In the end, all annoying acquisition channels eventually shut down, along with the products that predominantly rely on them. Let me explain.
Zynga grew FarmVille through sketchy, spammy practices. First of all, they notably encouraged you to spam your (non-playing) friends:
If you didn’t check in every day, your crops would wither and die; some players would set alarms so they wouldn’t forget. If you needed help, you could spend real money or send requests to your Facebook friends — a source of annoyance for nonplayers who were besieged with notifications and updates in their news feeds.
People's annoyance soon turned to anger - and quickly. If you've been on Facebook long enough, you'll probably remember FarmVille appearing in your news feed every 5 seconds:
To many, the game will be remembered more for its presence in people’s news feeds than for the game itself. Facebook was well aware of the complaints.
This caused Facebook to react (after all, they don't want to lose their userbase):
After hearing from nonplayers that the game was spammy, Facebook restricted how much games could post to news feeds and send notifications. Facebook now aims to send fewer notifications only when they’re more likely to make an impact, said Vivek Sharma, a Facebook vice president and head of gaming.
Farmville failed, and one of the primary reaons was abusing an acquisition channel to a point where Facebook had to intervene and limit their reach.
"California law bans delivery apps from listing a restaurant without an agreement". This the title of one of the most popular HackerNews threads this week.
Why would the California regulators do such a thing?
As it turns out, delivery apps use deceptive practices where they represent themselves as the restaurant. So, when people type the restaurant name into Google, they get the delivery app contact info - instead of the actual restaurant contact info.
Companies like Slice went even further and bought actual domains that posed themselves and then posed as the actual restaurant website:
If delivery apps are going to go such lengths just to mimic local restaurant sites, only can only imagine just important this Google search impersonation strategy is for them as an acquisition tactic.
If you read the original HackerNews thread, you'll also see more examples: Delivery apps advertising on Facebook as the restaurant, copying their menus and so on. Yet while this strategy may bring in short term revenue, long term it ruins the reputation of the company (and can also bring legislative changes).
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If you're in the affiliate world, you'll know that 2019 was the year of "push traffic", where affiliates do everything in their power to get you to press the "Allow" button when a website promps you to show you notifications. After you do this, you'd be flooded with different affiliate offers posing as notifications.
In July, Google introduced a 'spam filter' to block this behavior. Almost immediately, many affiliate marketers freaked out, claiming the days of running successful push traffic campaigns may be a thing of the past.
When people abuse a certain platform, the platform (eventually) responds.
People like Dru (whom I hugely respect) wrote a recent piece about SMS marketing, and how SMS as a marketing channel will get more prevalent over time. I'm pretty sure this will be the case, but I also think SMS will go over the same journey as the 3 channels & strategies above.
If its niche, it might work. But if more and more people use SMS to push their offers, it will become annoying. Carriers will react, too, either putting more restrictions on who can send SMS, or they'll introduce a spam/ghosting filter, where deliverability will get harder.
If you predominantly rely on an annoying* acquisition channel to get paying users, consider diversifying. After all, there are plenty of legit channels to try instead.
My Zero to Users is a good starting point, where I outline 32+ acquisition channels that consistently work for founders. Only relying on a channel/strategy people consider annoying* puts you in the same risk (and fate) that companies like Zynga had.
*The definition of "annoying" is "causing irritation or annoyance". In this context, it's when you're doing something (like browsing the web, looking on your news feed) and something you didn't want or expect comes up. You could argue that ads are also annoying, and you'd be right. However, companies like Facebook/Google are actively working on making them more relevant, reducing their annoyance.
With push notifications/FB random notifications/impersonating restaurant sites, the gap between what you expected and what you get is large enough for you to really get annoyed to the point where you actively start complaining about them. This is where the problem starts.
Do you agree?