DuckDuckGo was named one of TIME's 50 Best Websites of 2011. I thought other startups might want to know how this awesome inclusion came to be. I'm sure each story is slightly different, but here is one data point for you.
Every article is written by someone, and this one was written by Harry McCracken, TIME columnist and editor of Technologizer (bio). It's sort of obvious but often overlooked that if you want to be covered somewhere, the right person has to know about you. They of course have to want to write about you as well, but step #1 is having them actually know you exist.
In this case, the first significant contact I know of occurred via the DuckDuckGo community (although Harry could have known about us way earlier of course). Last July we helped make the community stronger by introducing duck.co, a forum where people could cross-communicate more fluidly.
A few months after that I started a thread about emailing journalists when appropriate, and specifically mentioned Harry. That same day I also tweeted to him in response to a comment he made about WolframAlpha, which was what prompted me to include the article in the thread.
Occasionally others have posted similar threads (and again at least one other time mentioned Harry). I know that as a direct result of those threads at least two people wrote him about DuckDuckGo, and he said he would check it out way back in last Nov.
Now just to be clear, I'm not paying anyone to write these emails. In fact, I haven't even hired a PR firm or consultant yet (though have explored the possibility). I write such emails myself as well. However, I've found that emails from real users go much farther than from people associated with the company. I figure people perceive them to be just more authentic, which in many cases is true.
In Harry's case, I checked my email and I don't believe I ever wrote him personally, nor have ever met Harry in person (though I'd like to!), or even talked to him over the phone. We have communicated via Twitter, however.
Here's a secret. Twitter is severely under-utilized as a communication channel. Lots of very influential people are on there, and some that don't have big celebrity names or sites behind them actually have very few followers. That means that your interactions with them are more likely to be noticed (assuming they use/check Twitter).
The tech press world is pretty small, and most of them are on Twitter. It's sort of part of their job nowadays... Harry actually has a lot of followers, so he's a bit different, but there are plenty of others that don't. And it's not just journalists -- same goes for investors, M&A folk, executives at big companies, etc.
It's a great strategy to get noticed and break through real availability bias. For many reasons, people treat Twitter different than email, and depending on the person, may be more likely to engage with you there.
Now I personally don't have time to stalk people on Twitter. I hate wading through 50 billion tweets. That's why I continually prune who I'm following. But a lot of these folks make really interesting people to follow, including Harry (who I follow). They see a lot of stuff and so generally tweet out cool things.
Yes, I know there are other monitoring options -- twitter searches, software etc. -- feel free to mention in the comments. I'm just telling you how I do it. I look at what my followers say, and respond when I can or is appropriate. I also have one running search for mentions of DuckDuckGo (pro tip).
Bigger Stories Take Time
Harry first mentioned us on Techland back in Feb at the end of an article about the Google "Farmer" update. In March, we had a little blurb printed in the print edition.
Then in June he mentioned us in a TIME business article, also about Google. That same day he also wrote an awesome feature in Techland as well, comparing us to In-N-Out Burger.
I responded over Twitter (saying thx), and got replies back as well. Most recently, those articles were actually summarized in the latest issue of Reader's Digest, which I mentioned and noticed this tweet (not directed at me specifically, but related). Anyway, I'm just saying there was ongoing communication, albeit lite.
In other words, it was over six months from what confirmed first contact to major article, which as noted above could have been longer in reality. I presume over that period Harry actually used and liked our product, and that compelled him to write the feature.
Of course there are other ways to try to jump it more quickly, e.g. you can try to push a hot story with a particular angle, and I've done that as well. However, that also works a lot easier if you've had contact before, preferably over a decently long period of time.
Additionally, I'd rather be mentioned every now and then in many articles than have just one feature and never get mentioned again. This was the best of both worlds, but I would take that trade-off.
TIME's Top 50
All you can hope for is a feature, and honestly I thought that was going to be the biggest story, at least for a long time. Then one day I saw this tweet.
You can see that I re-tweeted it (as @duckduckgo). As a result of that RT I know a bunch of people "nominated" DuckDuckGo.
I'm not sure if these nominations had any effect or not, but they couldn't hurt! After that, I didn't think about it again until yesterday.
Not a Unique Snowflake
I must say this is not a unique story for DuckDuckGo. We've been covered many times in high profile places and it usually is a result of both community action and a longer communication history with the journalist.
Two quick cases in point. First, our feature in Wired from this Jan was over two years in the making! Ryan Singel has mentioned us in passing a lot (thank you Ryan!), and it actually first started back in April, 2009. We have kept in touch and when the time was right for a feature, he did one.
Second, earlier this year we won the About.com Best Search Engine award for 2011. This was a direct result of the DuckDuckGo community, as it was a voting thing.
We spread it of course on duck.co and Facebook and Twitter. Google actually mentioned it on their Facebook page (and for all I know other places), which made this really tough from our perspective.
Actually going into the final night we behind by a decent amount and I didn't think we'd get it. But the community pulled itself together and pulled it off. Amazing.
I take a few things away from this experience.
- Things take time. We've been live now for about 3yr. They don't need to take that long of course, but don't expect results over night.
- People and relationships matter. You have get the right people to know about you. Twitter is great, but there are lots of other ways do to that as well.
- Product matters. People need stories and angles but if they like your product they fundamentally want to find a way to write about it.