Few things in business are as impactful as a growth engine which brings in users for free. The internet, by its very nature, has repeatedly seen the rise of platforms and media that enable marketers to get users for free. While some startups and brands reap a rich harvest of free organically acquired users on the internet, many are unable to crack that code.

People often talk of startups that were at the right place at the right time. Quite often, the actual reason behind the success of these startups is their ability to leverage a larger change that was afoot.

One such ‘large change’ that comes around every few years is a new user acquisition engine for the web. Such engines go through a cycle of sophistication and startups that figure them out in their early days often scheme rapid traction.

User acquisition platforms go through a cycle of sophistication

The basic premise is that user acquisition platforms go through a cycle of sophistication. The cycle typically pans out in the following manner:

This was probably the first user acquisition platform which end users could leverage at a global level without having to go through an editorial filter. (Yahoo and other portals, which were really efficient for acquiring users, had editorial filters ‘installed’)
Google and Search
Search is probably the single best free user acquisition method over which the marketer has reasonable control. When it launched, it was exactly what a growing web with millions of documents needed.

Facebook and Social Media
Enter Facebook and Social Media that powered user acquisition through recommendation at an entirely new scale.

Here’s the important thing about user acquisition platforms. From the perspective of the publisher, the platform helps with user acquisition. But from the perspective of the consumer, the platform helps with content discovery. Hence, Relevance makes or breaks such platforms and marketers who realize this are able to use it in a sustainable manner.

Two things happen with spam: either the platform cracks down and becomes more sophisticated (as in the case of email and over time Facebook) or it brings down the platform altogether since its unchecked and leads to a very low signal-to-noise ratio (Orkut).

So let’s get back and try to figure out the next content discovery platform and try to game it while we can! :)

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