As the CEO of Spartz Inc, he runs one of the fastest-growing digital media publishers with 160 million page views per month. The Spartz Media Network includes eighteen websites including OMG Facts, GivesMeHope, and SmartphOWNED.
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Brandon Taylor and today I have Emerson Sparks with us. Emerson, thanks so much for coming on the program.
Emerson: Thanks for having me.
Bronson: Absolutely. Just to give our audience a little bit an idea of who you are. You’ve achieved what few people actually can achieve. You’ve created multiple websites that have experienced some form of viral growth. At the age of 12, you founded Mobile Net, which had, I believe, 50 million page views a month. And now you run a number of sites under Sparks Inc, which have the last I saw about 160 million page views a month. So needless to say, you understand growth, you understand virality. And so the questions I want to ask you, they are really going to be trying to draw out of your mind what you know about viral growth that the rest of us don’t so that we can try to learn from you. Sound fair enough.
Emerson: Sounds like fun.
Bronson: All right. So the first question I have is when you consider starting a new website, because that’s a part of what Sparks Ink does, as far as I can tell you, kind of, you know, you generate these new products, these new properties when you consider the idea for one of them. What is it that you look at with an idea to really decide if it could experience viral growth? What are some of the earliest indicators if you think an idea has legs?
Emerson: The way we’re operating now is we launch a lot of websites being launched in new websites and apps a year. So. And we have about an 80% success rate in launching new sites. And the reason why is because I don’t want something until I already know what’s going to work. And when I say no, it’s going to work. It’s because we do a lot of research to find out what where there’s demand. So we’re not just guessing. A big part of this is using some tools that are publicly available, some that we build privately, like, for example, Google Trends. So they will look I’ve spent like literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of my life just putting things into Google Trends and seeing what’s hot, right? There’s this specific meme, for example, that’s getting huge or, you know, a content trend or something like that. So that’s kind of the basis of it is it’s looking to see what’s already working and what would appeal to our audience.
Bronson: Yeah, now makes a lot of sense. Now, once you’ve decided to move forward on an idea or, you know, a property, you decide, yes, we’re going to do it. One of the things that you then put into place, what kind of things do you put an emotion to, to build it, to make sure that viral growth can come from it to things like a domain name matter? Does a design matter? Is it other things that matter? You know, how many people do you throw at a project? Is it one person? Is it ten people? Walk us through the actual mechanics of them building the property to ensure that it can grow.
Emerson: Sure. So most of those things aren’t actually as important as people think they are and they can be very specific. So obviously the domain name does matter because when you think about something, if you’re going to tell your friend about you, you’re not going to you’re not going to go out and say, have you seen that hot new website? Best dash foams dash. You know, online echo dot UK that’s not viral has to sound cool. Obviously most people use the wrong schema when thinking about the internet. They think about the internet like it’s not like their home city. So I’m in Chicago and most people think, Oh, there’s a restaurant that opens up in Chicago, an innovative, viral one that everyone hears about. Then no one else can do that because it’s already been done. But that’s not how the Internet actually works. The Internet is way, way, way bigger than that. So a better schema to use to think about the Internet like it’s the entire world. And if somebody opens up an innovative viral restaurant in Chicago that everyone’s heard of. Well, that’s not true. Only people in Chicago have heard of that. So what you can do is you can take that same you can use that that restaurant for inspiration and open up one in New York or Shanghai or Dubai or some other city. And because it works for people in Chicago, people in Chicago are not that different for people in New York. So there’s a good chance that a restaurant similar to that will work in New York as well. So with reality, the numbers are staggeringly bad when you really do the math on the likelihood of actually making something go viral. So what my my general shortcut is, is to try to find things that have gone viral and see if I can emulate their accents. But you bring it to a new corner of the Internet that’s never seen that before or that or I’ll put a spin on it that makes it new, but it still captures much of the essence of the original one, because the Internet is just so much bigger than people realize. And most people, whatever that thing that you’ve heard of, most people haven’t heard of that, and most people never will. So even if something goes really viral and let’s say a million people discover something virally, when you think about how many billions of people are on the Internet, 1 million people out of 2 billion people is not very many people at all. There’s still 1.99 billion people who haven’t seen that yet or haven’t been exposed to that yet. So that’s kind of the core of my my the way that I think about reality is, is finding things that are going viral and then learning from what I can learn from them.
