Need to quickly grow your email list? I’m going to share with you a simple and repeatable strategy that I used to add 1000 new leads to an email list in just 7 days. It’s called the “Viral Challenge” and uses an inexpensive app called Upviral.
Last year I worked with a health and fitness brand to run their first ever challenge.
Engagement on their email list and social media was low and I wanted to help them get people excited and engaged. I had used challenges in the past for this – and for email list building – so I decided to test it out with their brand and audience.
Ready to hear what I did? Let’s do it…
The “Viral Challenge”
I’m always looking for ways to take an idea and make it better. Sometimes that means taking a completely unique angle and sometimes it means combining two or more strategies.
I didn’t want to run a challenge solely to their existing audience and established channels. I wanted to be proactive about hitting larger growth numbers. I wanted to be more aggressive.
My idea was to combine a challenge with a recruiting contest. The thought was, if I could give people points for every person they recruit and then reward them with prizes at different points tiers we should see much faster growth and greater reach.
Now that I had the plan, I needed a challenge idea.
Coming Up With a Challenge Idea
On Wed, September 6th I started thinking about challenge ideas.
I didn’t want to do some crazy extreme diet or exercise challenge. I wanted to choose a challenge that would align with the principles they teach. Something related to patience, consistency, and anti-extremism.
The idea I came up with was a walking challenge.
Walking is something that nearly everyone can do. It’s a good fit for beginners but can also be a great thing for people who are already in shape.
By creating three different difficulty levels we could make the challenge appeal to a wider range of people.
My team and I decided that the three difficulty levels would be:
- 14 miles (1/day average)
- 42 miles (3/day average)
- 70 miles (5/day average)
Now keep in mind, this was an “intentional” walking challenge. In other words, the challenge isn’t about adding up all the steps you take during the day. The only miles that count toward the challenge are miles you accrue on an intentional walk.
We also wanted to teach people a little bit about nutrition during this challenge, so we set a separate goal task of changing up one meal per day and created a guide for exactly how to do that.
Lastly, we encouraged people to try and get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. By combining these three important practices, the challenge participants could get much better results than by walking alone.
Because of the combination of simple practices, we decided to name the challenge the Walk+ Challenge. It was primarily walking, plus a couple other small practices.
Creating the Challenge Sign Up Page
Once I had the idea for the challenge, I needed to create a signup portal for people to join. We were literally going to announce this challenge the following day, so I had to move quickly.
I jumped into Divi and created a landing page for the challenge…
Divi has come to be one my most valuable digital marketing assets. It only took me about an hour to create that completely custom landing page and set it live.
Once I created the landing page, I had a new problem. How was I going to integrate the recruiting contest into this challenge?
I needed a way to assign people a unique URL to recruit with as well as to calculate and track points people earned.
Using Upviral to Create a Recruiting Contest
I started looking at contest software to help me run the recruiting contest aspect of this challenge.
To seamlessly integrate with my contest, the software would have to:
- Collect signups on the landing page.
- Be able to send those signups to ConvertKit.
- Be able to pass each person’s unique share URL to Convertkit (so I can reference it in emails).
- Calculate and track points.
- Unlock rewards automatically.
- Send traffic to a waiting list signup page once the contest is closed.
- Report accurate stats related to organic signups and recruited signups.
That’s a lot to ask. There are may different choices for contest software, but it’s hard to find a single app that does *all* those things.
That’s where UpViral came in.
Now understand this: I’m not easily impressed by software. It’s very easy for me to find faults and become frustrated.
I have to say that UpViral is one of the most intuitive and well-designed apps I’ve used.
The setup process for creating a new contest is extremely easy.
Integrating UpViral with Convertkit was a no-brainer, as was passing a participant’s unique share URL into a Convertkit custom field.
Integrating UpViral’s pop-up signup form with my landing was problem-free.
Setting up rewards, triggering emails when rewards are unlocked, and keeping track of stats is all simple and straightforward.
I had never used or even heard of UpViral before this challenge and I had the entire recruiting contest setup and deployed in less than an hour.
Total cost to setup a recruiting contest for this challenge: $49.
Getting the Word Out
Now that everything was set up, I had to get the first batch of people into the challenge.
I had no idea what numbers we’d be able to hit, so I set our official challenge goal at 500 participants.
Here are the channels I used to promote the challenge:
- UpViral (the recruiting contest)
Rather than trying to be everywhere, I decided to target 5 specific channels. Here’s what that looked like:
At the time, this brand had 8000ish email subscribers on their list with open rates in the 20-30% range. Pretty good.
I sent the big announcement email out about the challenge on Thursday, September 7th. The open rate was exactly 20%.
Even though email is really powerful, it’s frustrating as hell sometimes. Consider this…
You send an email to 8000 people. With a 20% open rate, you hit 1600 eyeballs. Out of that 1600, how many actually read the email versus opening and then deleting?
There’s no way to know.
Out of that 1600, only 167 people clicked a link to learn more about the challenge.
It’s unbelievable, really. You have 8000 people in your audience and end up driving 167 people to a web page with a single email.
This is why you have to email multiple times about the same thing and be diligent about email marketing best practices.
After my big announcement email I sent a few follow up emails and gave the challenge some extra mentions in the PS section of unrelated emails.
Having a podcast is very valuable. If you’re considering starting one, make sure you check out my how to start a podcast guide.
One of my favorite podcast promo techniques is to create a temporary episode.
I do this because the nature of podcasts is such that people will listen to episodes that are deep in the archive. I don’t want them to have to listen to a bunch of stuff that’s no longer relevant or that might change in the future.
