June 20th 2020
Co-Founder & CEO @ CryptoTrader.Tax – tax software for crypto investors
In 2017 I launched a College and University themed version of the game Cards Against Humanity. College Cards, as I dubbed it, was my first ever ‘official business’, and as a 22 year old recent college grad, I was pretty excited when I sold $13,000 of the game to University of Wisconsin students just 45 days after launch.
How did I do it?
I growth-hacked the College Cards Instagram page with fake followers, fake engagement, and fake everything to make it look like the game was all the rage.
This way when I drove real traffic and real people to the Instagram account, it looked like College Cards was simply something you had to own.
It worked well. Honestly, too well.
The game went so viral that the intellectual property law firm representing the University demanded that I shut the whole thing down and threatened me with a trademark infringement lawsuit if I didn’t comply.
Looking back, this was one of the best things to ever happen to me.
It’s the reason I wound up pursuing the entrepreneurial path and why I was able to start a new company which has become 10X more valuable than College Cards ever could have been.
But more on that later…
Allow me to explain exactly how I growth-hacked Instagram to drive hundreds of product sales and thousands of dollars of revenues in a short period of time
College Cards Instagram Follower Count = 0
The goal was fairly straightforward. Prior to launch, I wanted to create an engaging and seemingly popular Instagram page for College Cards that would showcase the game. This way, once I started driving traffic and real people to the Instagram page, they would be much more inclined to check it out, interact with a post, and perhaps even buy the game.
I started out by buying 500 fake followers for the Instagram account. Perception is reality, and my plan was to make the account appear as if it was all the rage before the game was even launched.
To buy the followers, I simply typed “buy Instagram followers” on Google, and went with a company that was using Google Adwords to bid on that search term. It might have cost me $20 back then to purchase 500 followers.
College Cards Instagram Follower Count = 500
Next, I needed a solid gallery of photos and content live on the Instagram page before I started driving traffic to it. This way once people landed on the account, they had content to peruse and tag/share with their friends.
I took pictures of the game content with my iPhone. I intentionally made the combinations that I posted on Instagram as outrageous as possible. I knew that the more raunchy and ridiculous I could make it, the more buzz and word of mouth the Instagram page would generate.
Fake Engagement 101
It wasn’t enough to just have fake followers. To make the account look like it was thriving and active, I also needed some of that Grade A fake engagement.
I needed people liking and commenting on the game photos to create the illusion that the game was popular, hilarious, and fun.
In the fake world of Instagram, manufacturing fony engagement isn’t hard to do. It’s just time consuming.
Every time I’d post a new photo, I’d head over to Kylie Jenner’s Instagram account, open one of her recent photos, and comment something like: ‘LB’, ‘Lbbbbb’, or ‘LB LB :)’.
You see, Instagram is a huge cesspool of fakers. ‘Engagement’ is the currency of the cesspool, and as a result, it has become commoditized. You can purchase fake engagement just like you can followers. There is a whole micro-economy that lives to generate this type of engagement. And there are huge numbers of people working day and night to try to game the cesspool system.
People like me.
By simply commenting LB (“Like back”) on the recent posts of insanely popular instagram accounts like Kylie Jenner, other poor souls would take the time to click on my profile and like my photos in hopes that I would return the favor and “Like back” theirs in return.
Below is Kylie Jenner’s most recent post on Instagram. Take a look at the comment section, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
So, this was my system. Post a hilarious and outrageous photo, comment hundreds of times on Kylie Jenner’s Instagram account to generate phony ‘likes’, and then do it all over again. My College Cards Instagram content was generating hundreds of likes this way, and the page was coming alive.
Generating fake comments was harder. Especially for an Instagram account like College Cards.
I could have simply commented “Comment back” or “CB” on Kylie’s posts, but doing this would only get me a bunch of pre-written comments like “So inspirational <3” or “Love THIS” (perhaps you’ve seen these fony comments on some of your friends’ Instagram posts!).
I didn’t want these spam comments on my posts. I wanted real comments talking about how freakin’ awesome my card game was. It’s these types of comments that inspires people to take action and purchase the game.
So I simply recruited my friends and asked them to comment on my new Instagram account for the game I was creating. I had sent them copies of the game prior, so they were commenting their honest opinions about the game—they just needed a little push from me!
The Stage Was Set
After a couple weeks worth of work, my Instagram account was done. I had about 12-15 photos in my gallery showcasing hilarious card combinations from the game. Each photo had more than 100 likes and were filled with comments from my friends saying how much fun it was.
At this point, I had spent months preparing for launch day. My launch plan was simple: send as much qualified traffic (University of Wisconsin students) as possible to the College Cards Instagram page.
If my thesis was correct, this traffic and these people would check out all of the pictures and posts and I had worked so hard to generate and pump up with fake engagement. They would see how great this game was and potentially buy themselves a copy.
To drive this qualified traffic to the Instagram page, I did a couple things.
1. Get UW students to post and tag @College_Cards in their Instagram stories
Prior to the day of launch, I reached out to all of my UW friends and connections and explained the game I had created and how I really could use their help to get the word out on the day of launch buy tagging @College_Cards on their Instagram stories.
All of my close friends were happy to do this for free. For others I offered discounts and free games in exchange for shoutouts.
For everyone who agreed to participate, I sent a number of product pictures/card combinations of the game that showcased it being played. I instructed them to write whatever they wanted about the game and simply tag @College_cards on the day of launch.
Using this method, I had between 30-50 Instagram accounts ready to shout out the game on launch day.
2. Aggressively follow as many UW students as possible
On the day of launch (as well as days following the launch), I spent hours and hours simply ‘following’ students on Instagram who went to UW Madison. This was extremely time consuming, but for every person I followed, they received a notification showing that “College Cards” just followed them. They then proceeded to check out our instagram account showcasing the game.
The combination of these two things sent a wave of traffic to the Instagram account on the day of launch. My phone completely blew up that day with notifications, alerts, and messages.
Just as planned, people were tagging their friends, commenting, liking, and messaging in asking how they could get a copy of the game. The techniques mentioned above drove thousands of page impressions and hundreds of click throughs to the website where the game was for sale.
The game was selling fast, and that first day I sold more than $2,400 of College Cards to students who found us through our Instagram account.
45 days following the launch, I had officially sold more than $13,000 of the game almost solely through Instagram.
So then what happened?
About a month after the launch, the virality of the game started to take on a life of its own. School newspapers were talking about, kids on campus were playing the game with their friends, and those friends were then buying the game and playing with their friends—starting the process all over again.
The flywheel was rolling.
Unfortunately it all came crashing down once the intellectual property law firm that represents the University caught wind and demanded I shut the whole thing down.
I love sharing these real-life growth tactics with as many people as possible.