Bronson: Yeah. Now it makes a lot of sense. You have seen so much viral growth. I want to ask you some really specific questions about virality and get your take on them. Do you think virality is ever an accident or for you at least, is it always engineered? Like you said?
Emerson: I would say it’s usually an accident. There are a small number of people in the world where if I found out that they were behind something, I would assume that it was not an accident and it was engineered. But I would say 99.99% of all things that go viral are accidentally viral.
Bronson: Is that kind of the the sparks ink special sauce is that you’re learning to engineer what other people think are accidents.
Emerson: That’s exactly what our secret sources.
Emerson: And for me because for me it’s a fun game it’s you know, I got started when I was, you know, I had my my background. I studied a lot of different things and I got really interested in virality, but there was a lot of research on the topic at the time. So I had to study a lot of peripheral fields like network science, network theory, persuasion, theory, epidemiology. I started emerging them, I hit on something, something I thought was pretty big. And it was the kind of thing where I was an academic. I would have written a white paper on it, but I’m not an academic journal.
Bronson: So the first time around it.
Emerson: Yeah, exactly. So I wanted to go tests, test it out. And so I started off on Facebook. So what I’d done was I developed a series of algorithms and I was able to make dozens of Facebook pages go from zero to millions of fans over a period of a few hours to a few days. What I was doing was testing hundreds of different variables and seeing which variables correlated positively to virality. And then I kept shortening of the viral loop into content within 20 seconds if something was going to go viral or not, seeding it at different critical mass thresholds. And I took the team, it was all network level stuff. So think nodes, hubs, spokes, things like that, not not specific to Facebook. So I took the same idea from Facebook to Twitter, got millions of followers on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, websites, apps, again, it didn’t matter. Every platform has different there’s different viral tricks that you can use and there’s different viral mechanisms that you can use. But in general, what I sort of stumbled upon was was not specific to any one platform.
Bronson: Okay. Tell us what some of those things you stumbled upon are, because as soon as you say that, I’m like, all right, now tell me more. Like, I’m imminently interested now. Yeah. So what did you discover? Like, what are the things that, you know, are kind of cross-platform that you kind of brought away from all those things?
Emerson: So the biggest thing that I hit on was that when something goes viral, people don’t people think of it just going viral in a kind of linear way or an exponential way like this. But they don’t realize that it’s actually when something goes viral. All this is an idea that’s spreading from one network to another network to another network. Like somebody posts a new funny picture online and then someone who’s a member of the forum who sees it. This guy, Brian, he’s also a member of this other like gun lovers forum. And he posted on the Gun Lovers Forum. And then someone’s a member of that forum posting on another forum and and then there’s a different circle of friends. He finds it, and then it just keeps going from boom, boom, boom, network, network, network. And what I realized was that instead of focusing on the actual influencers, like the shooter, always thinking about reality, focus. And the messenger, like the influencers are you focus on the message. And my insight was that if you can just find out what already is a viral message, like what’s a viral picture or a piece of content or a website or whatever, then it didn’t really matter what you watch influencers, you took it to you because it had a high probability of going viral anyway. So what I realized was instead of trying to like start from scratch and make things viral from scratch, it’s better to find things that have already started to go viral and then find a way to use them for your own purposes.
Bronson: Yeah, now makes a lot of sense. Is virality always through social networks? You know, you mentioned Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook, and those are the ones that come to mind, obviously. Can something go viral through, you know, email marketing? Can something go viral through any other means or is viral virality just really germane to social networks?
Emerson: So think of virality is just if something’s really awesome. Okay. There’s two ways. Either you can you can either engineer virality through like clever tricks and hacks to get people to share, right? Like, incentivized sharing is probably the most straightforward way. Like, oh, if you share this contest on Facebook, you’ll get two extra entries. If you tweet about it, get a third extra entry. If you sign up for the email address, you’ll get another entry. Or, you know, if you tell a friend, we’ll give you guys both a discount or we’ll give you a $5 coupon. If you tell a friend like level up, you know, you sign up for level up and you tell a friend, you know, you both get $5. You know, that sort of that sort of reality is one way that’s getting people to share something that they wouldn’t otherwise probably share. So you have to give them even more incentive to share it.
