If you want to build a rocket ship, it’s necessary to have people who have the skills and technical know-how. But it’s more important to light them on fire with a longing for the stars.
Original is by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”) but rocketships are just THAT much cooler.
via Mark Fisher
Yes, every brand has a story—that’s how it goes from being a logo and a name to a brand. The story includes expectations and history and promises and social cues and emotions. The story makes us say we “love Google” or “love Harley”… but what do we really love? We love ourselves. We love the memory we have of how that brand made us feel once. We love that it reminds us of our mom, or growing up, or our first kiss. We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.
Nearly 90% of employers offer wellness incentives, or financial rewards or prizes to employees who work toward getting healthier, according to a recent survey from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health. That’s up from 57% of companies in 2009.
(Or, Now The Whole Internet Will Know)
This is Part 5 of 5 in a series on Epic Brand Growth: From 0 to 1M Uniques/Month in 1 Year (Or Less) based on Skillshare & General Assembly classes I taught in the past. Catch up on Part 1 (Is 1M Uniques/Mo Really What Your Want?), Part 2 (Why Knowing You Audience & Nailing Your Brand Matters Most), Part 3 (How To Find The Right Rocketship: Brand-Audience Fit), and Part 4 (What Content Works & Why People Share It).
WIWIKT (What I Wish I Knew Then)
At the beginning of this series, I mentioned my goal was to help you get to 1M uniques faster than we did at Greatist. I meant it. So, with that, here are some examples of things I wish I had known (or at least wish I had done better) when we were starting:
Have a great PR “story.” Friends in college, Dick and Brian were super into video games. Dick weighed a ton. Brian was what’s called “skinny fat.” So they both decided to use game-like mechanics to push each other to get healthy and fit. Now their awesome product, Fitocracy, gives people a platform to do the same: gameify their journey toward getting fit. It’s a classic, compelling story and has propelled them everywhere, even CNN.
Platform legitimacy. If your target audience lives in a forum somewhere, spending the time to become a respected member of that community is among the best ways to get an organic, genuine boost. There’s no way to fake this. You’re either someone that people look up to because of your long-term, awesome contributions or not. But if you are, that can single-handedly be the burst you need out of the gates. Fitocracy actually nailed this, too— and their early, passionate, ecstatic userbase very much born out of Reddit’s Fitness subreddit, among its most popular subreddits.
Paid social media followers. I experiment with everything. And you have no idea how cheap it can be to purchase social media followers. Though previously a bit of a secret, paid social follows are now much more mainstream (thanks Mitt Romney?), but they’re still the same: of little to no value besides vanity metrics. Followers that are paid for won’t engage, comment, or add in any way to your community. They’ll look spammy. But they can bump up numbers enough that, at a glance, can add to social proof around your brand and give it the legitimacy that it needs early on. In the super early days at Greatist, I purchased a small amount of Facebook followers and, though I’ve never purchased any since (we more or less don’t care about any numbers any more but engagement), I’m convinced that the difference between seeing 7 likes on a Facebook brand page and 300 likes is a big one. I don’t have any services to recommend, but I’d honestly consider it much like you’d consider any kind of early branding or marketing if you’ve got a few dollars to spend.
Voting Brigade. Many of the most popular social sharing/bookmarking services online (including places like Reddit, Hacker News, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, formerly Digg, and others) feature stories based mostly on popular vote. The more upvotes, the more likely it is people will see it. But just submitting good content is rarely enough to make it out of the fray of a million submissions. Instead, one of the most handy tactics is to create a “Voting Brigade,” a group of people that are asked to upvote/like/pin/whatever your content when it’s added. That group of people can be built in lots of ways: contributors across the country, ambassadors at every college, remote employees, convincing your frat brothers, whatever. If they’re supportive of what you’re doing, you can mobilize them to give your content a fighting chance. Putting it into play with 5-10 upvotes will give it the momentum to be seen by more people, who will ultimately decide if it’s worth the time. And, early on, in my opinion it’s among the most useful ways to get attention without spending money on anything. That said, this is tricky and has to be handled really cleverly. Obviously most of these networks aren’t blind to this and work hard to prevent upvoting blocks. So don’t push it. Only do it for truly great content that’s really relevant to the community. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t have the same people upvote it from the same IP address over and over again. We used this at Greatist to great success early on and, now, the neat thing is we don’t need to orchestrate it any more. People share our stuff without our help, typically. But a few extra upvotes never hurt.
