Intro to CHAOS Promotion Seminar

CHAOS is a fast-paced, high-energy team that concentrates on finding new ways to promote Stack Exchange sites. So when the Stack Exchange moderators asked for some help with their grass-roots promotions, we decided to publish a series of posts outlining our most successful efforts. These posts should be helpful to any users who want to promote their own Stack Exchange community.

To kick off this “promotion seminar” series, here is a summary of previous projects, lessons learned, and links to more information.

Sponsoring (or Crashing) Events

When you hear of an interesting event related to your site, get out there and talk to people! Interact with them face to face. It will give you a chance to explain what Stack Exchange does and help spread some of your enthusiasm for the community.

NYC Lightsaber Battle (for SciFi): Yes, this happened. We gave away Jedi robes to 35 lucky winners, and everyone there received Star Wars-themed stickers with SciFi questions on them.

Rock ‘n’ Roll 10k (for Fitness & Nutrition): We set up a booth, handed out Fitness-branded water bottles and nutrition bars, and brought a massage therapist to give the runners a much-deserved back rub at the finish line. The Stack Exchange Fitness tent attracted a large crowd, which gave us plenty of time to talk to people and take their pictures with Bubbles, the Stack Exchange mascot.

Comic Con (for SciFi and Gaming): A band of CHAOS agents (Bubbles included) took NYCC by storm with more Star Wars stickers, SciFi and Gaming-branded stickers, and limited edition t-shirts.

Virtual Berry Tasting (for Cooking): Sounds weird right? Actually, it was brilliant! Driscoll’s Moments did a cooking demo and streamed the event so that other berry fans around the country could participate. It was a great way to bridge online and offline communities and introduce Seasoned Advice as a resource for chefs.

Important lessons: consider how you are going to capture the attention of the people at the event. Bubbles is great for making people curious enough to stop and talk to us, but there are also other (smaller) things you can do to get attention. The Star Wars stickers and nutrition bars were effective because we had the audience in mind when we got them made.

Also remember that the end goal is to drive users to your site. All the swag we give away is branded, and whenever someone wants their picture with Bubbles, we give them a card with our blog url so they can come check it out later (and visit our site in the process).

Surfing an Excitement Wave

At the beginning of November, everyone in the Gaming community was really excited about the back to back launch of two epic games: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. We capitalized on that excitement by throwing a launch party on behalf of Gaming.SE to see which game generated the most interest. We converted the Fog Creek cafeteria into a gaming hub with food and commentators, and streamed it live. Oh, we also crashed (and filmed) the midnight releases of both games.

Important lessons: Capitalize on events that excite your community – it’s a great opportunity to build up a body of questions that will be popular in the coming weeks. As people start to search for these subjects, the depth of questions about them on your site may attract some awesome new users.

The Modern Warfare 3 vs. Skyrim promotion is our best example of riding a wave of excitement, and we’re working on new ways to adapt this tactic for other sites.

Sponsoring Blogs and Inviting Reviews

If there is a Stack Exchange site about a topic, there’s certainly an online community about it somewhere. If you want to reach these people, a few good places to start are the blogs and online magazines they read. We’ve sponsored and been reviewed on several blogs - Young House Love (for DIY), Grammar Girl (for EL&U), and American Stat. News (for Cross Validated) to name a few.

Important lessons: Do your research. Choose blogs that are related to your site and familiarize yourself with their content. Make sure the blogger accepts sponsorships, and focus on people who have medium-sized followings so they’ll pay attention to you. One effective method of reaching bloggers is to offer something that benefits the author. The interview on American Stat. News is a great example of this – they published it for free because Cross Validated was useful for their readers.

As with any other promotion, remember that the goal is to get new users. So when you sponsor a blog, make sure you have a hook to draw their readers to SE. Don’t just throw an ad up on the blog. Send intriguing questions to link to or interview the blogger beforehand and have them link to that. Put the interview on your site's community blog and it will act as a gateway to Stack Exchange.

Random Acts of Internet Kindness

A great way to win people and influence friends is to give back to the people that make your field great. But it’s not always easy to do what we like to call random acts of internet kindness, so here are a few examples…

Give out swag Site-specific swag, to be exact. Talk to the community, ask what would be useful, and then get it for them.

Connect people When you know someone who needs help and you know someone who can help them, play matchmaker. The Stack Exchange Beta Tester Matchup Program is a great example of this. But you can make efforts to connect people on a smaller scale – like getting an expert to answer someone’s burning question.

Make people feel important This is related to the blog sponsorship idea, but it warrants another mention because you can do it without any money. It can be as simple as retweeting or leaving a comment on a blog. If you make enough contact with someone, they’ll start to learn who you are.

This is only a brief glimpse of what CHAOS has been up to for the past 5 months. I hope these examples inspire you to launch a few promotional projects of your own. If you have any ideas for promotional events, let us know. We plan to profile more ideas and delve deeper into specific events and promotions, so check back!

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