Every marketer dreams of going viral. Just craft an article and watch the fireworks fly.
But its not so easy in practice. Having been active on Twitter since 2011 and published thousands of article over the course of my career, I had never once gone viral.
Sure, Ive had some articles get shared pretty heavily, but never the Internet plastering degree that you read about on GrowthHackers.
That changed when a Medium story I wrote caused quite the uproar on Twitter.
Interestingly, it wasnt so much my Medium story itself that blew up. Rather, it was my tweets about how my Medium story got rejected by an editor that did. Even more interestingly, the article that got rejected was about free speech.
In the end, I gained over 200K impressions on Twitter, 5.9K views on the story on Medium and dozens of new Twitter followers. This is a result of over 300 retweets including several by some extremely influential and high follower count users.
In this story, Ill share step-by-step how an article about free speech that got censored went viral.
40K signups in 3 weeks. Talk about virality. That stat makes Gab.ai one of the fastest growing consumer technology startups of all time. (Rumor has it theyre closer to 60K signups now.)
In addition, Gab supports free speech, an issue Im very passionate about.
Then, I pitched it to one of the largest publications on Medium.
I assumed the publication I pitched it to would be interested, given the topic of the publication is consumer technology startups.
However, after confirming he would review the story and expressing interest in publishing the piece, the editor sent me this email:
The left thinks the the right is debunked propaganda. The right thinks the left is debunked propaganda. I get it.
But we have to let all voices be heard. The right to free speech is protected by The First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Its critical that we have open discourse on the many important challenges facing our society today.
However, the editor didnt seem to agree. The next morning he sent me this email:
I couldnt believe it. My article about free speech was censored.
The publication is about consumer technology companies. And Gab is one of the fastest growing consumer technology companies of all time. Yet, the article was rejected.
The editor asks for more varied opinions. Yet, when faced with an opinion different than his own, he rejected it.
While my piece was rejected by one of the largest publications on Medium, not all hope was lost.
I had a choice. I could let it bring me down, or I could accept reality and make the best of it.
So I published the story on my own publicationand took to Twitter.
I wrote a tweetstorm about how the article was rejected, including the emails from the editor, and I tagged the people that were mentioned.
Several hours after my tweets, the CEO of Gab messaged me to say thanks for writing the article (we had chatted a bit on Twitter before).
I told him what had happened. About how it had been rejected by one of Mediums largest publications on account of propaganda.
He was shocked. What a world my friendwhat a time to be alive, he said.
He became patient zero. He tweeted the link to my tweetstorm and copied the people that were mentioned in the email from the editor.
What happened next was beyond what I could have ever imagined.
The people he copied started tweeting and retweeting. People with tens of thousands of followers each.
Then, their followers started tweeting and retweeting.
Ive never had so many notifications in my life. I was actually on a call when it started. It was extremely challenging to stay focused.
This all led to a ton of activity on Twitter.
As I mentioned, I published the story about Gab on my own Medium publication. My publication barely has any followers. Especially when compared to the tens of thousands of followers that the publication I pitched has.
The stories I publish on my own publication typically do less than 10% as well as the stories I publish on big publications.
But since the Twitterspehere was so supportive, the storys gained over 5.5K views.
Heres where the traffic came from:
So why did this happened? What can be learned and applied to future marketing efforts? I think there were five factors that most contributed to the virality.
There are two sides to the censorship vs free speech debate: the censor-ers and the censored. My tweets clearly played to the side of the censored.
If my audience feels like they wont be able to speak freely, you can imagine why they would be motivated to share the message.
In addition, most people dont want to feel like they are oppressive. So claiming victimhood is often persuasive.
Within the week leading up to these events, there were multiple news stories about censorship on social media. Twitter banned Milo Yiannopoulos and YouTube stopped allowing controversial accounts to monetize.
This probably contributed to people being more receptive to the message about free speech, and it would potentially trigger confirmation bias.
I mention people in my tweets and articles all the time. But the people mentioned dont always share them. This time they did.
I think they shared it because the message was in line with their personal brands and within the topics they typically write about. For example, it gave Mike Cernovich evidence for what he had already been talking about:
Americans hate double standards more than anything. We have a sense of fairness and equality burned deep into our brains. We also distrust large establishmentspolitical and media.Mike Cernovich
My tweet showed the editor asking for diverse opinions while rejecting diverse opinions. In addition, bashing large establishmentslike big corporations and mainstream mediais very in in some circles right now.
Heres an example of one of Mikes tweets that illustrates this strategy and now has close to 4K retweets:
Free speech is an issue that people care about and want to promote. Promoting it appeals to the desire to be virtuous and altruistic.
However people might not be willing to talk about it themselves because of the reputation risk. Anyone can write about marketing but few people are willing and able to write about controversial and important issues facing our society.
Publicly discussing certain issues can restrict your career options. For example, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has said that his inquires for speaking have dropped significantly since writing about Trump (even though he has stated that he does not endorse him).
By sticking my neck out just a bit, I gave people a unique and powerful message that they were motivated to spread.