more people to use a service or product, and to keep them using it for as long as possible (and indeed to get them to encourage other people to start using that service or product too).

Where a growth hacker’s role differs from that of a traditional marketer (yes – ‘growth hacker’ is a real life job role) is in its focus upon ‘non-traditional methods’, says Hockenson.

“Because teams at start-ups are relatively small, it’s up to the growth hacker to execute user acquisition strategies from soup to nuts. That may involve some amounts of coding, framework development, A/B testing and other methods that more traditional marketers may overlook.”

To put it briefly, growth hacking is broadly about combining marketing and developmental know-how to pull off automated marketing strategies on a shoestring. This could be direct integration with already established social platforms – the game Candy Crush is the perfect example of this, with users being prompted to ask their Facebook friends for help to get them to the next level at various stages of the game. Or it could be something much simpler, like putting links at the bottom of email signatures, as in the early Hotmail example we look at in the next section.

It all links in to what we’ve been banging on about for ages at Fresh Egg: integration and cross-disciplinary working to get the most out of what we do.

3. It has contributed considerably to the success of some of today’s biggest online companies

So, now we’re up to speed on what growth hacking actually is, it’s time for examples to really hammer the point home. Check out the growth hacking techniques employed by some of today’s most successful online businesses:


As told by Andy Johns – one of the growth hackers behind the success of Facebook and Twitter – to Forbes magazine, here are some of the hacks that helped Facebook get off the ground:

  • Embeddable Facebook badges or profile widgets for users to post on their own sites and blogs
  • Purchase of service providers in third world countries to acquire their technology to help get hold of more email addresses
  • A secret tactic to attract highly desirable targets to sign up, which Johns wouldn’t tell Forbes about (how intriguing is that?!)


Example of Twitter notification email

An example automated Twitter notification email

Johns was also the guy behind some of Twitter’s most successful growth hacks. Again, he told Forbes about some of the tricks and techniques that worked best for them:

  • Simplified homepage solely geared to encourage signups or logins
  • Persuading new users to follow at least 10 people on Twitter when they join
  • Automated notification emails


DropBox homepage screenshot

The DropBox homepage as it is today

DropBox is one of the kings of growth hacking. Check out this KISSmetrics blog post for more information on the following DropBox hacks:

  • Signup driven homepage
  • Super-simple signup process
  • Incentivised refer-a-friend scheme
  • Incentivised social sharing


Hotmail email signature growth hack

Image source:

One of the most old school examples, when Hotmail was a new thing, it automatically added the signature ‘Get your free email at Hotmail’, with a link to the sign up page. Simple and cost-effective growth hacking at its best.

There are so many more examples out there to be found:

  • Quora – Weekly digest emails, related questions, easy social sharing (find out more in Mattan Griffel’s SlideShare presentation embedded at the bottom of this post)
  • LinkedIn – Ultra-simple sign up form, one click endorsements, ‘People You May Know’ feature (Read more here)
  • YouTube – Making it super simple to share YouTube videos on users’ own sites with the embed code (Read more here)
  • Buzzfeed – Simultaneous and real-time testing of headlines, text and images to see what will increase sharing (Read more here)
  • Airbnb – Easy posting of Airbnb listings straight to Craigslist (Read more here)

Honestly, the list is almost endless. If you’re hungry for even more examples, just give ‘growth hack examples’ a quick Google and you’ll be entertained for hours.

This SlideShare presentation from Mattan Griffel, founder and CEO at online web development teaching company One Month, is from August 2012. Although nearly a couple of years old now, it explains the concept of growth hacking clearly, with real life examples. Be sure to have a click through. 

4. It goes beyond the product itself

As Neil Patel explains on Quick Sprout, growth hacking is not only about understanding how aspects of your product can be leveraged to help facilitate growth, but also about understanding how people travel around the internet. If you can get to grips with distributing your product or service in the right places on the internet – i.e. where your target audience hangs out – you can then start thinking about the type of hack that might be appropriate.

One of the examples Patel uses relates to social media. Where we would have used physical streets to go hang out with our friends, we now use Facebook. The ways Facebook can be used to help grow your user base is almost endless. Again, the Candy Crush example of asking Facebook friends to help you get to the next level is a perfect example of a growth hack that steps outside the realm of the product itself.

5. It has been around longer than you think

The concept of ‘growth hacking’ has been around for ages, even if the buzzword is a fairly recent addition to your vocabulary. As we mentioned earlier, Hotmail used it in its early days. Stepping into the offline world, you could even say old school ‘refer a friend’ schemes for your local hairdresser or car garage are growth hacks aiming to word of mouth recommendations.


So there you have it, that’s growth hacking in a nutshell. The key things to remember are:

  • Growth hacking is about marketing at its leanest
  • Used properly, innovative hacks needn’t be costly or resource-draining
  • Cross-disciplinary working is key…
  • … as is understanding the channels and paths users take around the web
  • Some of the biggest online entities today owe their success (at least in part) to effective growth hacking policies


Are you a growth hacker? Has growth hacking helped your business grow online? Let us know your thoughts by leaving your comments below.