Emerson: That’s one way. That’s I call that bribery. And that strategy is in general, that’s the best viral strategy to go with because it’s the most straightforward. It’s like, well, if you give them something a good enough reason to share, they will. The other way is to focus on the content itself, the message itself. So the way to do this is you have to find content that inspires a lot of emotion in general because you think about things with content specifically. People will see thousands of pieces of content when they go online every single day. Of that, how many pieces of content are they actually going to share? One, two, three. Maybe the reason why is because most content does not inspire enough emotion to get them to be willing to actually go and say, yes, I should definitely go spam all my 280 friends on Facebook to see this picture that I saw or see this website that I saw. So you got to inspire a lot of emotions. The content has to be just that much more awesome than everything else that I saw that day. And when you’re competing against thousands of pieces of content per day, the odds of you creating a piece of content from scratch for a website do from scratch that is more awesome than the other thousand things I saw that day is very, very low. Yeah. So you’re better off just taking something that has already gone viral. In some ways, they’re already been proven to be awesome and using that for your own purposes. So like George Takei is a great example of this. George Takei is a former Star Trek actor who just started like. I mean, to simplify the process, he just grabbed content from the top. Did you read it? And in post on his Facebook page and his nerdy fans loved it because it was all. I mean, once it gets to the top page or read it, it’s already sort of been validated. Like people like this thing, people are devoted up or down and people vote it up. It’s it’s pretty good, right? And so he started getting huge numbers of likes and followers from this and the strategy. And now he posts anything. He’s got 4 million likes, so he’ll get 20,000 likes for posts on average. So, so that’s kind of. So my general philosophy is to for most people, it’s to focus on like, what are the things that you can do to just give them really strong incentives to share. The other strategy is how do you either create or better off just repurpose content that’s already been proven to be viral. Very viral just means awesome. Just think about something. Viral just means is really awesome. But those things are not awesome enough to be viral, but there’s tons of content out there that you can use for your own purposes.
Bronson: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Now, let me ask you this, and I think I know the answer, but I want to ask it anyway based on what you said. What is it that’s actually going viral most of the time? Is it the site itself or is it bits and pieces of content within the site itself? And how does that change the way you view virality?
Emerson: So anything can go viral. It can be any anything that people share is viral, whether it’s a piece of content, it’s a websites app, it’s an idea. It can be anything. So.
Bronson: Yeah. So anything? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Does it change the incentives? Because, you know, if I think about a website like, hey, you want early beta access, I’ll give you this if you share this or something like that. There I can see how easy it is. How do you get people to share pieces of content within your site? Because I don’t know what care to dangle? Like I can’t. You know what? What I tell them I’ll give them what are some value propositions or within the site. Does it just have to be that emotional, awesome content? Is that the kind of the way it breaks down?
Emerson: A couple things. So as far as figuring out what to bribe them with. There’s there’s a lot of successful ad campaigns that have figured out ways of doing this. So again, I’ll just rattle off a bunch of them. So again, discounts like if you if you sign up, if your friend signs up, we’ll give you guys both a discounts. Or if you sign up, we’ll give you a coupon or we’ll give you a discount or we’ll give you will donate some money to charity. Or we’ll or like what? Like getting your content. Getting, for example, is a good way of doing it. Like you’ll notice that a lot of the smartest marketers online, they as soon as you land on their website, they hit you with a model that will pop up that ask that says you want to get free tips in your inbox, give us your email address, because they know that, you know, a certain percentage of people are going to do that, even though some people will get annoyed, but they need to capture some information from visitors. Otherwise people just go and they bounce and they never come back. But even if they like, if they get 5% of people to answer their email address to get marketing tips in their newsletter, then that that’s 5% of the population, people that they can keep sending emails to and keep reengaging them and so on. So those are like the little things that can that can really contribute.