We recorded a short, temporary announcement episode and dropped it into the podcast feed. That got a few thousand downloads and drove some additional subscribers.
Once the sign up date passed, I simply deleted the episode from the feed.
Facebook & Instagram
I promoted the challenge on their Facebook page and Instagram, neither of which had a huge following (5000ish on Facebook and 1000ish on Instagram).
There were only two primary strategies here:
- Talk about the challenge organically, with motivational/inspirational posts that encourage people to do the challenge.
- Post a countdown promo image every day for 8 days (I posted the first promo image before I officially announced the challenge to get a few people in the door from social media for testing purposes to make sure the systems and integrations were all working properly).
I was moving quickly and didn’t have a lot of time to spend on graphic design. With so many moving parts to a challenge like this and so many tasks to complete, I needed to keep things simple.
For simple graphic design tasks, I love Stencil. It’s like Canva, but so much better in a lot of ways.
Stencil has design templates that are pre-sized for various social media channels and uses, so you always know you’re designing in the right dimensions.
It also lets you change the dimensions after your design is done, to fit a different use. You just have to make some small tweaks.
Then—and this is really awesome—you can share the design to various social media channels right through Stencil. For instagram, Stencil will text the image to your phone so you can download it and upload it to Instagram.
Here are the 8 countdown designs I made to promote the challenge on Facebook and Instagram…
On Instagram, I made sure to target various hashtags which helped these images show up in different hashtag feeds. I don’t have any stats for how many sign-ups this brought (I don’t think it was many), but they did get a lot of new followers, likes, and comments.
I also posted these images in a private Facebook group we made for all the challenge participants. I let them download and use the images in their recruiting and it served as a good hype tool to keep them engaged until the challenge actually started.
Enter UpViral – The Viral App & Strategy That Really Made This Work
The most important part of this challenge, by far, was the recruiting component through Upviral.
Get this: after all that hard work to promote the challenge to our existing community, we only had 410 people sign up for the challenge directly.
I still don’t really have a handle on what that means. It should have been much higher. Perhaps the challenge topic wasn’t of interest to them. Or maybe it wasn’t a good time (it was a slow part of the season).
What saved our ass was UpViral and the recruiting component. 748 leads were recruited into the challenge by other challenge participants.
That’s a total of 1158 sign-ups.
There’s no way to calculate it precisely, but I would say that about 200 of the signups were already existing email subscribers prior to running the challenge. So, we got a little less than 1000 new leads from this challenge and most of those came through the recruitment strategy.
The rewards I offered for recruitment were:
- A $100 voucher off their mid-tier program (2 referrals) – Low-hanging fruit to give people an incentive to join the program after the challenge.
- A free t-shirt ($19 value – 5 referrals) – I gave people a 100% off voucher code to use at their Shopify store – so Shopify handled orders and fulfillment for this automatically.
- A lifetime scholarship to their mid-tier program ($495 value – 20 referrals).
- An all access lifetime pass to all their programs ($1500 value – 40 referrals).
I used email to help motivate recruitment, coach people on how best to recruit, and posted a daily leaderboard of the top 5 recruits.
The UpViral to Convertkit integration was pivotal in this. UpViral passed each participant’s unique share URL into a custom field in Convertkit. That allowed us to give participants their unique share URL in every email we sent them.
The most points accrued by a participant in the 7 days was 201. Here’s the official breakdown:
- 1 person sent 40 new leads and earned the all access lifetime pass.
- 7 people earned the program scholarship, sending 20 leads each.
- 35 people earned the free t-shirt, sending 5 leads each.
- About 100 people earned the $100 voucher.
So, thanks to Upviral we kicked off the challenge with around 1100 (about 58 dropped out before the challenge even started) participants.
Creating the Curriculum & Guidebook
We told people there would be a curriculum and some guidebooks to go along with this challenge. The problem was, we hadn’t created them yet.
This is not a rare thing. When you’re moving fast on a project like this, you just have to make promises and then grind hard to fulfill them.
It’s better that way. If this challenge had been a dud we could have just cancelled it, no hard feelings. If we had done weeks of planning and prep work on all this stuff and then it turned out to be a dud, we were out all that time and money.
Now that we had 1100 people hungry for a curriculum and a guide, we were highly motivated to create both.
We ended up creating two guides and a series of emails.
One guide, the “basic eating guide,” was created from an existing guide they had been offering for a while. The Challenge Guidebook itself was created from scratch. And the emails were all created from an existing email series (just tweaked to apply to the challenge more specifically).
All three parts of the curriculum were created in a single day.
Growing Their Podcast Simultaneously
One of the side-benefits of doing a walking challenge is that it makes listening to a podcast a perfect fit.
We were not shy about highlighting that fact. We sent out podcast listening and subscription instructions in multiple emails and even dedicated a full page of the guidebook to getting people to listen.
This is great because the podcast is a powerful conversion channel. Even if these new listeners don’t sign up for a program during the challenge there’s a good chance some of them will sign up down the line as they continue to listen to the show and warm up to what’s taught and talked about.
Any time you can add close to 1000 new leads in a single week, it’s a great thing. If you can do that for under $100, even better!
The best part about this strategy is that it’s repeatable. They’re going to take the exact framework I built and aim to run a viral challenge – with Upviral – every quarter.
With each new challenge they’ll test a different challenge topic to see if they can find one that knocks it out of the park in terms of engagement and conversion to sales. If they do, I’m going to show them how to turn that into an Evergreen Viral Challenge 🙂
Stay tuned for more!