6 Lessons on How to Get Free Press and How to Write Viral Content
My jaw dropped.
"I just got 1 million views on my LinkedIn post!"
I did a fist pump.
3 years ago, I was lucky if a LinkedIn post got 3 likes (thanks Mom!).
Fast forward to today and my latest post just hit over 1 million views, 7,312 likes and 3,436 comments.
Not only that, but I've managed to get published in Forbes, Fortune, Time, Business Insider, Inc, Quartz, Thought Catalog, LifeHack, PopSugar and The Huffington Post. All for free.
Here's an example of an article that I wrote for Business Insider:
So what happened?
3 years of grinding it out. That's what happened.
I wish I could tell you I learned a bunch of shortcuts from my mentors or marketing gurus, but the truth is that I didn't. I just worked my tail off and learned along the way through trial and error.
Seriously, I'm not kidding. I put in the work. I wrote so much my fingers started to hurt.
For most people, here's how you learn to be great in content marketing:
Learn to Persevere.
My second Quora post has 366 views. My sixth Quora post has 98,000 views. My thirteenth Quora post has 548,000 views. My most popular Quora post has 931,000 views.
My first LinkedIn post has 35,205 views. My most recent LinkedIn post has 1,009,474 views and built over 500 leads in one week.
My first book sold less than 50 copies. My second book has over 40,000 Kindle downloads.
My first 48 articles never got published. My latest articles have now been published on Forbes, Fortune Inc, Time, Business Insider, Inc. and Huffington Post.
My first 9 iPhone apps failed completely. My last 4 made the top 100 in different categories.
Want to know the secret?
Everyone sucks in the beginning. It's what you do after the beginning that counts.
Here's the good news.
Over the last few years, I've taken copious notes on how to excel at growth marketing. And I'm going to give it all away to you for free.
That's right. You don't have to write like crazy, constantly iterate and test different ideas like I did over the last 3 years. You can learn everything that I did in a single blog post.
This could be the most epic marketing blog post of all time. And it's yours, free.
Hopefully this is your reaction below right now:
I genuinely hope it helps you learn a couple of amazing tactics on how to do growth marketing. I wish they taught me this kind of stuff in college!
For this book (Viral), I'm only going to focus on helping you to become a master at content marketing. Don't worry, one day I'll write books about other aspects of other growth marketing. But let's take it one step at a time. #Babysteps
Sound good? (This is where you nod your head. Or give a thumbs up. Or yell out "YES!")
Let's get started.
THE RULES OF Content Marketing
Before we even dive into the "how" of content marketing, it's important to understand the "why."
As in, "why is content marketing important?"
Content marketing is incredibly important for businesses (or personal brands) because it delivers value to the reader, which in turn:
Helps to build trust (and a relationship) between the business and the reader.
Establishes the business as a subject matter expert
Builds the brand of the business
Can drive word of mouth (since this helped me, I'm going to pass it on to a friend going through the same challenge!)
Provides conversion rates about 6X higher than other digital marketing methods according to ABG Essentials
Increases the quality and quantity of leads (for the majority of companies, 74% to be exact, surveyed by Curata)
According to DemandMetric, content marketing costs about 62% less than traditional marketing tactics and it generates about 3 times as many leads
Helps with search engine optimization, especially if you have other reputable sites and major online publications (like Business Insider) linking to the original content
Grows the business
See the value of content marketing now?
Now that we're on the same page, let's move on to the "how."
Next up, we're going to discuss how you can create content that delivers value to your audience, (hopefully) goes massively viral, helps you build a community of fans and drives new leads for your business.
Rule #1: Be reader centric
Rule #2: The power of storytelling
Rule #3: Use proven writing frameworks
Rule #4: Leverage multiple platforms
Rule #5: Optimizing your marketing funnel with the right CTA
Rule #6: Getting free press when other people pay agencies $20,000 per article
Rule #1: Be reader centric
The first rule of Content Marketing Club is to focus on your audience.
The second rule of Content Marketing Club is...to focus on your audience.
Before we even get into the mechanics of content marketing, the first thing you should do is identify your target audience and understand what their biggest challenges are.
So who is your target audience?
If you're struggling to identify the audience, here are some quick examples below based on categories to get your brainstorming:
Functional roles within companies:
Pet owners (dogs, cats etc)
Once you've identified your audience, take the time to figure out their "why." As in "why would they want to read your content?"
