“Get in the car,” he said.
“Ok man, I need you to take a right on Mayfield, and drive about 200 meters,” I said, holding my iPhone precariously in one hand.
“How’s that?” he responded, pulling over just over the sidewalk (he never was a great driver), just in front of Casa Italiana.
“Perfect. What’s the username and password?”
He gave me the details for the account we had created just a day ago. A Reddit.com account. Our goal? Get an article to the front page.
When I used to study at Stanford, my friends and I tried to game Reddit. Stanford is a huge school, and has a wifi network that broadcasts over 8000 acres. We discovered that Reddit wouldn’t allow multiple upvotes from different accounts on the same computer—but, if we managed to get far enough away, to the next WiFi router, our computer would receive a new IP address—and we could upvote at our will
But no matter how many times we tried, we never managed to get to the front page. Until Saturday.
I boarded a plane to Montreal, Quebec on a whim. When I arrived, I received an email from my friend Ryan Holiday. A simple message —
From: Ryan Holiday
I see you are on the front page of Reddit. Nice.
It turns out, someone submitted my Facebook Slapper story to reddit, and it had reached the front page.
Here is the link to the original reddit post: Maneesh Sethi has hired a woman from Craigslist to slap him across the face every time he gets distracted by the Internet at work. His productivity has gone up by 60%.
Notice — the poster only linked to an imgur screenshot of me getting slapped. He did not link to the actual article on my website. Terribly unfortunate, as the image has had over 700,000 views
Sure, the comments in that single post drove a few thousand views to my site (and I’ll reveal the full details below). But getting a few views to my site wasn’t the end goal: I wanted to make the post blow up as much as possible.
So I followed a strategy that I call The Seneca Solution. Basically, I saw that there was an opportunity to explode—so I did everything in my capacity to get it as popular as possible.
The Seneca Solution: When an Opportunity Arises, Be Prepared to Pounce
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
By the time I noticed my story hit the front page of Reddit, there were already 200+ comments posted on it. Every comment I posted, with a link to the original article, etc, was buried to the bottom. So, I wasn’t able to drive much traffic from the original reddit post to my site.
So I took action using what I call The Seneca Solution: Once I saw an opportunity that presented itself, I pounced—I wanted to engineer my own luck.
An idea struck my mind. Reddit has a subreddit entitled /r/iAMA, where interesting people can allow redditors to AMA (Ask Me Anything). Barack Obama, for example, conducted a very popular AMA where he responded to redditors’ questions.
So, I decided to launch an AMA. I could control the discussion in an AMA, and I would have the opportunity to talk directly to hundreds of people.
I posted the AMA attempted to pivot the discussion into something that I believed would interest redditors more than slapping for productivity — I decided to talk about how to get free plane tickets.
With the AMA, I had full power to introduce the backlinks I wanted at the top, and the ability to command discussion.
The success of my AMA blew me away
Front page. 800+ comments. Thousands and thousands of clicks back to my site—and more importantly, 1400+ email subscribers.
So, now, I’m excited to do a postmortem. First, I will talk about what it takes to make a post go viral. Second, I will show the specific results of the traffic that two concurrent front-page reddit posts will drive. Granted, neither post linked directly to my website, but both posts linked to my site in the comments.
4 Tips on Getting to the front page of the Internet
Over the last few months, I’ve been extremely lucky to see my site go viral. In particular, my article on slapping managed to get to the front page of Hacker News, in hundreds of different newspapers, radio, and TV stations world wide.
People have identified me as someone ‘with a knack for going viral.’ I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes an article interesting, and what doesn’t, so I wanted to explore how to make something “Reddit-worthy”
1) Do something out-of-the-ordinary (something worth talking about)
The definition of ‘remarkable’ is ‘something that is easy to talk about’
People don’t want to share something they’ve already seen. If I had framed my slapping article as “Why I Hired An Employee to Help Me Finish My Work” it never would have gone viral. The slap, however—that added an element that people wanted to see.
2) Use visuals — videos and graphs will mutate an average article into a viral article
Writing is important, sure. But, people want to see things happen. In the case of my slapping article, I included a video of a slap (that was viewed over 200,000 times) and a graph of my productivity increase. These two visuals made the results real, not just an idea. And, they made my article eminently shareable.
3) Get the article as popular as possible, instantly.
Virality comes from the entire world sharing your article at the same time. It’s rare that an article you write, but never promote, will manage to break the gravity of your humble blog. If people see it becoming popular on many sites at the same time, however, they will take note—and make it go viral.
Do you have a substantial following? I was lucky to get my article to explode thanks to my email list—I sent it out to tens of thousands of readers, who began tweeting it, posting it on big Web sites (in particular, Venturebeat and Hacker News). Once it was starting to grow, every other news source took note.
So, how are you promoting an article on day 1? If you don’t have a significant following, find some friends who do (and are willing to Tweet/FB Share it). Submit it to some social networking sites, if you think it has a shot.
4) Once the article starts to gain traction, put your full force behind it.
This is the Seneca Solution. Once you see potential, you need to unleash the cavalary.
So, as soon as my article was on the front page of reddit, I immediately jumped into action—an AMA. When one of my articles was on Hacker News, I immediately asked all my friends to tweet about it, and called up news reporters asking if they’d like to comment on the story. The results were astronomical.
Things die quickly on the Internet. So, do the best you can with the time you’ve got.
Ok, so you now we’ve talked about some tips to get to the front page of reddit. Now, let’s take a look at the results.
For context, remember that no post on Reddit linked directly to my web site. The first article linked to an imgur image of me getting slapped, and the second post was a self-post (meaning it linked to a Reddit page, with text).
Here is the original reddit submission.
Here is the AMA.
Here is the article on my Web site.
As you can see, my traffic shot through the roof as soon as the first image was posted. Someone linked to my post in the comments, and I stumbled on a few thousand incoming visitors—300+ vistors active on my site at any given moment.
Now, this isn’t as big as it could have been, obviously. If the front page had linked directly to my site, I would have received 700,000 views…not just the paltry 27,000 views I did get.
You can see here the amount of traffic coming direct from my AMA. Substantial! However, there is a difference in the two types of traffic. In the original reddit post, people arrived on my site just to browse. However, in my AMA, I always told people to subscribe to my newsletter when they signed up for my site. Thus, they had a specific call to action — and my email subscriptions skyrocketed.
Take a look at the number of email subscribers. As you know, I optimize my site for email (not Facebook or Twitter followers), so I judge my success in the number of subscribers.
Not too shabby, eh? Two days brought in 1400 new email subscribers — about as much as a very successful guest post link.
These aren’t any regular subscribers though—they are particularly engaged. How come?
Almost all of the incoming email subscribers have seen me interact via the Question and Answer section. They know I’m a real person, and have been given a clear call to action.
I measure initial engagement in the number of immediate emails I receive as a reply to my Welcome email. I received dozens more emails than I expected to receive, thanks to the AMA.
Reddit is a powerful beast, and most bloggers dream of being featured on the front page at some point in their lives. The truth is, it’s easier than you think—but you need to have interesting content, a strong network of powerful people, and the will to jump on an opportunity.
I’ve seen how much virality can grow a business, and I’d love to hear about my readers’ experiences with viral articles or getting popular. Please post your thoughts in the comments!