80,000 Hours has been putting much more resources into growing our audience
Since the start of 2022, 80,000 Hours has been putting a lot more effort and money into getting more people to hear of us and engage with our advice.
This post aims to give some insight into what we’ve been up to and why.
Why invest more in outreach?
80,000 Hours has, we think, been historically cost-effective at causing more people to aim their careers at tackling pressing world problems. We’ve built a system of resources (website, podcast, job board, advising) that many people have found helpful for this end — and so we want more people to find them.
Also, 80,000 Hours has historically been the biggest single source of people learning about the EA community. If we want to grow the community, increasing the number of people reached by 80k seems like one of the best available tools for doing that.
Thirdly, outreach at the “top of the funnel” (i.e. getting people to subscribe after they hear about 80k’s ideas for the very first time) has unusually good feedback mechanisms & is particularly easy to measure. For the most part, we can tell if what we’re doing isn’t working, and change tack pretty quickly.
Another reason is that a lot of these activities take relatively little staff time, but can scale quite efficiently with more money.
Finally, based on our internal calculations, our outreach seems likely to be cost-effective as a means of getting more people into the kinds of careers we’re really excited about.
What did we do to invest more in outreach?
In 2020, 80k decided to invest more in outreach by moving one of their staff into a position focused on outreach, but it ended up not working out & that person left their role.
Then in mid-2021, 80k decided to hire someone new to work on outreach full-time. They hired 1 staff member (me!), and I started in mid-January 2022.
In mid-2022, we found that our initial pilots in this area looked pretty promising — by May we were on track to 4x our yearly rate of subscriber growth — and we decided to scale up the team and the resource investment. I ran a hiring round and made two hires, who started at the end of Nov 2022 and in Feb 2023; I now act as head of marketing.
We also decided to formalise a “marketing programme” for 80k, which is housed within the website team. Since this project spends money so differently from the rest of 80k, and in 2022 was a large proportion of our overall spending, last year we decided to approach funders specifically to support our marketing spend (rather than draw from our general funds). The marketing programme has a separate fundraising cycle and decisions are made on it somewhat independently from the rest of 80k.
In 2022, the marketing programme spent $2.65m (compared to ~$120k spent on marketing in 2021). The bulk of this spending was on sponsored placements with selected content creators ($910k), giving away free books to people who signed up to our newsletter ($1.04m), and digital ads ($338k). We expect to spend more in 2023, and are in conversation with funders about this.
As a result of our efforts, more than 5x as many people subscribed to our newsletter in 2022 (167k) than 2021 (30k), and we had more website visitors in Q4 2022 than any previous quarter (1.98m).
We can’t be sure how many additional people will change to a high-impact career as a result, in large part because we have found that “career plan changes” of this kind take, on average, about 2 years from first hearing about 80k.
Still, our current best guess is that these efforts will have been pretty effective at helping people switch careers to more impactful areas.
Partly this guess is based on the growth in new audience members that we’ve seen (plus 80k’s solid track record of getting new people to eventually switch to more impactful careers), and partly it’s based on a few “proof of concept” switches we’ve seen already.
For example, some small-scale social media ads which 80k ran in 2017 as an experiment led to at least one person switching to a career we’re especially excited about (and 70 people who reported changing their career plans due to 80k). We’ve also already encountered several people who found us via our marketing who seem likely to switch to a more impactful career.
(A bit more on audience inclination below.)
What specific projects have we completed in this area?
Advertising on social media
We ran a series of ads on Facebook, Instagram, Google search, and YouTube.
Most of the ads were targeted pretty narrowly at the audience for whom we believe our advice has historically been most useful — students and graduates at English-speaking top world universities — though some of them were much broader.
We were pleased by the results and plan on continuing to run digital ads on these and other platforms.
Sponsored placements in other media, especially YouTube
We worked with YouTube channels, podcasts, and newsletters to include mentions of 80k in their videos/podcasts/newsletters.
We offer a free book to anyone who joins our newsletter.
Readers get to choose from three books — Doing Good Better, The Precipice, and our own 80,000 Hours book.
We paid to advertise The 80,000 Hours Podcast in a few places: on Facebook & Instagram, as above, and also on various podcast listening platforms like Podcast Addict, PlayerFM, Castro, etc.
Improvements to website “calls to action”
Late in 2021, we made a suite of improvements to the site designed to increase the rate at which people sign up to our newsletter and apply for advising calls with us.
We also made a few smaller adjustments and improvements throughout 2022 based on A/B tests.
We think there’s probably much more to do here in the future, in terms of optimising our readers’ experience with the website.
Why ask people to sign up to your newsletter?
I used newsletter signups in a lot of our outreach because there are both theoretical and empirical reasons to think it’s likely to make people engage with our advice.