One of the best ways to do this is to think about how your content and knowledge adds massive value for the reader.
For example, if your reader is a first time dog owner, they may care about:
Deciding whether or not to adopt a puppy or an adult dog
How to "pet-proof" the home
Best practices in training a dog
Different exercise routines for your Corgi (ok, maybe not this one...)
The most important question you should be asking is: "How is this article helping the reader?"
Here's your first exercise: I want you to write down 10 content ideas that you think will help your reader.
If you can't think of 10 ideas, try using a tool like Google Trends and the Google Keyword Planner. For example, if you type in the word "dog" into Google Trends, you'll see what the current hot topics are. Google Keyword Planner also gives you a good idea of how many people are searching for that topic. Here's a screenshot below as an example:
So write down 10 ideas.
Seriously. Write it down. Now.
I'm going to wait here until you're finished.
Done? Good. Now, out of those 10, pick 3 that you think would add the MOST value to your reader.
Done? Woohoo! Your first three posts will be on those 3 topics.
Remember, it's not about you, it's about your readers.
Be reader centric.
RULE #2: BE A storytellER
"OH MY GOD. YOUR POWERPOINT PRESENTATION IS 50 SLIDES?"
Ever wonder why we have such a negative reaction to extremely long powerpoint presentations?
It's usually because they're filled with bullet points and details that are usually pretty forgettable. Even if the details and bullet points are important, how many of those do you honestly remember?
Probably almost none of it.
That's because since pretty much the beginning of mankind, the primary way of communicating our beliefs and values was through...drumroll please...
Let's face it, data is cool but people remember stories.
This is why it's so critically important for you to master story telling.
Over the last 3 years I've personally tested many different story telling frameworks over 130+ articles that I've written just so that I can discover what works best.
The good news is that you don't have to go through the pain and endless typing that I did (your fingers will thank me!).
Here are 3 of the best story telling frameworks that I've personally used that have helped me get over a million views...on a single post.
Framework #1: The Against All Odds / Underdog Story
People love a good underdog story. Below I outline the structure of an underdog story, followed by the reason people love that specific portion.
Chapter 1: The struggle is real
The opening usually begins by highlighting the dire situation or failure that the protagonist finds him/herself in. You immediately see and feel their pain. And this makes for a great story because it makes that person so relatable. It also makes you want to root for them...because who DOESN'T love rooting for an underdog?
Chapter 2: Rock bottom
Once the protagonist hits rock bottom, he/she realizes that something must drastically change in order for life to improve. This realization is critically important because it's usually an important life insight like "My purpose is _______" or "I realized I wanted to make a difference in people's lives."
Chapter 3: Doing work
This is where the protagonist puts in a tremendous amount of work to achieve the goal he/she has in mind. It can be long, laborious and tough. But it builds character.
Chapter 4: The big moment
The protagonist finally has his/her big moment. It could be launching a startup. It could be a presentation on stage. It could be a live musical performance. This is where all the hard work pays off.
Chapter 5: Lessons learned
The protagonist looks back and realizes there were tremendous lessons learned in this journey and shares it with the audience. #PayItForward
People love learning from your story because they don't have to suffer like you did. It's a beautiful way to pay it forward.
Here are 3 examples of "Underdog / Against All Odds" stories below:
Story #1: Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, went through a lot of rejection.
*He failed a college entrance exam three times.
Once he ruled out college, Ma applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected.
"I went for a job with the police; they said, 'you're no good. I even went to KFC when it came to my city. Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted." Jack was the only one who didn't get the job.
When Ma founded Alibaba in 1998, he was met with more obstacles.
The brand did not turn a profit for the first three years, and Ma had to get creative. One of the company's main challenges was that it had no way to do payments, and no banks would work with him.
Ma decided to start his own payment program called Alipay. The program transfers payments of different currencies between international buyers and sellers.
"So many people I talked to at that time about Alipay, they said, 'This is the stupidest idea you've ever had, I didn't care if it was stupid as long as people could use it."
Today, 800 million people use Alipay. Alibaba today is worth over $200 billion. What if Jack Ma gave up after failing to get that KFC job?
Speaking of KFC...
