Startups, Stop Doing Press Releases

For years, startups have found themselves obsessed with the infamous press release[1]. For a time[2], these releases could prove quite impactful. It was a powerful tool to broadcast company news and to gain online exposure. Unfortunately, startups got carried away[3]. The press release became a free-for-all, broadcasting funding news, new executive hires updates, launch releases–you name it.

The press release became so heavily ingrained in the marketing ecosystem that even if a piece didn’t have any journalist interest, a release still went out. Many used this tactic to compensate for the fact that nobody would agree to write a story on the “news”. These paper-thin announcements were shared as some great accomplishment. 

A problematic consequence quickly emerged. Executives failed to take an important step back to evaluate their launch strategy objectives. For many, the goals of any launch release are brand awareness and new customers or leads. If you just want the announcement to live on the web and be searchable, leverage your blog or social channels. To maximize brand exposure and generate an on-going stream of customers, there are better options than the old press release.

Startup Press Release Alternatives

Back in 2014, when I was the head of marketing at StumbleUpon, I came across Ryan Hoover who had built a platform that was being touted as “the StumbleUpon for products”. Clearly, I was intrigued. Hoover had built a platform called Product Hunt[4] that enabled users to easily find new products. Anyone can add a product–whether or not they own it–and allow others to discover it.

In the past few years, Product Hunt has grown exponentially, reaching millions of users and hundreds of new products launched each month. It has become the go-to place to discover new products and to test drive products launched by tomorrow’s unicorn companies. Product Hunt has also become a phenomenal hub for startups to launch products or test new features.  

Product Hunt Best Practices

At Affinity[5], as we considered emerging out of beta, we decided that our biggest objectives were to increase brand awareness and to increase lead generation. Instead of focusing on the press, we opted to first launch on Product Hunt because we knew it’s where our prospects live. We also loved the product page that allows for two-way communication and customer reviews. At the end of the day, an authentic review from a customer, even if not 100% positive, is more valuable than all the glorified jargon we marketers can hash up.

As I began researching Product Hunt best practices, I noticed that people were constantly trying to uncover ways to hack the system and win the coveted top product of the day award. Coming from a background in social media, I know that for every hack, there is a team of engineers focused on plugging that hole. Chasing everyone’s “tricks” tends to lead to more harm than good.

In order to generate a list of best practices (and to debunk common myths), I chatted with 10 founders who had had successful Product Hunt launches.  Here are the top suggestions that worked for Affinity and that can help set your startup up for success.

One of the major keys to a successful launch is preparation and a thoughtful strategy. The first step involves defining your objectives for the launch. Doing so will allow you to most effectively allocate your time to reap the most benefit from the platform.

I suggest adding your product to Product Hunt two months prior to your launch. You can accomplish this with Product Hunt’s new “Ship[6]” feature. It is free, yet you need to pay for some of the best features in the premium version. One of these premium features is the ability to schedule your launch on a specific day (this ensures that no one else can “launch” your product on the platform prematurely).

Another important aspect of a launch is timing. The best launches tend to leverage an existing audience base. Accumulating happy customers (and their coveted email addresses) while your product is in beta is crucial. Ship allows you to upload a list of customers and/or followers (each of whom has given you permission to email them) right to the platform. This will increase the follower count that appears on your Ship profile and enables you to message list members as your launch approaches. You can also administer surveys and polls to generate feedback on your product. Two-way communication is huge in creating advocates and early evangelists[7].  

It’s important to consider aesthetics early and plan ahead. Your product profile is an extension of your brand. It lives on even after your launch. Select screenshots of your product/feature that best communicate its value. Here are some examples of brands that built beautiful pages: Muzzle[8]Opera Touch[9]Islands[10]Unbounce[11]Coda[12]. GIFs and videos work incredibly well. We prioritized a short explainer video alongside several customer testimonials in order to add validity and value to our page.      

Many blogs claiming to hack the Product Hunt platform contend that a lot of focus should be placed on sourcing a “hunter,” someone with a large follower base who agrees to add your product. While this tactic proved effective a year ago, it has since declined in effectiveness because followers aren’t notified as overtly now.

Instead, I recommend hunting the product yourself and investing significant time in the months preceding launch to building relationships with members of the community. As well, take time to be a daily active user on Product Hunt yourself and encourage your team to as well. All “makers” (developers of products that have been hunted) are added to a launch and their followers get notified.

When it comes to launching your product, authenticity is king. The costs that arise when you attempt to game the system can prove fatal. The Product Hunt confirmed that they not only routinely monitor their own platform for suspicious behavior, but also monitor the forums, Slack channels, and subreddits of anyone who is attempting to gain the system. All the effort entailed in these attempts can be quickly muted if you get caught.

For Affinity[13] and the other startups I interviewed prior to our launch, Product Hunt was a powerful platform and worth the investment (which is often less than the cost of a Press Release). Launching can also happen in conjunction with an embargoed story to garner even more impact. PR professionals know the importance of building impact for companies that are ready to handle the influx of users or leads.  But remember, more is not always better if you aren’t prepared to handle the inbound. Think about your launch goals, not in terms of one event and more about how you can turn the first event into a healthy stream of opportunity. 

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of
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