How I made a Medium post go viral

Liam Hänel ♛
Jan 5, 2018 · 12 min read

TL;DR (that’s way too long, I’m not reading that):

Decided I wanted to make a post go viral. It came down to 3 things — good f’ing content, how you get it out to people and a sprinkle of luck. So I used these steps to improve my chances. It worked, they might work for you too:

  1. Write multiple parts to hook people in for more.
  2. Ask websites/businesses you’ve written about or hyperlinked to share, they’ll usually be happy to as it’s a form of advertisement for them.
  3. Seek community engagement: ask for feedback, input and for people tweet at you.
  4. Prioritise your main blog and cross-post on Medium/LinkedIn using correct canonical links to boost SEO.
  5. Be best mates with a someone on social media with strong rep/following.

A little background

You’re here because you want your Medium posts to go viral. Cool. Well you are in the right place. Get ready for the 100x daily shoutouts from people sharing your work on Twitter and randoms on the street high-fiving and referring to you by first name after seeing your face all over the front page of Reddit…

Earlier this year, I discovered an SEO backlink on our website of all .ai domains. The .ai domain is from Anguilla, a small eastern Caribbean island. Which has now been taken over by companies working in artificial intelligence and robotics (the domain of course, not the island). The list contained many companies I already knew and hundreds more that needed to be known. After discovering this amazing plain text ridden list, it was a no brainer to try and improve it! However, this list needed to be put together into something a little more approachable, after all it was just a basic HTML list of words on a page ordered alphabetically. I couldn’t help myself, I needed to package this gold mine and put it out to the world.

And so I began writing; categorising and ordering the companies in A list of AI tools that you can use today (referred to throughout as ‘the post’ even though it is actually now a 4 part series [Part 1, 2, 3, 4]). Little did I know how much longer and deeper this research would actually go, hence why 3 more parts came out in the final product. These companies and their AI products were seriously amazing to say the least and doing this research uncovered a lot for myself into the state and level of progress of the industry as a whole, this list quickly became a valuable resource that people needed to know about. So I set a challenge for myself:

Challenge — to make the post go viral!

There were also of course the added bonuses of the typical Medium plugs and selfish, agenda driven reasons too:

  1. Build community and get signups for Lyra
  2. Deep dive research into the artificial intelligence industry to get an understanding of it’s current state of progress and find out where it’s at
  3. Build a social following
  4. (And see if virality can actually be forced)

Also note, I had just started this Medium account when I first wrote the post, ie. no followers. So I was starting from scratch in terms of reach.

Virality achieved

The post was published and in the first month received 50k views, racked up ~2,000 Recommends (💚) in under 2 months which was INSANE for back in the day before the disgraceful clap system came into play. We received hundreds of signups to Lyra. My personal Medium following hit 2k+ and the post had thousands of retweets and likes on social media, which are all still on going until this day, despite not putting as much time into Medium as I have been. This was going to be the start of my international Medium career, look out Pitbull, there’s a new Mr. Worldwide. Ok, you get it, I hit my goal and it worked. It went a little bit viral. Achievement unlocked, you’re a hero Liam…

Now you want to do the same, right? Scroll on.

The virality formula

The formula in layman’s terms:
Start with a base of some really solid content, add a sprinkle of strategy on where and how you’ll reach the right audience, mixed with a mate or two who has an already dominant following on a social network (this is a nice to have, but not a necessity) and multiply it all by the first number that comes to mind, which equals virality (maybe).

Understood? Ok, let’s get started…

The steps for achieving virality

These steps will now break down c = content, d = distribution and l = luck

0. Simon says, start with the ‘why’

Start with the Simon Sinek approach by starting with the ‘why’ you want to make a post go viral. This just needs to be simple direction or goal you want to achieve. For example, get signups to your website, gain more followers, revenue from monetised post etc.

This also gives you a hook at the end to lead people to your website to signup, or newsletter. Don’t think too hard, this should be come pretty easily.

1. Fucki*g good content

Start with a solid foundation — good content. I think this is pretty obvious. But definitely the most important thing to achieving virality.