Bronson: Now those are great. Those are awesome tips and tricks for us about it.
Emerson: So for example, like Warrior Dash, it’s a racing series that a lot of people are racing. And the only way to find out I’m was. Can you hear me?
Bronson: Yeah, I can. Go ahead.
Emerson: Okay. So I guess this outdoor racing series, we run over obstacles and mud and fired flames and stuff like that. And the only way that you can find out what your time was at the end of the race is to like them on Facebook. They got millions of likes on Facebook because once you’ve gone through all the trouble of training for it and so on, like the least you can do is like, I’m on Facebook and then if you want you can unlike a most people don’t. So they just built up this massive number of likes on Facebook by just giving them people a good incentive, which was find out what your score was. So just think about what’s something that your visitors would really want and then say, make them like you on Facebook to get it or make them Facebook connection, make them give you an email address or so on, or give it to them for free. But then say, Hey, now that we’ve done this, please, you know, we’d really appreciate, you know, your your email address or whatever. But the point is, you got to capture that information that you can continue to reengage them. Yeah, these are all things that contribute to virality. But again, those are on the side of the bribery side of the equation. So in general, what I’d recommend doing for that is just make a list of all the things that you could potentially bribe or users with. Again, whether it’s discounts, coupons, one for ones like, you know, just a plea, a general, a genuine plead for them to share, asking your friends to like literally asking them to share it again, all the things you provide them with. Second Call. All the things that you can. All the things you want them to do. Again, it could be retweets, follow shares, favorites, signing out, giving you your email address, telling a friend, buying a product, whatever. A couple of quick like tips on that. Facebook is way more effective than Twitter in this regard. Think what we’ve seen is that every time somebody shares one of our our pictures on Facebook, we get about 180 impressions in the Facebook newsfeed. Every time somebody likes a picture, we only get 30 impressions and we get about 80 impressions for comments. So if you’re going to ask them to do anything on Facebook, get them to share and tweets aren’t that bad. People just don’t read tweets. So I wouldn’t really focus on Twitter in particular. Focus more on Facebook.
Bronson: No, that’s great. Thanks for such actionable advice. Is there any maybe myths about virality? Because you’re you’re the viral guy. People come to you. You see what people are thinking. You see their their misguided efforts. What are some of the myths about virality that you can kind of debunk if you if you have any that come to mind?
Emerson: Okay. So there’s a lot of myths. So whenever people point to something and they try to explain why it’s viral, I usually just roll my eyes because even I have no idea why things are viral. I can tell you I can tell you things that make things more likely to be viral. But why one particular video or picture? One particular app is more real than others is usually really hard to decipher. So some specific tips on things that are more likely to go viral. Again, anything that inspires lots of emotion. Again, emotion and reality are so linked, it’s ridiculous. So the ways of inspiring emotion are humor is really effective. People laugh at something. They feel really happy. They want to share it with their friends. Nostalgia. Oh, remember that scene? Seen that, too. Like Family Guy built one of most successful franchises in history off of just like, using abusing nostalgia. I remember that show. It existed once. Cute animals, same thing. You see it, and you’re like, Oh, my God. Squee. It’s so cute. Got to share it. These are pretty straightforward. Everyone knows this. Anger is a really, really strong emotion. And so injustice works really, really well, which is why in a second, like, a baby gets snatched up somewhere, some, you know, some well-to-do white, you know, 16 year old girl gets snatched up somewhere. It’s all over the news because it’s like, you know, how dare they? It’s emotional, right? So, like, if you go on Reddit again, Reddit is a good place to see these kind of things. You’ll notice that a very significant percentage of all the content is about like some court system we screwed somebody over or someone who, you know, police brutality or just some sort of injustice in the world because it makes its blood boiling and they’ve got to go and tell their friends about it and they got to go share. So those are a few things. Yeah, I have a couple other ones here that I actually had written down for. So other things like if something I think think about it for the perspective from the identity perspective, when people are about to share something, they tell their friends about it again, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or just literally telling a friend about it what they’re asking themselves on a subconscious level, even if they don’t realize it, they’re asking themselves, Will sharing this make me look cool?
