Five Lessons from Geo Bootstrap, Our Successful April Fool's Gag
On Monday we were blown away by the positive response and popularity of Geo Bootstrap, our retro-inspired April Fool's Bootstrap theme. With more than 4,000 tweets, 100+ points on Hacker News, becoming a daily trending repo on GitHub, and a healthy spike both in Twitter followers and daily signups for Divshot Geo was an unqualified success. Of course, it could have also fallen completely flat, or worse, been lumped into the "groaner" category of April Fool's gags. So what set Geo apart?
Don't Force It
We didn't sit around for hours brainstorming what might make a great April Fool's gag; in fact, we didn't do much planning at all for Geo. On March 28 I randomly thought of the idea, pitched it to the team and got an immediately positive response. My cofounder Jake took a couple hours and threw together the beginnings of it and it still seemed funny, so we decided to go for it.
Most of the failed April Fool's jokes that I've seen seem to be trying way too hard. If it doesn't come easily, don't force it.
Aim to Amuse Your Company's Audience
Divshot is a startup aimed directly at people who build web apps for a living. These people are likely to have strong memories of just how awful web sites used to look, and probably built some of those awful sites themselves. My own first website was a Geocities-hosted Duke Nukem 3D fan site. It had bright green text and animated GIFs of radioactive symbols all over the place.
We have also connected strongly with the Twitter Bootstrap community as it's a core component of our product. Bringing web nostalgia together with Bootstrap hit a very sweet spot for positive reaction for our gag.
Make It Easy to Share
While we wrote a blog post about the theme, it went viral thanks largely to the tweet button front and center on the public GitHub page. Twitter was by far our largest referrer, outpacing even HN by a large margin. What's the fun in a joke that only one person knows about?
Don't Overmarket It
This falls again into the "trying too hard" bucket. While we put our name on the theme, we didn't embed secret marketing messages or try to optimize a conversion funnel out of it. People have become jaded about April Fool's online because now it's just seen as a marketing gimmick, and if you try too hard to turn a bit of fun into business objectives you're likely to destroy the "fun" part.
Of course, the lovely thing is that at the end of the day it is a great marketing gimmick. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people who hadn't heard of Divshot on March 31 have heard about it now because of the gag. Be content with a little bit of raised brand awareness and don't milk it too much.
Don't Work Too Hard
All told, Geo was less than a day's worth of effort from start to finish for our team. It was a fun thing to collaborate on and watching the reaction was rewarding for the team. April Fool's, if you choose to participate, should always be more about having fun than getting results.
Any time you try to make a joke you take a risk: humor is an inherently subjective medium. We didn't bet on Geo succeeding, but we're very happy that it did. So next year when April 1 rolls around, I hope we've got another fun gag to pull. But if we don't, we don't, and that's OK too.