Get big friends. Great examples include Hipmunk & Ashton Kutcher (and how he shared their logo on Two and a Half Men) plus Ridejoy & Y Combinator (their recent Vanity Fair story). This is easier said than done, obviously. But getting legitimacy from known quantities can only help.
Thought leadership. If you’re constantly writing on a topic and build an engaged, awesome audience with you as a thought leader early on, then there’s no better way to build a relevant business. People like Jason Baptiste and Andrew Warner (Mixergy) have both produced awesome content, then built a meaningful business thanks to the respect they’ve garnered.
As this series draws to a close, it’s important I mention the crucial part you play in achieving success. I don’t just mean you, the founder/CEO/marketing director/whoever you are professionally. I mean you, personally. For me, the two are profoundly intertwined. Personal balance and the right attitude in your life will make you better at everything in your professional life. So three things to keep in mind that I believe are crucial to growing something to success, whether we’re talking social/brand growth or anything else:
First, Make Healthier Choices. This lesson is among the first I learned when I started trying to get more serious about my health and surprisingly found it made me more efficient, more creative, and more confident at everything else in my life. It’s obviously super relevant to our mission at Greatist, but it’s just so crucial. Finding time to sweat a ton, savoring moments to breathe and de-stress, prioritizing sleep, and working to just eat good food will simply make you better at life. None of this is a sprint, but instead a really freakin’ long race. Make sure you model that for yourself and everyone you work at. I find the minute this stuff goes is the minute everything else starts to fall apart.
Second, Put the Time in to Find Email Inbox Happiness. We spend an extraordinarily huge amount of time in our email inbox. Most of us use it as our to-do list (and it doesn’t help that it’s the world’s only to-do list where literally anyone can put whatever they want at the top of it). Taking the time away from answering your email to organize and create systems to manage it is unbelievably important. It’ll make everything easier—and so many people have created step-by-step guides to achieve inbox happiness (including me: Be An Inbox Hero: The Ultimate Guide To Mastering Gmail.
Finally, JFDI. Among our key core values at Greatist, “Just F*cking Do It” is an important perspective (and first brought to my attention by the very awesome Mark Suster in this blog post) that’s so freakin’ important. If you don’t just do things, things just won’t get done. One weekend last year, I decided to write huge, long emails to some personal heroes of mine: Richard Branson, Howard Schultz, and Danny Meyer. Within a few weeks, I had spoken to Danny Meyer on the phone and received an email from Howard Schultz (no word from Richard, though). No way that would have ever happened without me JFDI.
WHY I DO THIS
I love teaching. I have no interest in being a teacher, but if I believe I learned a few things, working to communicate and teach them has always taught me more than I learned in the first place. That may sound like a selfish thing, but teaching others forces me to constantly challenge myself, work to fully understand complicated concepts so I can truly simplify them, and confront questions and perspectives I may never have encountered.
I’ve also found that almost every time I take the time to share with others, things always come back to me in spades. That may sound like a selfish thing, but I don’t think it is—instead, it’s just the way human relationships seem to work. If you do something for someone, they’re more inclined to do something for you. And exposure to new people through helping them just gives you more of a chance to meet people who might be able to help you.
Finally, I believe profoundly in great brands and awesome content. There just simply isn’t enough of either. Building a great brand is so super hard. Creating awesome content is the same. And neither have really obvious, tangible returns on that investment. My mission in life is ultimately just to help make health & wellness easier for everyone, to help them think about it in a healthier way. I’m obsessed with this. If I can help make it a bit easier, in whatever small way, then more people will be healthier, happier, and everything that comes along with those feelings. Lots, lots more. Social brand growth is no different. If there’s any way I can help make it easier for you to reach people with an epic brand and high-quality content, then count me in. Just let me know what I can do.
(Or, Linkbait & Spikebait)
This is Part 4 of 5 in a series on Epic Brand Growth: From 0 to 1M Uniques/Month in 1 Year (Or Less) based on Skillshare & General Assembly classes I taught in the past. Catch up on Part 1 (Is 1M Uniques/Mo Really What Your Want?), Part 2 (Why Knowing You Audience & Nailing Your Brand Matters Most), and Part 3 (How To Find The Right Rocketship: Brand-Audience Fit) or read ahead for Part 5 (What I Wish I Knew Then).
Okay, so you know your brand, your audience, and where you’re going to reach that audience with your brand. But wait, what the heck are you supposed to share with them?
