How to Go Viral (Without a Big Audience)

A simple recipe to follow for maximum internet points

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A few years ago, I went viral on Medium.

The 50/30/10/10 Rule for How to Wake Up Earlier and Work on Your Dream

One article. 954,000 views. 67,000 claps. and $12,700 in earnings paid directly to me. It was a great time.

Since then, I’ve written hundreds of other articles. While only a few of those went viral, I think I’ve figured out what it takes.

I first did it as a part-time writer with only a couple of hundred followers, most of them family and friends. If I could do it, so can anyone. 

Here’s how to go viral (as a virtual nobody):

1. Publish a lot

Going viral is a numbers game. Period.

You can try to break down viral content section by section. You can make a science out of what hooks readers, what compels them to keep scrolling, and why certain pieces are shared more than others.

But the truth is, even if you follow the science to a T, you probably won’t go viral. 

Amateurs don’t understand this. They get angry. Frustrated. They want the process to yield consistent results. The experts, however, expect this. They know it’s just part of the game.

I’ve published hundreds of stories all over the internet. I’ve gone viral only a handful of times. This doesn’t phase me anymore. It’s just how the world works.

Think about it this way. Book publishers cast a wide net. They publish hundreds, thousands of books each year that no one reads. They don’t care. Because if just 1 of those books hits the New York Times Best-Seller’s List, they’ve made a gargantuan profit.

The same is true for you and your writing.

A small subset of your portfolio will vastly outperform everything else.

You have no idea which story you write is going to explode. You just don’t. The pieces you think are awesome will flop, and the ones that you don’t think twice about will surprise you.

It’s safe to assume that timing and luck both play a much bigger role than you think.

So publish a lot. Then publish some more.

2. Don’t worry about how long it takes

Writing is like investing — time is your best friend. 

It took a few years before my first article went viral. In that time, I published a lot of pieces. Some sucked. Some were good. Most I’d say were average.

Eventually, my “how to wake up earlier” article exploded, many months after its initial publish, and I got my first taste of minor league internet fame. 

It was an unexpected twist in my online writing ventures. I thought that post was long dead, but then it roared back to life. Apparently, some stories just need time to marinade.

No matter how long it takes you to write a viral story, or how long it takes for an already viral-worthy story to bloom, time is always your friend.

Even if it takes years, a really neat thing happens as time passes while you continue to write and publish — you get better.

Your grammar improves. Your vocabulary expands. Your style evolves. You become a better writer.

Plus, you build a library of content that acts as your personal resume for anyone who finds you online. It builds trust and credibility.

All of this adds up over that magical word ‘time’. Your efforts compound as do your chances of going viral.

Find a reason to keep going, to stay dedicated to the craft, and eventually time unravels in your favor. 

3. Say something different

You don’t go viral by writing the same shit as everyone else.

But, entirely new ideas are almost possible to come by. Everything you can think of has probably already been said before. 

That’s OK though. It’s nothing to get caught up on. You don’t need to be new, you just need to be a little different. If you can find a way to deliver existing information from a fresh perspective, you did your job. 

My “how to wake up earlier” article is a perfect example.

Do you think I invented a totally unique way to get my ass out of bed each morning?

Heck no. The advice that I shared was nothing new — I just said it differently.

  • I told a personal story of what I did and how I stuck with it

  • I turned it into a short, intriguing, memorable formula: the 50/30/10/10 rule for how to wake up earlier and work on your dream

  • I appealed to readers emotions by adding ‘why’ you would want to wake up earlier — “to work on your dream”

  • I admitted that 10% of the equation was luck i.e. an unscripted backup plan

All of those things, combined with some above average writing, was enough to light a spark.

Don’t aim for something new. Aim for something different.

4. Give every piece the chance it deserves

Do you know what my biggest obstacle to going viral was?

It was me.

I can’t even count the number of times I chose to publish an article on my website (a lonely, dark corner of the vast internet), or to not publish one at all.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of writing, it’s that I’m a horrible critic of my own work. Time and again I’ve watched the pieces that I expected to do well do nothing, and the ones I expected to do nothing do well.

I wrote the first draft of my “how to wake up earlier” article on a whim in less than an hour. 

It was the last piece I ever expected to go viral. But the mob had other plans. Had I kept that post to myself, or if I had published it on my traffic-starved website, I wouldn’t be here writing about it.

If you write something with the intent to publish it:

  • Follow through. Don’t talk yourself out of it. 

  • Publish it on a platform with lots of eyes (social media, Medium, etc.)

  • Share it. Advocate for it. Don’t just post a link and expect people to click it. 

  • Be patient. Sometimes it just takes time to conjure luck.

Above all, don’t doubt yourself.

If I can do it, anyone can

I’m not Elon Musk.

I can’t tweet something stupid and rake in 100,000 likes.

Instead, I have to rely on the strategy and mindset above to make a splash. I’m just one of the little guys, and that’s ok. 

A little bit of hard work, some patience, and a pinch of luck is all it takes.

For what it’s worth, I’ve seen all kinds of content go viral. We all have. Anything is possible.

I’m a nobody. I did it. You can too.