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Stop ‘growth hacking’ – you’re embarrassing yourself

I'm in a private Facebook Group for people who advertise on Facebook. Many in the group call themselves "growth hackers", "acceleration gurus", and "ninjas."

At least once a day, someone will discover some "amazing growth hacking" tool that promises to grow your user base or social media account (no, not "grow", it's usually "EXPLODE!") and ask, "Should I try this?"

The answer is almost always: Please, no.

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Just today, one fellow posted a shiny new web-based app which will watch your brand's Facebook page and wait for someone to take any action on a post of yours (for instance: like, comment, share, etc). This app then jumps in and starts an automated Facebook Messenger chat with them, presumably to start selling things.

This app, and hundreds like it, will be gone in a month – removed and banned by Facebook for violating its terms and conditions. Pages that use them may be at risk of being closed as well. Say "that won't happen" all you want; it's happened, and Facebook has the right to do so.

In the case of this particular app, despite what it claims, there is no way it's "approved by Facebook." In fact, read further down its sales page and you see that what's approved is the use of Application Program Interface (API) actions (Facebook's backdoor for app developers). That may be true. But that doesn't mean all users are automatically free to do what they want.

For instance, many apps, like Sprout Social and Agorapulse, are allowed to "like" comments on social posts. The API permits it. But that doesn't mean they're allowed to mass-"like" thousands in a single go. These "growth app" developers won't tell you that because they don't care about your brand. They only care about their own profits.

Worse, think about what's actually happening in the app example I mentioned: It will start a Messenger conversation with thousands of people. Next month, you go to create a campaign of people who have messaged your brand – usually, a strong-performing audience. But since your app "talked to" thousands of people (who didn't actually initiate the conversation), you now have thousands of people who didn't really message your page. And next time you try to deploy an ad program using this audience, you're paying for a lot of people who couldn't care less about you.

People who start conversations with your brand's page are usually a strong, targetable audience. Use this app and you'd be dumping everyone who simply engaged with your page into that bucket.

Congratulations. You have a useless and expensive, audience. That's what you get when you take shortcuts with marketing.

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People want to believe in tools like this because they don't want to put in the work. This happens every time there's a new social technology.

When Instagram came out, everyone raced to use "follow bots" to artificially boost their follower numbers. Then, when they later tried to target their followers, those same "growth hackers" started complaining that they had thousands of poor-quality people who really would never convert.

Marketing is not a "growth-hacker" exercise. It is about building effective, trusted relationships with people for whom you can solve a problem.

The ageless Three Ts still apply. Marketing takes time; it takes testing; and it takes trust.

Thus, anything – like this app – that promises super-fast results (anti-time), a simple one-click process (anti-testing), and an automated approach to relationship development (anti-trust), will fail.

The only people who will make money off this app are its makers, who will close down a couple of months later (or get shut down) and move onto the next thing.

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Don't think it'll happen? Go to instagress.com right now. Just a month ago, everyone in those advertiser groups thought this was the next best thing.

Now it's closed. Shut down by Instagram.

Stop it.

Tod Maffin (@todmaffin) is president of engageQ digital, one of Canada's top social engagement firms. His email address is tod@engageQ.com.

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