Growth March 25, 2020

Lessons From Hitting The Front Page Of HN Twice In A Week

RJ Youngling @RjYoungling

Thought it might be interesting to share what I've learned from getting to the front page of Hacker News for those of y'all that're trying to incorporate HN in their marketing strategy.

To put this in perspective. I run Youngling & Feynman, we help companies grow for free in exchange for an ex-post fee. I study what makes companies great and write essays about that. Some of those I've posted on HN.

Let's go.

In no particular order:

### 1. Create something outstanding.

It's fine if it's divisive. It's going to be pretty hard to hit the front page and not get at least some hate but a subset of people need to love it. I try to avoid the phrase 'add value' because it's so overused that it has come to mean the opposite but, you really do want to try and create something of extraordinary quality.

Now you're not the judge of that. The audience is. However, you can control the effort you put in. So in general, if you're proud, you've probably given it your best shot. If you just whipped something together, the probability of success is low.

2. Titles absolutely fucking matter!

I dropped my copy background because I read how HN is full of scientists and engineers and the more matter-of-fact your copy is, the better.

This is both false and true.

It's false in the sense that technical people are still people. They share all the same heuristics and it's absolutely possible for a GREAT post to fail because of a shit title. (This is essentially what a key part of marketing entails, how do I increase the value by fucking with the perception while leaving the product alone. E.g. Wine out of a box v. that same wine out of a beautiful and heavy glass bottle.)

Good titles aren't clickbaity but they DO need to spark some interest. My advice here is to just post multiple variations and spend a lot of time on HN. Eventually, you'll develop a feeling of how to communicate. (Which is not as informally as I'm doing right now.)

E.g. My essay The Art Of Business took off (in part) because I titled it 'Why is business so difficult and unpredictable?'

Questions are hard to ignore. I'm not sure it would've gone anywhere had I followed the advice of giving it a more to the point title: 'Business can't be formulaic because they collapse into a Nash equilibrium.'

That being said. The content should probably lean slightly towards academics. That's just an artifact of the crowd. [1]

3. Serve them.

Steve Blank once said something along the lines of 'don't use your users to serve your business model, use your business model to serve your users.'

This is essentially a marketing insight and it's true on HN as well. If you view HN as a means to an end, you've already lost.

You should go into it (and all your marketing for that matter) from a position of generosity. How can you give instead of take? Then you measure the degree to which you're succeeding by your revenue. Goodhart's Law really is something you need to be mindful of.

4. Experiment

HN allows you to post multiple times provided your posts didn't get comments. I don't think many people use that opportunity. As any marketer worth her salt will tell you, marketing is not math, it's comedy. You have a gut feel and then you test it against reality. So do the best you can and see what happens. Nothing? Iterate and try again.

Finally, I really want to stress both point 1 and 2 again. You should really try your hardest to make something that's incredible. (Excluding something like MVP's where the goal is to mainly test your demand hypothesis). [2]

Content you're proud of, coupled with a good title has a fairly decent shot at getting a few upvotes. Get around 10ish and you're likely to hit the front page and that's when you'll go from a couple hundred to thousands of visitors.

Also, don't do things like asking for upvotes. I saw people that got in trouble by doing that. HN's software catches it but even if it didn't, it's already a sign that you're not in the right mindset (what's in it for them v. how can I use them to reach my own goals.)

Good luck,

RJ

[1] An essay that hit the front page today got flagged, and I think it's in part due to the new copy of my pop-up, which is very copywriter style. It's also possible it's due to the topic Covid-19 which I covered in that essay.

[2] This is in the context of HN being a part of your marketing strategy.

  1. 2

    Absolutely love this: "It's false in the sense that technical people are still people."

    Keep it simple! ;)

    1. 2

      Thanks Joel <3

      Yeah... I forgot about that haha. There's so much content about how vital it is to be super bland on HN and it's just not true.

      It's absolutely true that buzzfeed type headlines will work against you, but all rules about influencing human behavior still apply. Get attention, communicate clearly and persuade.

      1. 2

        Exactly boss!