One of the most powerful ways to develop web site traffic is to enable your users to share their content through your web site with others–to create community around user generated content.
Many of the fastest growing web sites of all time did this (or do it now): MyFamily.com, eBay, GeoCities, Xoom, Homestead, MySpace, Epinions, Hotshots, LinkedIn.com, Meetup.com, Friendster, and more.
A recent company which admits they stumbled into this user generated content model is Flickr. Flickr is a phenomenal photo sharing site. Check out its traffic growth on Alexa. With no marketing dollars it has become one of the fastest growing sites in 2004. Read this great interview with its founders in Fast Company.
There were many super fast growth photo sharing sites in the late 90’s. Some were acquired; some went out of business. At MyFamily.com we had tens of millions of photos from our users but these photos were not public–so we didn’t get the kind of “free traffic” effect that comes when search engines indexes all this content.
But we did get this effect on Ancestry.com where we hosted enormous amounts of genealogical content submitted by our users. Our message boards had more than 10 million posts and our Ancestry World Tree with more than 350,000,000 submitted names was among our most popular databases.
When I advise companies on fast growth strategies, I tell them that to survive you have to have a real business model but to thrive you should also take a page out of the 90s playbook: create a user generated content strategy that is related to your business.
I don’t have time to give specifics right now, but imagine getting your customers to blog, use message boards, upload photos or reviews
With open source software (for message boards, blogs, uploading photos, and more) and with the cost of hard drive storage a tiny fraction of what it was five years ago, the time has never been better to try a user generated content strategy.
One of our companies, iCount.com will embark in the next few weeks on a user generated content and social networking strategy in the political arena which I hope will give it a place in the fast growth companies I’ve listed above. In a few weeks or monthly I’ll tell you how this goes and what lessons we have learned.