Everything Becomes Growth Hacking

If your platform is being exploited by growth hackers, you need to moderate it, or you threaten its long-term health, reputation, and survival. It’s not easy—because growth hacking always finds a way.

By Ernie Smith

Here’s a warning to platforms where people interact: If you don’t properly moderate, you are essentially building a slippery slope—hell, a slide—on the way to growth-hacking content.

Now, to be clear, growth-hacking content, in this context, is content that is intentionally built for purely commercial reasons, but more importantly, is about the act of making money. There’s a related phenomenon called content marketing, but the thing that separates content marketing from pure growth hacking is that content built for growth hacking is as close to the hard pitch as possible without actually doing any hard pitching.

They want you to spend money now, or later, but more importantly, they want you to see them as the go-to resource for making money yourself. And every single platform you use favors the growth hacker, whether you realize it or not.

The reason is obvious—they want it more than you. It’s how they make their money, and they are willing to use every trick in the book—including and past the point of generating their content through artificial intelligence—to get their message heard.


Growth hackers get married, too.

I have seen this issue emerge on lots of platforms over the years, with LinkedIn being a particularly egregious one. Recently, a guy went viral there for discussing how his engagement taught him to be a better at B2B sales. He may be getting married, but his devotion is to his audience and platform, and what it can ultimately bring him.


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But recently, I found myself put face-to-face with the long-term effects of this when I stumbled upon some recommended posts on Medium that seemed to be written with an utter obsession with writing’s return on investment, rather than its cultural value.

As the author wrote, “A blog is a lifelong job with no guarantee of results.” Because if writing doesn’t make money, what’s the point, right? Why even get out of bed in the morning if you don’t make millions of dollars from expressing yourself?

(I commented that the guy’s writing was “soulless.” He didn’t like that. Maybe, in my middle age, I’m getting a little sharper with my words, but this stuff clearly bothers me.)

To me, Medium is a great disappointment as a platform, because it was initially built to discourage these kinds of low-quality creations. It was meant to raise up new voices and support them financially. It was intended as a home for quality writing. But instead, here it is, promoting some dude’s rant on how blogging is worthless unless it has inherent search-engine value, or it makes you money.

This is kind of a damning statement on Medium, that content like this gets promoted there (and I wrote something to that effect on Medium yesterday). The problem is, like every other major recommendation technology from search engines on down, it is based on algorithms, and algorithms can be optimized and gamed. Some game the algorithms based on the subjects they cover. Some do so by leaning into the reader’s emotion.

But they always have a play, and that play allows for exploitation of your attention, whether directly or indirectly. It’s not about the quality of the information being shared, or what they’re saying, or how they’re saying it. It’s 100% about optimization in its ugliest, most base forms. As long as algorithms can be gamed and people can be manipulated, so can your attention.

Growth hackers will thumb-wrestle you into submission because growth hackers don’t care.

Enshittification, as presented by Cory Doctorow, is often about the way companies exploit our time, money, and attention for their own purposes, and then, once they have it, they turn the screws. But I think enshittification often shows itself in more devious, direct, human-to-human forms. People are not concerned about the body as a whole. They instead are worried about ensuring that their specific appendage—the finger or toe they can curl—continues to work. It doesn’t matter if the rest of the body gets ravaged, as long as they can ensure their part of the body still works. Growth hackers will break every other finger on your hand just to ensure that theirs wins the thumb-wrestling match. (Don’t believe me? Think about the number of robocalls and spam texts you’ve gotten in the past year.)

This is why growth hacking is so dangerous to internet culture, and why a platform is ultimately failing to support its users properly if it enables it. I was optimistic about Medium’s growth under Tony Stubblebine—I think he genuinely gets it and has done much to make Medium sustainable. But sustainability means nothing if the content being promoted isn’t worth sustaining.

Growth hacking is not worth sustaining.

Sustainable Links

To the group of students at Johns Hopkins University who created a silencer for leaf blowers: Y’all are Tedium in action. Respect.

Jesse Welles has an opener for his nationwide tour. Jordan Smart, a fellow folksinger with a YouTube presence, is spitting fire with his protest song “WWJB? Who Would Jesus Bomb?” The song, as you might presume, will likely piss you off if you’re religious, word of warning.

RIP to David Sanborn, whose open-canvas approach to jazz and musicianship really came into its own with Sunday Night/Night Music, an ’80s music showcase. He will be missed.


Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal! Some deadlines pushed back my usual schedule this week, so I may have another post tonight or tomorrow morning on top of the weekend one. Haven’t decided yet. Cheers.

And if you’re looking for a tech-news roundup, TLDR is a great choice. Give ’em a look!

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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