Good content takes time to create. Look at most viral posts, a good example is Jeff Kao’s article on using natural language processing to discover fake comments with the Net Netrality saga.

Of course, it doesn’t always take long, some just go viral hence the word ‘viral’ — occurring as a result of high l=luck factor in our viralty formula. For example, Luke Trayser’s 15 line article on what everyone was thinking about the awful new Medium logo.

For the post, I’m not saying it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen, but the content worked it went a little bit viral. The post took a considerable amount of time. Longer than I originally planned. I lost track of how long, but if I was to estimate, it would be a conservative week long ~100+ hours in total from start to finish. This didn’t include the d=distribution factor, which also took a a while. There are things I definitely would have done now to reduce the time, but hindsight, am I right? I’ll share these findings with you later.

I clicked and went through each individual 5944 links on the backlink + hundreds more. Then I had to work out if the website was a legitimate company working in AI/ML/robotics, copy and paste the name and website link, then try and work out ‘the description’ to fit on one line in the post, usually within 6 words (a challenging task in and of itself). And sometimes translating from different languages. This was probably the the most difficult and time consuming task with this post, as not all websites make it clear what the company/product does or what the value proposition is. The description needed to be straight forward on what the core of the product does in order to be easily understood it, without using ‘AI’ or ‘ML’ in the sentence. You can see how the time started to add up.

In fact, these descriptions (example above) were the difference between the post being another alphabetically ordered plan text list or a useful resource. Anyone can copy and paste a list. It would have taken me less than half the time to complete had I not done this, yet the post may have been almost worthless if I didn’t. The description was likely a major contributor to having a higher c=content factor, which in turn helped the final sum of the formula:

You’ve got good content? Great, next step.

2. The distribution plan

A good distribution plan helped me improve my chances of virality. After all it was all about getting the most eyeballs possible on the post as possible.

This was my distribution plan for the post:

1.Write multiple parts (series) — this was done to help improve the flow and organisation of the content, give my newly created blog some body and keep people coming back for more (in theory). There is some truth to the last point, however, there will always be some drop off. A major reason being that the target audience of the changed slightly between posts Part 1 — AI tools for personal use to Part 4 — AI tools for business use. For readers who returned after reading Part 1 are likely not interested to find out about Part 3’s business AI tools.

2. All companies included in the post were asked to share it — this was the single most impactful driver for growth of the post, as is evident from the initial massive spike on the above stats.

It was a win-win situation. Most companies in the list were happy to share the post to their social media accounts as it was a small piece of advertising for them. These were typically the small to medium sized companies who replied, who of course were excited to be noticed. Surprisingly, a number of different founders of these companies reached out later to say the post had had an increased impact on signups for their product. And of course, for the post itself, having different groups share it helped for it to grow it’s presence organically, contributing to a higher d=distribution factor.

Beyond writing a list, this tactic would also work the same way by contacting the companies, websites and authors of other content that you’ve included in your posts.

To get in contact with the right person within all the hundreds of companies I included to ask them share the post was going to be tedious. And it needed to the be right people within the organisation or else this method of distribution just wasn’t going to work.

a) I started by creating a spreadsheet list all of the companies in the post with 2–3x direct contact’s, including name and email of the founders (usually in small to medium sized organisations) and marketing managers and 1x generic email (eg. hello@lyr.ai).

b) I found the contact details of these people either via the company’s team or about page on their website. Or searching via LinkedIn and using Hunter.io, Skrapp or LinkedIn Helper to scrape/’guess’ their emails. I also tried Fiverr after discovering how long this process actually took, given the amount of emails I needed to find. However, it can be a little hit and miss with the quality or right people compared with doing it yourself. It did save some time though.

c) Once all emails, names and company names were all in the spreadsheet, it was then time to reach out and contact these people. I created an email template (below), initially was emailing people manually by copying and pasting from the spreadsheet. However, I found a more efficient way of sending bulk emails using Form Mule, (gracias amigo Rohit Bhargava). Be prepared to get a heap of undelivered messages being sent back from incorrect emails that were found in step b.