Bronson: All right.
Emerson: Does this promote the image that I want to promote? Does it make me look smart? Does it make me look in the know? Does it make me look like I mean, this is the reason why nobody shares porn does not make you look cool. Uh huh. So. So. So that’s why, like, you know, the average survival coefficient of articles in The Economist is way higher than most other magazines. Because if you ever read an article about.
Bronson: Your smartphone.
Emerson: We shared it.
Bronson: That’s awesome.
Emerson: Likewise, The New Yorker.
Bronson: Yeah, exactly.
Emerson: That’s great. So. So think identity sharing is going to make me look cool to my friends. Mm hmm. Ride the coattails of what’s hot. Mm hmm. When there’s something that everybody’s talking about, if you can make a piece of content that has to do with that, you’re just juicing your viral coefficient from that. It’s just much more likely to get people to want to talk about it. So whether it’s like a hot meme, like the Harlem Shake or it’s making yet another keep calm and blank on poster, or if there’s a national tragedy or there is, you know, a Kanye West, you know, I’m going to let you finish type moment. Like if you just latch yourself on to an existing something that’s hot and you make a spin off piece of content, content or hell, you just posted on your on Facebook, you’re going to get a lot more activity than you would if you tried to just take something that had been old and tired.
Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s great. What are some of the most successful viral campaigns that you’ve ever been a part of, whether it was planned on accident or whatever? I mean, how big is something gotten, you know, and how quick was something you’ve been directly involved in?
Emerson: So what I try to do is create opportunities for planned serendipity. I don’t know what’s going to go viral before I do it. I have suspicions and I’m kind of like a little bit of a like I’m the mad scientist guy who’s like always just testing things nonstop because I have a theory. So I would say, okay, so a couple of campaigns specifically. Mm hmm. So with the Facebook pages in particular, we got many, many millions of fans from using this. This was just a very specific system that I had developed for being able to identify what had the highest probability of going viral and testing hundreds of different things and Twitter accounts. So it’s Twitter accounts like we’ve got we have millions and millions of followers on Twitter because of using a lot of the same viral strategies. But for example, like we get a lot of followers creating meme accounts because I built a system for knowing which means, ah, you know, there’s, there’s a, there’s, you know, looking at the trajectory and the momentum and, you know, just comparing it to a lot of other things. So we’ve got a bunch of mean Twitter accounts. Most people don’t even know that we have most of these accounts. They’re just kind of like I’ve noticed with most growth actors, there’s always things behind the scenes that are pushing traffic that they don’t really talk about. And for us, like a big part of this is having a ton of followers on Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and so on where we push traffic to our websites from. And we grew those accounts virally because it’s amazing to grow things virally on Twitter. Yeah. So we’ve got a bunch of like mean Twitter accounts that you might have seen, like successful viral campaigns specifically. There’s so many one off pieces of content we get about one piece of content to go massively viral per week. But that’s just a numbers game that we play where we know that our audience creates about 5000 pieces of content every single day. Of those 5000 pieces of content, we publish about 300 of them to the homepages of our respective websites. Of those 300, we figured out a pretty good system for evaluating the probability of something. Going viral is simple, really simple. Ask 30 random people to vote on it, yes or no if they like that piece of content. Like we literally a page called an upcoming page on our sites like OMG, fax and smartphone and so on. And that happened to be visited by random sample size of the population of people who visit the site. Go to that page to see a piece of content. They vote yes or no. I like that. I didn’t like it. And then based on how those 30 people vote, the ratio of yes votes to no votes is actually a good proxy for how viral something is going to be because it lets us know how awesome it is. If something gets it’s a scale, it’s it slides like there’s no like it’s, you know, there’s no tipping point. Exactly. So it’s all probabilistic. But if something has a yes or no ratio of 15 to 1, then it’s got a very high probability of getting some significant viral pickup compared to something that has a ratio of 2 to 1 or 3 to 1. Yeah, but it’s a good way to see how good a piece of content is and how good it is translates to how viral it is.
