Growth Hacking: Tactics for Supercharging Audience Development

Growth hacking is a common term used in the startup world, describing the strategies used to grow a business quickly and affordably. It’s the same mindset that has propelled certain media startups like Buzzfeed and Medium to prominence today. But growth hacking isn’t just for startups, argues Mezzobit founder and CEO Joseph Galarneau, who is also the former digital general manager of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Legacy publishers can adopt these strategies too, though it requires significant organizational overhaul and cultural change.

Galarneau will lead a course on these topics at the Yale Publishing Course (YPC) in July. The course invites publishing leaders to share their insights on critical publishing issues with an audience of their peers. Galarneau’s session will focus on strategies to grow audiences quickly that implement agile and data-driven tactics. Here Galarneau previews some of the topics he will discuss at YPC and explains why it is imperative for publishers to adapt to new growth strategies.

What is growth hacking and how can publishers use it in their business?
Growth hacking describes the strategies and tactics required to go from zero to 60 quickly and economically. As barriers to entry have fallen for the publishing industry, the Apollo moonshot product launches of just a few years ago have given way to guerrilla warfare. In this and prior years, the course has featured digital brands such as Buzzfeed, Thought Catalog, and Elite Daily that have built audiences over a few years that exceed those of large legacy publishers. By having leaders from these next-generation media companies share their secrets, the course enables publishers of all sizes to more rapidly build their businesses without major investment.

How can publishers integrate an agile, start-up mindset into their business?
As radical as change is in the external marketplace, the changes in internal business processes, culture, and organization must be even more extreme. Top leadership needs to intuitively understand the digital world from top to bottom, including developing a data-driven culture that prizes fact over opinion or status. Publishers need to be more internally collaborative, finding ways to break down antiquated “church-state” separations while still maintaining editorial integrity. They need to learn that “good enough” is superior to “perfect,” because they no longer have the time or resources for the latter.

How has audience development changed in the digital era?
Audience development has always been about arbitrage: acquire visitors/readers at one price so you can monetize them at a higher price. The big changes wrought by digital have been an expansion of the toolbox that marketers can use to acquire visitors, as well as the rising prominence of data in audience development strategies. Simply caring about gross numbers such as unique visitors or page views is a vestige of the rate base days. What’s far more important now is to acquire the right audience that that best aligns with the publisher’s strategies and which can drive the highest value.

What important trends are you seeing emerging in audience development?
Data, data, data. Emerging pure-play digital publishers are often much more adept at understanding the data exhaust coming from their audience and using that to enhance monetization strategies. This data competency isn’t limited to one part of the organization — it’s a basic skill required everywhere.

Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.