So here you are: One startup among the thousands that have trudged to Dublin to strut their stuff. Meetups, investors, keynotes, and more – this is where it all comes together.
Or so you thought.
Last year, we attended Web Summit and quickly realized that if we didn’t stand out from the crowd and shine a spotlight on our fledgling startup, we’d find the initial potential and value we saw in our ticket quickly diminishing.
So we decided to do something about it…
How We Hacked Web Summit to Generate 47,000 Pageviews in 3 Days.
Growth hacking, i.e. creatively fostering exponential interest in or use of a product, is best achieved by playing to your strengths. Or, more accurately, only achieved by playing to your strengths. Remember this, because we’ll come back to it in a minute.
When trying to standout form the crowd at Web Summit 2014, our first break came in the form of Web Summit’s own structure: Each year, the summit has an ‘Alpha’ startup category, in which startups with a turnover under a certain threshold are invited to exhibit everything from ideas, to prototypes, to finished products just grabbing their initial traction.
In short, the Alpha category is for early stage startups.
It’s also the largest attending company group (last year, 1,547 startups exhibited as Web Summit ‘Alphas’).
Oddly enough, although the Alpha program is marketed as an invited, special program, there’s very little post-care and followup on what it means to be within the Alpha “program” after you’ve registered; this is especially true once you arrive at the summit, where the only reminder that you’re in the Alpha Startup crew is that you’re placed in a certain room.
In short, we realized that Web Summit had created a group of entrepreneurs with some sort of feeling of group belonging and exclusivity, but then given them very little to engage with.
If we could create some sort of meaningful way for Alpha startups to broadcast their identity and engage with each other, we wouldn’t be competing with any official channels or campaigns, and would probably get a fair amount of interaction.
Now, remember that thing about playing to your strengths?
Well, our primary product is a survey creation tool, and the wheels on the create-a-competition-using-the-Alpha-startups bus started turning early on in our brainstorming because polls are fairly easy to start, manage, and follow up with.
But how did we make sure it would land? How would we spread the word?
Phase 1. Laying the Groundwork
The premise was simple: We would create an online poll using our own tool in which startups in the Alpha program could invite their friends, fans, and customers to vote for them by name as the ‘Most awesome Alpha startup of Web Summit 2014’.
Because Web Summit had provided us with a list of the other startups who would be attending when we registered, we had a starting point for reaching out and inviting each company to participate in our competition. That said, making contact with over 1,500 companies individually was going to be very time consuming.
To alleviate this, our lead developer created a script that would go through and create an email address from the attendee registry by affixing “[email protected]”, “[email protected]”, and “[email protected]” to the domain of each startup. Because nearly every company has at least one of these addresses active, we could be confident that our hit rate would be high if we mass emailed these addresses.
Our next challenge was making participation in the competition as easy (and thus as likely) as possible. Luckily, we already had ‘sources’ functionality for our surveys, which essentially let users create a number of unique links to the same survey, so that they can keep track of where their respondents were coming from.
For our purposes, we used this functionality to create a unique link for each startup, which, when visited, would automatically input the startup’s name into our poll and vote for it. So far, so good.
Phase 2. Baiting the Trap
With mixed-yet-hopeful expectations for our little experiment, we sent an email out to every generated address on our list, announcing the ‘Most Awesome Alpha Startup’ contest was underway.
In each email, companies would find a link to a uniquely generated web page on our site that provided them with three things:
- The auto-vote link for their startup name
- A QR code to print out which redirected to the vote link
- An embedded vote button for their websites which, you guessed it, automatically scored a vote for their startup
Everything up to this point had happened in the one day before our departure to Web Summit.
We hit send, and we held our breath.
Phase 3. Riding the Wave
In the first two hours, over 1,000 votes were cast, but then things started getting really crazy.
In a waterfall effect with no end in sight, Alphas started sharing their links everywhere. Facebook, their websites, and especially twitter.
Within a few hours of sending out our email, we found ourselves at the top of the Web Summit site’s ‘Web Summit Social Media Influencers’ list.
Votes continued to pour in, and the nextday , with Web Summit itself kicking off, our site traffic was seeing its biggest spike since launch.
We started approaching Alphas at the event in person about the competition, and noticed several had printed off their QR codes and displayed at their exhibition booths.
Three days and 27,357 votes later, the contest drew to a close.
On our end, the experiment was an indisputable success, adding several thousand followers to our social media presence and amassing a whopping 47,000 pageviews on our website.
(In case you’re curious, Nextome was our winner with precisely 9,999 votes.)
How can you apply this to your startup.
Web Summit 2015 is in full swing right now – but it’s definitely not too late. Look for trends you can capitalize on amongst other attendees. How can you use the functionality of your own product or service to creatively solve a problem for attendees? To create a buzz? As with any kind of growth hacking activity, there’s really no perfect blueprint, and what works best for you will largely depend on your skillsets and company strengths.
It may go over like a lead balloon, or you might end up with a (lucky) flood of traffic and brand awareness like we did.
Either way, might as well try.
If you don’t get the results you’re looking for, learn from what did and didn’t work, and then bring that experience to one of the many, many other conferences coming up.
Attending Web Summit right now? Drop us a comment and let us know how it’s going – we wish we could have made it this year!
Wish you the best in standing out from the crowd,
Brandon & the Responster Team