Black Hat Growth Hacking? A Plan or Just Wrong

This was written in 2010 when “growth hacking” was becoming the cliché we all now know it to be. Data privacy, analytics, and content development has matured but marketers continue to push the envelope for a leg up on the competition.

Lately, we have been reading lots of how-to growth marketing blogs and articles. Most of which are insightful and thought-provoking. There are lots of great ideas and philosophies in this burgeoning landscape. But there seems to be also a dark underside to growth hacking that harkens back to the Wild West Days of SEO.

What seems to be happening is that the drive for business in the cyber world is clouding the judgment of people who are striving for more market share. From buying users to inflate growth numbers in the app world to online commerce sites spamming craigslist. The drive for user numbers and the consequential sales numbers and prospective investment dollars has taken many growth marketers closer to The Darkside.

The ultimate cost of these tactics is the loss of trust from the prospective consumer and from the all-important venture sector. Many don’t care about ethics or data privacy. To many VCs and businesses, it is worth the risk of consumer alienation⏤user acquisition at any cost has become the Holy Grail of the growth hacking marketing. Consequences are not thoroughly thought out and if they are, they are seen as a necessary evil to reach user acquisition and revenue goals.

Ultimately, we believe this will become an issue of critical mass. Users will tire of the endless not-so-transparent ploys for their personal data. Growth marketers who exercise moral principal in the design and implementation of their marketing strategies will be the ones to suffer. The days of the bait and switch, free sign-up, and paid users will hopefully come to an end as the user becomes more educated.

But for the time being, the problem continues to grow.

Author: Sean Johnson

Sean Johnson is the founder of 7x Strategy•Tactical.