Story #2: Colonel Sanders was 65 when he first began to fulfill his dream. After he received his first social security check for $105, he began going door to door at restaurants to sell his chicken recipe. He spent 2 years sleeping in the back seat of his car in that iconic white suit and was turned down 1,009 before he heard his first “yes.” Talk about overcoming failure! Instead of giving up he learned how to improve from his failures.
What if he gave up after 1,008 tries?
Story #3: Sylvester Stallone once wrote for over 24 hours straight. The end result? The entire script to Rocky.
He tried to sell the script to producers but got rejected over and over again. For months.
He was so poor at this time that he sold his best friends (his dog). He waited outside a liquor store asking people to buy his dog and eventually sold it for $50. Having to do this crushed him.
Finally, one day, someone read his script and loved it. They wanted to buy it. There was only one catch: Sylvester wanted to play the part of Rocky.
They said no.
They offered him $100,000 for the script. He declined.
Weeks later, they offered him even more money - $400,000 to be exact. He declined again.
Finally - they gave in - but at a lower price. They offered him $25,000 and the part in the movie. He took the deal.
What did he do with the money? He went back to the liquor store and waited for 3 days before the same man who bought his dog returned. He offered $150 to buy the dog back and the man refused. He eventually offered $15,000 and a part in the movie.
What happened next? Well, Rocky went on to win the best picture award at the Academy and Sylvester read all of his rejection letters during the ceremony. The same ones who said it would be a sappy film that no one would watch.
What if Sylvester gave up and sold the script without being in the film? The film - and his life - would never be the same.
Anyway, I hope these three stories give you a good idea of what an underdog story is like!
"But, wait, Nelson, what have YOU actually written?"
Good question. I've written a ton of these kinds of stories.
Here's one of my most popular ones below that got over 885,000 views:
It's a pretty long article, so I linked to it above in case you want to read it.
So what were the results of that article?
Over 886,000+ views, 33,900+ upvotes and 1,630+ shares. HOLY. GUACAMOLE.
Check it out:
PEOPLE LOVE A GOOD STORY.
Rule #3: USE proven writing frameworks
This next lesson took me 2 years to figure out.
TWO FREAKING YEARS!
I literally had to write in different frameworks to see what would resonate with the audience. For example, I wrote 143 articles on Quora alone!
So hopefully this saves you a ton of time and energy.
Here are the major writing frameworks I recommend:
Data driven insights
Humor driven articles
Writing framework #1: Storytelling
Wait...didn't I already teach you about this writing framework? Yup. I did. But it was so freaking important it deserved it's own chapter (that's why I wrote about it earlier) Also, ideally you can weave story telling into the next 4 writing frameworks to make them more effective, although it's not required. So this is worth mentioning twice.
Writing framework #2: Listicles.
Have you ever been to Buzzfeed.com? Did you know they get almost 150 million visitors a month according to SimilarWeb?
Do you know what they're famous for? Mainly writing listicle type articles.
PEOPLE LOVE LISTICLES. That's a fact. The data doesn't lie.
Here's the format for writing listicles. I'll cite examples of how I followed each step in this listicle article I wrote for Business Insider that got 294,387 views.
Step 1: Grab the reader's attention - Write a quick short introduction or story. Ideally it really hits people emotionally. You could talk about a huge failure, a point you were at your lowest or highest etc. Or sometimes it's just something super simple and easy to process. For example, in the cited article above, I just talk about how I've made observations on the morning habits over the last 10 years of coworkers and executives. The more raw and emotional the lead off story is, the more likely you'll draw readers in. EMOTION WINS! Here's an example below:
Step 2: Tell them what they'll get from reading your listicles: For example, in my article, I specifically say "Here are the top 10 morning habits."
Step 3: Start with the main takeaway - And keep it short. For example, on point #1, I write "They're crushing it on commutes"
Step 4: Elaborate with personality - Dive into the point you're making with more detail and most importantly, infuse it with your voice and personality. You want the reader to feel like you're talking to them. Be authentic and let your voice shine. Don't play it safe.
Step 5: CTA - End the list with a conclusion and a call to action. So the reader learned a list of insightful points - what's next? You could leave it with an open ended question, you could challenge your readers, you could inspire them. The possibilities are endless!
Writing framework #3: Data Driven Insights
Step 1: Tell the reader what they're getting - If they read your article, WHAT kind of insights will they get and WHO will they be getting insights from? Here's a great example of a recent article by Techcrunch that highlights the major data driven trends and insights from Mary Meeker's (a famous venture capitalist) Internet Trends report.