The theoretical reason is, well, when people join the newsletter they get our advice sent to their inbox!
Conventional wisdom says that regular prompts to engage with a service are better than one-off prompts, and we’ve also put a lot more effort behind making our newsletter full of consistent, high-quality releases this year.
(We now release them as blog posts as well as newsletters, for that reason!)
The empirical reason is that being a newsletter subscriber correlates with having spent about twice the recorded time on our website, compared to non-subscribers. And every time we send out a newsletter, it gets many tens of thousands of opens and thousands of clicks.
Newsletter signups are also easier to measure than some other outcomes, which makes it easier to see what’s working and what’s not.
We’ve also experimented with some other “conversion” goals and may do more later (e.g. visits to site pages, podcast subscriptions).
Aren’t you going to get a lot of low-inclination traffic via these means (Where by ‘inclination’ I mean inclination to, eventually, change career plans to tackle one of the world’s most pressing problems)?
Yes, I think we will.
The majority of the people who visit 80,000 Hours because of our outreach efforts likely won’t go on to make high impact career changes or otherwise contribute to tackling the world’s most pressing problems.
Our advice just isn’t that relevant or interesting to lots of people!
We have various ways of measuring the inclinations of our new audience members, and almost all of them suggest that they are indeed significantly less inclined towards our advice, on average, than control groups of people that didn’t find us through our active outreach efforts.
However, so long as we are still getting a good proportion of high-inclination traffic too (which it looks like we are), these efforts probably still look worth it.
Our internal calculations of the value of this work take into account this expected decrease in inclination (and we think it looks good overall).
All that said, the inclination of the new users we get from our outreach is a top priority, which we will continue to monitor.
Are you worried about any negative externalities from this work?
Yes. I’m especially concerned about:
Accelerating the growth of the community beyond the optimal level
Lots (but not all) of the people who make career plan changes because of 80k do so via getting involved in the EA community at some point.
Many people are concerned that if the EA community “grows too fast,” we risk losing what’s important or distinctive about EA.
Or, we might not have enough suggestions for what the additional people might do, meaning the community growth isn’t useful and it’s demoralising for the new joiners.
I think these concerns are reasonable, and I think it’s important that we try and have systems to notice whether this is happening.
Currently, I think it’s likely that without additional efforts from initiatives like these, we would by default be far below the optimal growth level for the community — but that’s not obviously right, and I’m keen to learn more.
Annoying people by spamming them with ads, and putting them off EA ideas
We can use “frequency caps” on individual ad platforms, but we can’t necessarily control how many times somebody might see 80k mentioned across different platforms.
I think 80k’s offerings are really good, but they’re probably not the absolutely optimal way of presenting EA ideas for all types of people who might be interested in those ideas. Might we put off people from high-impact work, who we could have later convinced with better or different messaging?
Of course, we’ll never be sure we’ve arrived at the best presentation of our ideas, and there are costs to waiting around and not trying to get people on board, too.
Still, worth keeping an eye on & something I actively consider!
Entrenching demographic & ideological homogeneity in EA
The audiences that we’ve found most likely to sign up for 80,000 Hours’ newsletter have historically often also been quite similar demographically to the current EA community. This means that if we were to just optimise for number of signups, we might entrench existing demographic homogeneity in EA.
For example, many of our most successful outreach activities draw from heavily male audiences, such as STEM YouTube channels, and productivity/entrepreneurship spaces.
We have weighed demographic diversity of a creator’s audience as a factor when deciding which creators to work with, and we have started out experimenting with more targeted approaches to reaching more diverse audiences, but so far our outreach efforts haven’t prioritised this concern above the number of new audience members we could attract.
This year I plan to investigate ways to increase demographic diversity among the people we reach, and indeed it’s possible that our work here could really do quite a lot to move the needle in a positive direction for the community as a whole.
Of course, some kinds of outreach activities are harder to measure, such as “awareness marketing” which aims to get people to hear about 80k, without optimising for them taking any particular action.
Our internal metrics make us feel confident that the fact that our website traffic reached its highest point this quarter was due to our outreach efforts, rather than because of the heightened media coverage on EA at this time.
By this, I mean that, 18 months after the ads were run, 70 people who first found out about us via these social media ads answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘Have your career plans changed in any way as result of engaging with 80,000 Hours?’
e.g. at EAGs, in our annual user survey, and in some user interviews I recently conducted.
I haven’t given any detail about the kind of careers they’re in or hope to switch to because I don’t have permission from them to mention them publicly. 80k publicly posts some people’s stories with their permission, which might include some of these people in future.
I’m not sure these are actually ‘frequently asked’ but more ‘questions I anticipate you might ask,’ based on the above.
Historically, people who found out about EA via 80k skew slightly more male, but slightly less white, than average EAs.