How To Write Viral Content Online
4 years ago, I was sitting in the last writing class of my college education. I was about to graduate with a degree in "creative writing," a degree many people assured me would guarantee a future of serving coffee at Starbucks for the rest of my life.
On the last day of class, my teacher, an author himself, said, "Writing as an art isn't dying. It's just going digital. And for the vast majority of writers, that's terrifying. They know how to write, they don't know how to market themselves. But the ones that can learn how to use these new tools will be the ones to succeed."
And with that, I grabbed my diploma and set out into the real world to find the answer to that very question.
I took a job as an entry-level copywriter at a digital agency downtown Chicago I will always consider to be a monumental part of my journey, called Idea Booth. I took that job because I saw that it would teach me what I didn't yet understand: the art of marketing. I had never taken a marketing or advertising class, had no idea what a "campaign" was or what acronyms like "ROI" meant. But I saw that in order for me to learn how to share my writing with the world, I first needed to understand what the world was willing to pay attention to.
This sparked an extreme interest in me to study all forms and variations of marketing, from the extravagant big brand performances all the way down to the forums online frequented by number-crunching digital marketers who obsessed over conversion rates and automated sales funnels. My entire life, you couldn't have paid me to take a math class seriously, and here I was up until two in the morning reading novel long PDF guides on ad spends and product conversion ratios.
At the same time, I continued to nurture my writing. Gone were my class assignments nudging me in different directions. Gone were my peers, ready to provide feedback. My support system as a writer had vanished, and in order to continue to master my craft I needed to find a new way to practice.
I started writing on a website called Quora. It was an intriguing platform, and one that I saw was dominated by really great writers, whether they called themselves that or not. Anyone could ask a Question, and anyone could provide an Answer. And the best Answers were written by thought leaders in their field, people who were speaking from experience. Except, what I realized very early on (studying people like Leonard Kim) was that the most popular writers on Quora had a way of doing two very opposite things at once: answering people's questions and providing real value, while at the same time telling their own unique story and making readers feel entertained.
"I have a lot of stories I could tell," I thought to myself.
So I started writing. 1 Answer per day.
3 months later, I had my first Answer pop on Quora. It was a summarized version of a lesson I had learned playing World of Warcraft at a national level, and held excerpts of my then-forthcoming memoir, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer. Over 100,000 people had read that Answer, and it ended up being published in Quora's 2014 Print Anthology.
"This is how I can market my book!" I realized. "I can answer gaming questions on Quora!"
Not a month after that, I had my first Answer go full-blown viral, landing on the front page of Reddit. That Answer has since accumulated over 1.1M views. It was a short Answer, barely two paragraphs, but was paired with a Before & After photo of me and my journey as a bodybuilder. Overnight, my inbox flooded with emails from people saying, "That picture on the left, that skinny kid is me. How can I end up like you there, on the right?"
This is what they were referring to: https://www.quora.com/Is-it-possible-to-ch…/…/Nicolas-Cole-1
In one weekend, I built a website and wrote two eBooks, one about my workout routines, and another about my nutrition. I launched them that Sunday night, and by Monday morning had made $3,000.
"This is what product/market fit looks like!" I realized. Slowly but surely, what I was learning about digital marketing was starting to relate back to writing.
By the 5th month of my writing on Quora, I had my first Answer republished by a major publication: Inc. Magazine. I didn't even know that sort of thing was possible. A month later, I had another one of my Answers republished, this time in TIME.
I messaged back the person on Quora's team who had asked for my permission to republish the Answer.
"So, how does this work? Other publications can just take content from Quora and repost it?" I asked.
"Yup! They need great content, and we have amazing writers here on Quora writing really great material so it's a perfect fit. If you ever write something you think would be a good match for a certain publication, let me know and I'll pitch it," she said.
I saw this as my open door.
For months, I studied what content was appearing on the front pages of these major publications: Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, etc. And then every time I sat down to write a Quora answer, I would carefully craft my answer to be in the form of an article one of these big pubs would want to republish.
I cracked the code, to say the least.
For over 6 months straight, I had a different Quora answer republished in a major publication every single week. Inc, TIME, Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Observer, Fox News, The Chicago Tribune, Apple News, Popsugar, the list went on and on.
In less than a year, I had racked up more writing accolades than most professional writers.
At the end of 2014, nine months after I had started writing on Quora, I was named one of their Top Writers. I had accumulated over 8,000,000 views on all my articles.
At the end of 2015, I was named Top Writer again, now with over 12,000,000 total views.
In 2016, Inc Magazine was republishing so much of my content from Quora that they gave me my own column.
And at the end of 2016, I leveraged my audience on Quora to self-publish Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, reaching #2 in 2 different categories on Amazon the first day, and #1 on Product Hunt. I was named Top Writer for the 3rd time, now with over 16,000,000 total views.
I am now a full-time writer. One-half artist, one-half entrepreneur. Except what I have learned along the way extends far outside just the realm of writing.
If you want to be a thought leader in your industry, if you want people to come to you, if you want to have an audience, if you want to have a voice, then here's how you can refine that voice and get yourself out there.
I want to teach you how you can do what I've done, for yourself.