“Growth hacking” is user-hostile and needs to stop

This morning I clicked on a link to read a blog post, and within 3 seconds of arriving the popup above stopped me in my tracks. I am asked to provide my email address before I’ve had any opportunity to determine if the site might have value to me1. I came to the site to read an article, which means I intended to spend time there. By serving a pop-up just as I enter the site, it is preventing me from seeing any value until I make a decision about whether or not to give them access to my email.

In a discussion about this topic on Twitter the most common defense I heard is that the sign-ups are worth it even if the method is sketchy. I disagree with that, and firmly believe that product growth should never happen at the expense of users. It might take longer to get right, but I would rather work to find ways to create more value for users and attain product growth that way, than resort to tactics that are hostile.

Which brings me to the topic of growth hacking. I think it needs to be said that all growth hacking methods, at their core, use human psychology to get people to do what you want them to do without taking their needs or intentions into consideration. The founder of the term defines a growth hacker as “a person whose true north is growth.” Growth at any and all cost. When we talk about this type of growth it’s usually in the context of persuasive design and habit-forming products, which have implicit goals to “nudge” people into directions they didn’t intend to go.

I don’t think this an ethical practice, and I think as product managers it is our responsibility to put an end to it. Instead of evaluating features and ideas based on the concept of “growth at any cost”, let’s ask the question “growth at what cost?” to guide our decisions more. Let’s find ways to grow that respect users and their intentions, not subvert them.

  1. I don’t mean to single out this site — this happens everywhere on the web these days. It was just the proverbial final straw today.