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Growing a start-up community from 0 to 25,000 members in 7 days

What is every growth marketer’s dream? Something impossible to measure in numbers. I put it as follows — kick-off a campaign which you would not able to stop yourself (so-called “viral”). New customers will keep coming, bringing a few of their friends with them, ensuring exponential growth for your community.

Sounds exciting? We lived this dream a few months ago collaborating with a US-based startup and growing their community from 0 to 39,657 members as of today (and growing every hour).

Below you will find a case study/guide. You can learn how we did it — all the fails and successes on our path and take our best practices and apply them to your own project!

Everything starts with…

The product, right. We won’t cover the product building and market fit testing within this article — we assume you already have a product MVP which is ready to go out to the masses.

Community building around the product should happen way ahead of your final launch date — that’s a great market fit testing strategy and we have seen countless cases when entrepreneurs decided to adjust their product based on the first feedbacks coming from the community. So what do you need to start building a community around your product?

  • Sales landing page describing the main product benefits
  • Unique value proposition (why join early?)
  • Email/phone capturing mechanism
  • One-way (newsletter/announcements channel) or two-way communication channel (Telegram, WhatsApp, Reddit or similar)
  • Pro-active community manager

So, where do we really start? Use existing resources

Chances are you already have some existing customers – this is where you start!

We were lucky to have a database of ~2,000 customers using another product developed by our client. The people who are already buying a product from your brand or reading your newsletter already like you, so why not ask them to “like” you again?

Unfortunately, only 290 customers (~14%) found it interesting to hear about our new product and we couldn’t stop here.

That’s where we are startingThat’s where we are starting

1. Step — Look around

When you understand it is not enough with your existing database, the logical question to come to mind is what are other options for growing your community? Let’s go through some together:

  • Paid Advertising (Social, Search, Display)

Every business has tried Facebook, Youtube Ads or AdWords. Those have become traditional channels for digital advertising, which is a nice way of saying — not so effective. To kick-off the community growth with traditional advertising techniques you will need to have quite a big advertising budget or just use it as one of the supporting channels for other campaigns.

  • Social Media campaigns

Contests, lottery, giveaways, and private events are more suitable for existing community engagement rather than new active community building, so it is not the best option either.

  • Inbound marketing

Producing great content and bringing value to your potential customers is definitely a way to go for your long-term content marketing strategy. If it brings value to your users, it will also bring value to SEO (higher ranking in Google).

While we are constantly doing it and keep it in mind for long-term, it is not our magic peel for quick community growth.

  • Outreach

Cold emails? Support forum conversations on related topics? Commenting on the trendy Instagram hashtag and Youtube videos? Popular events and content sharing/retweets?

While it helps to leave breadcrumbs relating to your product all over the web and build a long-lasting social presence, positive results require a well thought out posting strategy and considerable investment in terms of manual efforts. Without proper incentives to join your growing community, it will be lost money.

  • Incentives to join your community, referral, and “network-like” marketing

Win-Win for all parties is a lie, nobody cares about your business win. The only “win” you need to care about is your customer’s win since that’s the only thing they care about.

To support organic growth you need to have a great product and a customer-winning referral program in place. While it sounds easy, it rarely works in practice.

Leveraging word-of-mouth marketing was chosen as the core strategy for our community growth efforts, supporting it with all others.

Did it pay off? The TOP 10 community members by referral amount invited 6,563 friends to join our community with the following split:

1st (biggest influencer) — 4,996 referrals
2nd — 389 referrals
3rd — 235 referrals
4th — 190 referrals
5th — 176 referrals
6th — 123 referrals
7th — 118 referrals
8th — 116 referrals
9th — 115 referrals
10th — 106 referrals

How is it possible? Continue reading…

2. Step — Preparations

At this step, we know the strategy we will be using to grow our community but a lot of unanswered questions arise:

  • What is the right incentive for your target customer?
  • Will it bring positive ROI?
  • Which tools to use?
  • How to kick it off?

Incentives for your target customers

Everyone has heard about the famous Dropbox two-sided referral campaign showcasing 3900% growth in 15 months. However, dry residue is all about giving away free money and product features to your customers with a thought out financial model.

Our client’s App was all about receiving cash-back from your purchases and being a more convenient solution for mobile payments (similar to Venmo). The only reason a user would download it was to save money and earn from their network’s purchases. The promoted App had its virtual currency — it simplified our campaign a lot.

After several workshops with the client, we came up with the following incentive for new users who will be joining the community.

  • For completing the given tasks — 10 virtual coins
  • For each member that joins using a unique referral link, you will receive an additional 2 coins

What are the tasks users had to complete? Quite simple: join and follow the community, pre-register in the App, providing extended information about your profile.