Bronson: Oh, that’s great. You mentioned, I mean, Twitter accounts. Now, when you say that, do you mean Twitter accounts that people do not know are associated with Sparks, Inc, but yet basically just retweet and talk about all the things that are super popular for some vertical so that then when you push the traffic to your site, they’re on your site, they don’t know why is that? Is that correct. Or my off there.
Emerson: It’s something like that. Yeah. So like well for example, well we, we pull a bunch of data from bunch of different sources to see which names are really big and have a lot of area under the curve, so to speak, like a lot of the life left in the meme. And then we’ll create meme Twitter accounts and then we’ll retweet them heavily from other cast. We’ll get them a critical mass of followers, and then the average tweet that comes out from those meme accounts. That’s a lot of retweets because the content we’re pulling it, we know it’s the best content in the meme is produced. So it gets a lot of retweets, which gets a lot of attention and the account grows, you know, thousands of followers per day. When you do this, I’m kind of oversimplifying it a bit, but and then from there we can post content onto the mean Twitter page or Facebook that then links to our website. And people go to the website to see more content from that meme or content like it.
Bronson: Yeah. No. Makes sense. What are some of the tools you use to see if there’s life under the curve to see what’s I mean, these all in house. Was there anything you can recommend? Like, Hey, go do this, go look at that, try this tool, sign up for this. Are anything actual we can learn there?
Emerson: Yeah. Tons. Okay. So the main tools, Google Trends is by far the most underutilized and unappreciated tool out there. So spend a lot of time on Google Trends. Okay, Alexa, compete in Quantcast looking to see who’s gaining a lot of traffic. Why are they getting traffic? I get tons of our ideas from just finding sites that are growing like crazy and then reverse engineering what they’re doing to get all that traffic so Alexa icon compete dot com Quantcast dot com All really good tools you have to really play around with them though a lot of people everyone’s heard of these tools but most people don’t really know how powerful they can be because they have to spend the time playing with them. Like Alexa, for example, Alexa will show you you can put in any website and I’ll show you what their pages for visitors like average number of pages per visit. That’s really valuable information. What the average time on site is, what the bounce rate is like. These are really valuable piece of information. You need to put the puzzle together of how a site is getting their traffic and so on. There’s also a really great feature in Alexa called Clickstream, where you can see what percentage of their traffic came from, which sources, again, insanely, insanely valuable information like you find a site that’s growing like crazy and you find out that, you know, after traffic is coming from this one site you’ve never heard of, go check out that site and figure out if you can use that for your own purposes. I got tons of ideas from doing that, so they’re all good in different ways. I found that compete tends to underestimate uniques by about eight x, so take whatever competes guesses for uniques and then multiply that times eight and that’s like a better proxy for what their actual traffic is. A lot of what I would say for mobile, there’s a really amazing tool called 00. net. It’s a little bit like a Alexa, but for mobile apps you can see many downloads from mobile apps have gotten, you can see how fast they are growing and you can get a good snapshot of their reviews, similar apps, things like that. Another good tool for that is an app called OR it’s a website called Onavo Insights. It’s owned a video Insights and they show you engagement analytics data on different apps to probably. So that’s a really good place to see what apps are doing well and you can get a lot of information on them.
Bronson: Yeah, there’s.
Emerson: Also. Yeah. So other tools like Fam Star Dot FM is a really great tool that’s fab stage out FM faster. Lets you see the most viral tweets from any twitter account.
Bronson: Wow, that’s great.