Let’s assume you don’t have an editorial team, tons of money to burn, and/or aren’t famous enough to get people to write content for you for frizzle. Those would all be awesome, I know, but chances are they aren’t the case (yet). The good news is that you can definitely still share stuff that’s great and relevant in a smart, cost-effective way
The way I think about successfully creating and sharing content online is that it’s all about building weenies. Funny word, I know, but the concept of a “weenie” is among my most favorite lessons learned from reading every single biography of Walt Disney (so many fun Friday nights!). When Walt was building Disneyland, he and his Imagineers became obsessed with the idea of building big, interesting elements that would draw people in for a closer look. Then, of course, they’d stick around the area where the weenie was and, hey, maybe buy some Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars. The most famous example of this is probably the Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. You walk in and you’re immediately drawn into the park by this big, beautiful castle (proof I didn’t make up the whole concept). The fancy title for this online is basically Inbound Marketing, but more or less the concept is the same: create and share big, beautiful, relevant content to build an audience around all your other stuff (or convert people to buy your Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars or whatever).
The world of “things that work” online, in my mind, is split into two different kinds of shared content: Linkbait, content that can become a lasting resource and build an audience long-term, and what I call Spikebait, content which can produce a burst (“spike”) in attention, but likely won’t build long-term brand awareness and keep people around. Linkbait takes more time and resource to create than Spikebait and more often than not it won’t work at all. But Spikebait is, by definition, not enough. So, I’d ultimately recommend a healthy mix of the two, but each brand should have its own balance. Over time, I’ve built out the following examples of each kind:
Infographic: Complete Guide to Interval Training (Super Infographic: Snake Oil? Scientific Evidence for Health Supplements META ALERT! Infographic about infographics.)
Egobait: The 25 Healthiest Colleges
Top X List: 100 Excellent Free Wordpress Themes
Comic/Cartoon: 15 Things Worth Knowing About Coffee
Chart/”Minfographic”: Am I Wearing Pants?
Link Roundup: Links We Love
Ultimate Guide/Content: The Coffee Lover’s Guide to Tea
Motivational Poster: “Go Wherever Your Heart Desires”
Funny Image: T-Rex Hates Pushups
Beautiful Photo: Central Park 90 Days Apart
Quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
Shameless Ask: “Retweet If You Love Fridays!”
Meme & Gif: Texts from Hillary
Would You Rather: “Would you rather give up sex or the internet for a year?”
- Curate picture lists (works for Buzzfeed, TwistedSifter, & Greatist)
- Find help for frizzle (interns!)
- Share stuff from other publishers/content producers (e.g. infographics, summaries of stories a la much of Lifehacker’s stuff, etc…)
- Or pay for it by hiring high-quality freelance writers through Contently or licensing high-quality content through NewsCred.
- Or, of course, create it yourself.
WHY PEOPLE SHARE
So all this is great, but what’s the real deal? What’s the code that you need to crack to get “viral growth”? How have Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Greatist, and other outlets grown so freakin’ fast?
I’ve spent a few years pretty obsessed with this question. And my conclusion, at least so far, is that why people share almost always comes down to identity.
People share because it makes them look smart, funny, or cool.
Think about the things you’ve personally shared in the last day or so and my guess is a lot falls into the three categories above.
Just kidding, I already think you’re smart, funny, AND cool, so keep up the good work.
People share because it says something about who they are or who they want to be.
At Greatist, the majority of people who share our content aren’t in our primary audience. We’re ultimately trying to reach normal people working to simply make healthier choices, one choice at a time. But the people who share our content are usually the health & wellness professionals or superfans, people who either are defined by the space or want to be defined by it, people who want to prove to their followers that, “Yes! Greatist agrees foam rolling really is awesome as I’ve mentioned before.” or, “Hey, avocados really are a healthier choice just like I said they were. Good thing I’m wearing this ‘I Heart Guac’ t-shirt today!”
Tim O’Reilly maybe says this (in a great article) best: “It’s to find people who care about the same things you do, and to tell a story that amplifies their voice because it helps people who haven’t yet heard the word also come to know and care… In short, the secret of promotion in the age of social media isn’t to promote yourself. It’s to promote others.”
Also, if you’re wondering when people share, then Jonah Peretti’s the king here. His ideas about the “Bored at Work network (and “Bored in a Line” network) are important reads.
I’m convinced the killer app for health and fitness tracking is social. That’s what I think can take health tracking to the next level, where regular people care. If we can do something fun with it, compete or work together to achieve certain goals with it, then we’ll forget about the numbers and instead just focus on getting healthier.