NOTE: you need to figure out the comprehensive financial model which will bring positive ROI before offering giveaways to your users. In our case, a user would get a 25 USD referral bonus after his referrals spend 99 USD within the app (decreasing proportionally to community size increase) with the withdrawal limit being 30 USD.

Worth to mention, the described campaign can be tailored to any business needs, it is possible to give away any other value-bringing things to your community.

Tools to use

Our goal was to eliminate any frictions the user journey had, spending a maximum of 2 minutes on sign-up and getting your unique referral link.

Therefore, the following toolset was chosen:

  • Telegram Group to manage community
  • Telegram Messenger Bot for automated and engaging referral campaign
  • Google ReCaptcha and email verification to manage bot-free sign-up

Telegram Messenger Bot to support your campaign

Frictionless experience is a must-have in our time. Below you can experience a custom-made Telegram Messenger Bot we have built to make our campaign more engaging and frictionless for users:

3. Step — Kick it off

Okay. We are ready. Are we? At the moment we have:

  • Incentivised our offering to our target audience
  • Telegram Messenger Bot to automate referral campaign
  • Outreach strategy to support unique offers

Experience our Telegram Messenger Bot in action once again:

Experience Telegram Messenger Bot in actionExperience Telegram Messenger Bot in action

The outreach strategy is an essential part of our plan to get critical mass joining our campaign. We planned the following activities on the launch date:

  1. Three industry influencers highlight the campaign during the first three days
  2. Information about the campaign was constantly posted to all related industry forums and groups
  3. Supporting Facebook, Youtube and Twitter Ads campaigns are launched
  4. Cold mailing campaign to email lists acquired through our partners

The next step was to drop a message about the campaign to the 290 members we have in our community…

4. Step — Fail, Evolve, Repeat

We dropped the message about the campaign to the existing 290 community members before starting the outreaching campaign. And the lesson was learned — we failed.

Lesson learned — always do user testsLesson learned — always do user tests

LESSON LEARNED: Before finalizing the incentive strategy for your users, run at least 10 user tests to ensure incentive split is fair and motivating enough for your main audience groups.

We understood that the target audience is not interested at all in joining the campaign. What was the solution? Increase the bonus x5 and decrease it over the time ensuring we are still bringing positive ROI following initially calculated financial model.

Final incentive split after user testing:

  • For completing the given tasks — 50 virtual coins (instead of 10)
  • For each member that joins using a unique referral link, you will receive an additional 10 coins (instead of 2).

and here we go…

DAY 0 – 2:03 PM

  • Brought initial activity to the group (stimulating conversions)
  • Adjusted message dropped
  • Launched Facebook and Twitter Ads

Community growth chart during the “preparations” periodCommunity growth chart during the “preparations” period

DAY 1 – 7:09 PM

  • The first influencer posted information about the campaign
  • Launched Youtube Ads
  • Started active outreach on targeted forums and groups

Day 1 community growth chartDay 1 community growth chart

DAY 2 – 4:20 PM

  • The second and biggest influencer posted information about the campaign
  • Continue very active outreach on targeted forums, groups, twitter

Day 2community growth chartDay 2 community growth chart

DAY 3 – 1:58 PM

  • Third influencer posted their video
  • Continue very active outreach on targeted forums, groups, twitter

Day 3 community growth chartDay 3 community growth chart

DAY 4 – 11:48 AM

  • First two influencer videos started to get maximum reach
  • Continue very active outreach on targeted forums, groups, twitter

Day 4community growth chartDay 4 community growth chart

DAY 5 – 8:39 PM

  • First and the biggest influencer posted information about the campaign
  • All planned outreach campaigns were completed for chosen sources

Day 5 community growth chartDay 5 community growth chart

DAY 6 – 9:01 PM

  • All campaigns were stopped — we were shocked by the reached numbers
  • Active community management and answers on all questions

Day 6 community growth chartDay 6 community growth chart

DAY 7 and ongoing

  • Users still continue coming to the group and inquiring about joining the campaign — we could not stop them.

Day 7 community growth chartDay 7 community growth chart

And that’s only the beginning — What’s next?

As for today, our community consists of 39,657 members, which was accomplished with ~3,000% growth in just seven days.

Managing a community has a lot of parallels with the relationships you create in real life. If you put in the time and effort in developing a very personal relationship, you will reap the benefits. It is all about bringing value, engaging with customers, and naturally obtaining new customers.

Having a large community is great, but every business should keep in mind the real reason behind growing a community and always act with your best business objectives in mind.

If you already accomplished this hard path, check out Community Management tips and tricks!

This article was written by Glebs Vrevsky, co-CEO of Scandiweb and the head of the Digital Marketing department. Have any questions? Want to see what Scandiweb can do for you? Just shoot us a message at [email protected]! Check out our Growth Marketing services here and get ready to grow!

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