Why You Need To Stop Giving A Shit About Going Viral
The past day or two I’ve attempted to figure out what makes certain content go viral.
I have a good grasp on the matter already, but I realized something..
I’ve never had an article with over 1,000 fans.
Despite writing at The Mission and starting a publication of my own, that elusive “1,000 fan” article never arrived.
The discovery of this massive black hole in the center of my blogging career put me on a chase to discover what the hell makes for a “1,000 fan” article.
What are these content gurus doing that the rest of us aren’t?
Surely there’s some formula, right?
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
I sat in my chair studying words, headlines, subheadlines, and the general “vibes” I was getting from these mysterious stories.
‘What is it?’ I thought.
Then, about 5 hours into my research session, I felt like someone came over and smacked me in the back of the neck with a rowing oar (Yeah).
I suddenly saw the forest through the trees and asked myself one simple question..
Why do I care about this?
Seriously, why do I fucking care about 1,000,000 views?
And why did I think all this research was going to get me closer to that?
As I thought about it more, my quest to get 1,000 fans got sillier and sillier.
We Think Going Viral Is Normal
Ben Hardy likes to highlight his first ever viral article. It’s this one, in case you didn’t know →
Life is busy. It can feel impossible to move toward your dreams. If you have a full-time job and kids, it’s even harder…medium.com
Ben said he got a wave of traffic out of nowhere for this article — and at one point he was getting 200,000 clicks per day to his website because of it.
In the end, the piece was picked up by over 100 publications and syndicated throughout the internet like wildfire.
Jeff Goins has a similar story. He says he received over a million views for an article out of nowhere that was published the year before — all because someone randomly shared it via a Facebook Group.
By the time that article’s run was over, it ended with a staggering 250,000 shares.
I don’t tell these stories to inspire you (even though they should), I tell them because somewhere along the way we start believing this shit is easy.
What compounds the whole thing is the fact that these authors are so close to us. They’re right here on Medium. We can tag them in any article if we wanted to (like what I’ve done above).
It’s almost feels like traveling the desert only to die of thirst a few feet away from the well.
It’s sooo close, isn’t it?
These articles are right there. The authors are right there. It’s just the way they structure it, right? “It’s just the information!” we say.
This mirage that everyone goes viral at some point is ridiculous.
We see the experts doing it all the time (and talking about it later). Our visions become so narrow to the point where we feel like there’s only a handful of good writers in the world.
And then we start believing that if we only write like them, we could do it, too.
That’s the second mistake..
Shooting For 1,000,000 Views Actually Makes Your Articles Worse
Guys, I’ll tell you what..
I could write an article like Ben Hardy.
I could insert 1,000 inspiring quotes, personal stories about other successful people (Bill Gates and Henry Ford are some of the favorites), and shake it up with a couple really surprising points (#1 + #9 are key).
But it wouldn’t matter.
I mean, MAYBE I would go viral. Maybe if I made it a 22-minute read and basically syndicated all the best points from best-selling books (Like Good To Great ;) it would be a straight-shot to 1,000 fan town.
But it wouldn’t be me.
And you know what? Even Ben Hardy says you need to do you in your writing.
Ben Hardy isn’t a hack. He’s Ben Hardy. He’s the Godfather of Medium.
He’s created a structure/voice that is perfectly himself.
His words resonate because he feels them to be true.
Obviously he writes fantastic headlines and knows how to write well, but if I tried to copy him there would be one crucial thing missing…
My heart wouldn’t be into it.
Therefore chasing someone else’s style would be useless.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
― Robert Frost
Now, if you’re somebody like Anthony Moore who’s style is very similar to Ben Hardy’s, that’s different.
But the audience will only connect with feelings that are your own. Virality has a lot to do with content, but it also has a lot to do with putting your heart into the content, too.
Your audience is smart — they know when you’re into your words.
Give them that.
Medium Is Actually Owned By A Handful Of Writers
Do you know how many writers have over 50,000 followers?
How about over 100,000 followers?
Of these 57 elite writers, I’d say about 75% of them post on Medium regularly.
The others are just people who have abnormally large Twitter followings and decided to setup a Medium account on a whim one day, importing all their Twitter followers in the process.
When you have 100,000 freaking followers, it’s kind of easy to go viral — I’ll just say that.
Medium is owned by a handful of writers. It’s owned by the writers who contribute to big publications and have 20,000+ followers.
That’s just how this platform is set up.
So when you see that one author getting 1,000+ fans for an article they just put out yesterday, realize that their following of 80,000+ people REALLY helps.
You’re Doing Great, You Just Don’t Realize It
For whatever reason I’ve recently become obsessed with breaking through that invisible ceiling and getting to 1,000 fans.
I’ve been pouring over my stats sheet with a raised eyebrow, saying ‘that’s not good enough!’ in my mind.
Then the doubts come flooding in — and they’re 5 times worse because my creative brain loves to find angles that don’t exist.
I finally came to my senses when I realized how upset I was seeing an article of mine received JUST 900 views the other day.
When I first started blogging, I’d be lucky to get 900 views to my entire blog in three months.
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
― William Wordsworth
When we focus on the stats, we lose our minds. We forget how good we’re actually doing. We’re taking our eye off the ball.
Don’t take your eye off the ball.
What Does Viral Mean, Anyway?
I want to introduce you to a (made up) two-word term..
It’s called “viral-whoring.”
What is it?
It’s the practice of saying an article of yours went viral when it really only got a couple thousand views.
I’m guilty of this, and I think a lot of other writers here are guilty as well.
Guys, viral means your shit blew up the internet.
We’re talking tens of thousands of shares, here.
We’re talking some of your friends from halfway across the world probably saw this article without knowing you wrote it.
We have to be more careful when we say the word “viral.” It’s putting a lot of pressure on other writers who think your content got a gagillion views.
Here’s How You Actually Go Viral
Guys, the only viral article I ever wrote was written at 4 in the morning.
I was pissed off at my friend and couldn’t sleep worth a damn, so I decided to write an article to spite the entire world.
When I went to sleep and woke up the following morning, it turns out I did just that.
I spited the fuck out of the world.
“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”
― Saul Bellow
My article was everywhere. It made it to the front page of the Huffington Post and was shared tens of thousands of times on Facebook.
I was big time.
The only common denominator for going viral I’ve seen is that you need to feel a deep connection to the words you’re writing.
Not just moved, or semi-angry — you need to feel this shit deep down in your bones. If you’re angry, you need to be slamming your fingers down on the keyboard.
If you’re sad, you need to stop, ball your eyes out, then rinse and repeat.
If you’re excited, you basically need to tie your feet to the floor.
You need to almost know by the time you’re done writing that that shit is about to hit people right in their mouth.
When’s the last time you felt that, honestly?
I thought so.
You know when you’ve written a viral article.
You just do.
It’s not just 99% of you that feels it, it’s all 100%.
Then you hit publish.
And the rest is history.
Guys, the quest is not about going viral, it’s about finding your audience.
I have a free 5-day email course called “Your First 1,000 Medium Followers” that will teach you how to build an audience here on Medium! Sign up for it right here. I’d love to teach you how I built my audience of 13,000+ followers!