The email template read:

SUBJECT: You’ve been included in an AI research piece

Hi [NAME]!

My name is Liam Hänel, I’m reaching out in regards to including [COMPANY] in a research piece on artificial intelligence companies. It’s a comprehensive list of companies working in AI/ML. The research is to help people to understand the landscape and scope of progress within artificial intelligence industry.

[BITLY LINK TO POST]

I’m sharing this with you to:
1. confirm the short description I’ve written is correct about your company
2. if you could share it with your networks?

Cheers


Liam Hänel
CEO & Co-founder @ Lyra
Mobile: [Redacted]

d) Time to play the waiting game for responses.

3. Asking for readers’ input — I’d asked people to comment and tweet me any suggestions of AI companies I may have missed. This helped to improved the overall quality of the lists of AI tools from small spelling suggestions to uncovering smaller companies out there working in the industry. It also encouraged people to connect with me on Medium and other social channels.

Asking for feedback is really important throughout life generally to improve and learn about new perspectives. It was especially useful here to create richer content and reach more people.

4. Post on multiple blogs — can help improve SEO and the discoverability in Google’s ranking. When posting duplicate content on multiple sources it’s important to setup an ‘authority’ as the ultimate source to “remove confusion when there are multiple copies of the same document in different locations” on the web. Read more about it here. Medium has a plugin for Wordpress that helps you do all this and publish from your blog. Alternatively, if you’ve already posted on Medium and your blog separately and want to make your blog the authority, you can always contact Medium can will sort it out for you. They were pretty quick to response to me.

5. Ask friend (with a lot of social media rep) to post your content—this part you either have them or you don’t, but having a mate or multiple who have a strong social media reputation, following and/or pull should become your best friend. At least until they’ve shared your work for you. Sites like Reddit, Product Hunt, Instagram, Facebook etc. are ideal. Although, you want to find those niches within these sites that are tailored to your work, rather than just putting it out to the masses. This niche is your key to getting your content to the masses, as this will be your target audience who will be the one’s responding (or not) to your work.

For example, with the post, my friend Lucas has a strong standing reputation on Reddit, which reflexes who he is in person — an all round great guy! He posted the post to the subreddit r/Futurology, which is perfect as it’s a “a subreddit devoted to…the speculation about the development of humanity, technology…”. Find your niche (and new best mate) and own it!

3. Luck

Lastly, the l=luck factor in our equation. The moment of truth. If everything went to plan you have high c and d factors. But your luck score in will determine virality or not. Give it a try now…

What is my luck?: click here

USING THE POST AS AN EXAMPLE:Virality = 6.5 x 7.0 x 43.4 = 1,974.7(not viral = 0  <--->  ebola viral= 10,000)c = fucki*g good content (1=bad <-> 10=amazing) = 6.5
d = killer distribution (1=bad <-> 10=amazing) = 7
l = and a lot of luck! (a number between 0–100) = 43.4

It’s still hard to say that I have ‘forced’ or created virality using the above methods, but they certainly did help to increase the chances of it.


Bonus: what I’ve found doing the post research…

  1. I found out Apple, Google and Facebook have .AI domains, don’t go anywhere good, keep an eye on them?
    Apple — marvin.ai
    Apple — merlin.ai
    Apple — viq.ai
    Google — ami.ai
    Google — orkut.ai
    Facebook — listen.ai
    Facebook — parse.ai
  2. We really like to anthropomorphise AI / give it human like names eg. Fred, John, Mary. We’re guilty of it too!— I couldn’t find the right word for this, someone correct me. Definition for giving things human like names. Maybe there isn’t a word…
    Human-like names are a common theme within the AI industry, especially, with consumer products. We’re also guilty at Lyra as well.
  3. Came across this £14,000 phone—looks like something shit and something out of a Bond film.

//

Liam Hänel here, CEO and co-founder of Lyra, if you enjoyed this post give it a quick clap or three to help others see it. You can follow our progress here.

I also Tweet (good stuff) sometimes.

Thanks to Charlie Macdonald and Rohit Bhargava

Liam Hänel ♛

Written by

liamiscool.com (I’m not cool)

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