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By 'chicken and egg content' I'm referring to user-contributed/crowdsourced content - sites like StackOverflow / StackExchange.

When SO launched, Jeff and Joel were essentially able to 'cheat' the system by bringing in a massive ready-made audience from their respective blogs, but this isn't really an option for most people.

Reddit.com launched, from what I can tell, via a combination of sources: * They were among the first batch of YCombinator startups * Alexis and Steve ghost-contributed a lot of content to get the ball rolling * There was a bit of controversy when they switched from Lisp to Python for their backend, and this attracted fans of both languages/environments.

Now, when reddit launched, it wasn't completely like it is today. At first, reddit didn't have comments, it was just a bunch of links to various sites - essentially, a user-driven portal.

I have a similar concept in mind, and I could bootstrap the site with ghosted contributions, but it would only take me so far. The real value of the site, much like S[OFUE], comes from user contributed value-add content, and I could never generate enough of such meaningful content to help in any meaningful way.

I've considered sending emails to relevant bloggers and posting on forums asking for their input / minor contribution, but this feels pretty disingenuous to me, since for the most part I don't follow these people regularly, and likely don't spend much time on any of these forums.

Long story short - what are some great ways to promote a site (and for free, since I'm quite broke...), and entice experts to contribute early content?

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3 Answers 3

This is an interesting question, but probably not one with a simple answer. I think, unless you're already well-connected and well-known from something else, it's just down to having a good idea and executing it well, and then from there you simply have to trust in free word-of-mouth promotion (if you don't have a marketing budget).

Sites like Tutsplus actually pay professionals in those fields to contribute content to get the ball rolling and attract other users. If you don't have that budget, then hopefully you have a lot of friends who can help.

I mean, it's the same problem as starting any sort of online community, whether it be a link aggregator, a social networking site, a forum, or some other social application. If you can't pay to promote your site, your options are incredibly limited. But given the viral nature of the web and blogosphere, a truly great idea will inevitably attract a lot of attention and the site will promote itself.

Now, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a "tell a friend" / "e-mail this" / "add to facebook" / "reddit" / "digg this" link. And if you're less adverse to spammy/shady marketing tactics, you could do what the myspace founders did and go to other competing online communities and promote yourself there and try to steal their users. But the founders of myspace were spammers and telemarketers (more precisely, they sold "lists" to spammers and telemarketers) before they launched myspace, so naturally they were willing to stoop to whatever levels to promote their site.

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"can't pay" is sort of relative, tbh. I've been out of work for quite a while and my reserves are pretty much gone. I could throw some credit card cash at the problem, but it seems unnecessarily risky since it seems so likely that the site would fail (I mean, most do, right?). I'm just not sure where to advertise that would be cheap enough, and effective enough. –  AgentConundrum Aug 30 '10 at 18:06
    
@AgentConundrum: I suppose that depends on what your market is. If your site is aimed at musicians and music lovers, then taking out a $500 ad in a music magazine might be a worthwhile investment. But I'm personally more predisposed towards low-risk avenues, like exploiting personal social networks to get the word out. You can also promote locally (a good tactic if there are competing sites that don't cater to specific locales) and gradually grow into a national/international site. –  Lèse majesté Aug 31 '10 at 17:07

When you're at bottom, I believe the only way to move yourself up is to outwork the competition. It's not the fun or easy answer. But when money isn't readily available, you have to overcome your limitations by working harder.

To translate this idea, it's time for --you-- to start writing, or to find people who can help at no cost. If you have a great way to deliver this content, then there is no shame asking "experts" such as prolific bloggers to help, especially if you "compensate" them with reciprocal links. Content (plus well thought-out SEO) will in time bring viewers and inbound links, which will give you more exposure, which will lead to more inbound users, who generate more content.... The better the content, the faster the inbound links, user count, and user-generated content will build up. As you make money, reinvest it in seeding more quality content, and once you believe there's enough to support your base, adwords. Also, never stop self-promoting, cross posting, and link gathering....even if the site becomes wildly successful.

Avoid the lure of throwing money to make things go faster unless it's so close to a sure thing that you couldn't possibly suffer. My company is struggling right now in a similar phase....we are building a quality product with the money that comes in from a few beta clients and other development jobs...money is tight, days are long. There's a firm across town that's taking Venture Cap like it's going out of style....swank offices, huge payroll, etc. If they succeed, the company's value will be with those who have no other stake than putting up money. More likely, the people with money will get sick of sinking it into a black hole and turn the faucet off...and they'll go away. In 10 years, we'll own our code, our building, our destiny....and likely all be in very good shape. In your case, not only could you lose the company, but it could leave you in financial ruin if the site tanks and you have significant debt tied up trying to make it go.

Bottom line--great sites rarely just "happen" Great ideas make great success. And hard, tedious work is what ultimately makes most great ideas happen.

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  1. Regularly post great content, obtained by whatever means are available to you. There's nothing wrong with ghost writers. They give you better control to define what you're site is about.

  2. Regularly promote the site, by whatever means are available to you. Don't forget the routes traditionally used by any new product; eg newspaper, magazine, journal articles and paid advertising, presentations and demos to family, friends, business associates, clubs, etc.

Very important - Step 1 comes before step 2! And it's got to be done over and over and over again!

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