Step 2: Share the data - Yeah, it's that simple.
Just make sure that:
The source of the data is sound and reliable
The data insights are extremely interesting. Ask the question "why does this data point matter?" If you can't come up with a great answer, you probably shouldn't be writing about it.
The data points are concise (keep it simple!)
Rule #4: Leverage multiple platforms
Sign up and test your writing on multiple platforms. You never know which one might go viral!
Here are my favorite platforms for my articles and the reasons below:
It already has a huge built in audience with over 200 million monthly users
There are over 400,000 topics you can write about
You can see who the top writers are and what questions they've answered
It helps you brainstorm writing ideas - just pick interesting topics to follow and you can get a list of questions you could answer. (Here's an example below if you wanted to write about "real estate."
You can see how popular the question is by looking at the top writers for that topic and seeing which questions they answered (see screen shot below):
The audience is huge. It's the world's largest professional network with more than 562 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
Almost a quarter of LinkedIn users are aged 18 to 29.
Another key age bracket represented on LinkedIn is those aged 30 to 64 years old—61 percent of LinkedIn users fall within this age group. These individuals typically have more established careers, and have the most buying power out of all the age groups as they’re at the peak of their earning potential.
Roughly over 44 percent of LinkedIn users have incomes over $75,000
You can easily test your writing by writing an "article" on their platform. If you write really great content it does have the chance of going viral (see screenshots below where I show the button to "write an article" and a sample article I wrote that got 494,662 views).
What's beautiful about LinkedIn is that you can even have you status updates go viral too. So make sure you test that channel as well. Here's an example of one that I wrote recently that got over 1.1 million views!
Facebook is also one of the most powerful channels to write on with nearly 1.45 billion people on average logging onto Facebook daily.
You can either post on your personal page or a business page. You can also create groups and publish content for them as well.
Another great way to engage your audience is to use a tool like Manychat to drive bot interactions with them. Here's an example of a company that sold $5,000 of Tshirts using ManyChat.
4. Your own website
Websites are relatively easy to build today compared to five years ago. You can get one up within minutes depending on the platform that you use.
Start by buying a domain. You can use any of these below as an example:
Host your website on a website building platform like one of these below:
Bluehost - I highly recommend building a site on Bluehost. It's incredibly low cost and very flexible. In my opinion, you can build very beautiful Wordpress sites on it and it's actually quite easy to do nowadays. Here's an example of a website I built for my digital marketing agency. It took about 3 weeks to build it.
Squarespace - This is a much easier platform to setup but it'll cost a little bit more and is a bit more limited in terms of website layouts. I think it's a fantastic way to start your website if you're just looking to launch quickly or are ok with the templates they currently offer.
5. Medium - This is a solid platform for writers, but I've never been able to get huge traction on it. It could be a great channel for you to repurpose your content though! Generally speaking, my strategy for content marketing is to write once and post everywhere you think you can get a substantial amount of views and engagement.
Rule #5: DRIVING ENGAGEMENT and Optimizing your marketing funnel with the right CTA
Now that you've written some amazing, mind blowing content, how do you actually engage people and build a community? This is critical as this becomes your marketing funnel and can help you build or grow your business.
Here are 2 amazing ways you can drive engagement with your audience:
1. Make it interactive by ending the post with a question - For example, if you're writing about the top 10 ways to get into business school, you might end the post by asking "What is your #1 tip to getting into a MBA program?"
2. Offer something is a value add to the audience at the end of the post - For example, you could offer an ebook for free and ask the audience to comment "yes" on the post to get their free copy. Then you could link them to the book on your site or on a platform like Box.com where they can download it. Here's an example of how I did that below that generated a huge amount of engagement (4,164 comments!).
Rule #6: Getting free press when other people pay PR FIRMS $20,000 per article
Want to know the secret to getting free press?
The answer is simple: Write amazing content. If it goes viral, most press outlets will organically notice and reach out to you to publish it. Here's an example of a message I got below after writing a really solid content piece!
Here's the best part. I've already shared with you the secrets to writing great content above in this post. So you've already got a winning formula. All you need to do know is consistently write, develop an authentic voice and have a bit of luck.
What are you waiting for? The world is waiting to hear what you've got to say.
Make it happen!