Emerson: Yeah, that’s really valuable. So, like, just go to like put in someone else’s Twitter account and look at the most viral tweets. If they if they tweeted a quote and you know that you have a lot of like the people who follow, you’re the same kind of people follow that person. And they just tweeted some quote from Steve Jobs or whatever. Just use that same quote. You get a lot of retweets, too. Yeah. Social baker’s is like the equivalent of that on on Facebook. Really valuable top sitcom is a really great tool. That’s top why Topsy shows you what’s trending around the web. So on top, see, there’s also a really cool tool called Social Analytics, which is basically it’s like Google Trends, but for Twitter specifically. So you can see how certain terms are getting searched for use more or less on Twitter. You can also put in like for example, you can put in a search for iPad. Like I saw I did the Celery, I search for iPad and I was looking at all the different tweets for iPad. I saw that there was this one tweet that had 2000 retweets that day. I was like, What the hell is this? 2000 retweets in one day? And it was a contest. I checked out the contest page and I saw that the contest was basically saying, like, you’ll get an extra chance to win. If the way concepts are set up with an iPad, you get one chance if you register 2 to 3 chances. If you Facebook connect fourth chance if you tweet it, and a chance to be added if you win it. So they were obviously getting tons of social action cause they’re giving people really good reason to want to share it. And so they were getting thousands of retweets per day because of this contest. Yeah. So I got to I mean, like, that’s a really good contest template. You should totally try that out if you’re running a contest, but that’s a good source of inspiration for seeing what’s going viral, what’s getting a lot of retweets, and see if you can learn from that. From that, too.
Emerson: So those are those are some really good tools. I mean, I’ve got a huge list of tools like you probably want to stop me right now. I’m happy.
Bronson: I don’t get the nitty gritty as many as you can lay on. And so if you have more that you think are valid, you know, you can throw them out there to call.
Emerson: Yeah, I’m going to pull up while we keep talking. I’m in a pulpit, Doc, where I have a bunch more of these tools listed. Yeah. And and then I’ll just kind of interject. I’ll interrupt you randomly and then start off.
Bronson: Sounds perfect. Absolutely. So let me ask this while you’re pulling it up there and you may not know this, but just because of the way you structure a business, it may not be data you actually have access to. Is there any like really big viral missteps that, you know, cost to do a ton of traffic where there was a window of opportunity, you pulled the trigger, you know, a day too late. And it was just some massive thing that could have worked that didn’t. Or is that just par for the course? That’s every day and you just you can’t worry about them.
Emerson: Yeah, it’s definitely the latter. Like for every one opportunity that I. I missed 100 and I saw it. What I do is I try to like so far I test things all the time. So, for example, I saw a video, a Harlem Shake video where a guy threw a there’s a it was just a mash up. There’s the video that’s been going viral for a few years where somebody throws a brick in a washing machine and it just looks awesome because the brick destroys it. And then somebody took the Harlem Shake music and put it him on top, put him on top with the other. And it was kind of an amazing video. And I saw the video starting to gain a ton of views. And and so I looked it up, what, using a lot of these different tools I mentioned and and I was like, all right, this is going super viral. But it still only had a couple of hundred thousand views at the time. But I was like, this is totally going get millions of views. So I wanted to I wanted to actually measure the viral coefficient in that video. So I did was I basically copied that video and every uploaded it in a separate YouTube account, like a throwaway account. And then I submitted with 8000 views. So I tweeted out from a couple of accounts, got 8000 views on it, and boom, it went to 60,000 views in a day. So the viral coefficient was at least 6 to 1. Mm hmm. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a huge viral position. And then it got taken out by YouTube because I totally just copied in the video I wasn’t doing I mean, I wasn’t doing it for views. I was doing it to measure it. But that would have gone I mean, that would have meant that video would have gone definitely in the hundreds of thousands of views and very possibly millions of views. So so that’s an example. And now if I wanted to if I actually really wanted to get those views, what I could’ve done is I could have taken that same video, the mash up of those two, the Harlem Shake video, plus the brick in the washing machine video. And I could have just like added a bit of commentary to be able to use it under fair use. Or I could have just like mixed it up a little bit more and mix it up a little bit differently. And it still would have been an amazing video, even if I made it a little bit less awesome by whatever chance they made, and it still would have gone viral. Yeah. So see how like the more closely you can get to that original viral thing, the more likely it is to go viral later. Mm hmm.
Bronson: Now makes a lot of sense. Now, obviously, you’re very interested in viral growth. You know, it’s how you built, what you built. Do you ever consider other channels for growth like pay per click? You know, doing partnerships, I mean, anything additional?
Emerson: Yeah, viral is just one of many different tools that I have in my toolkit. Biros is the most fun one.
Bronson: Yeah. What’s. What’s the ratio then? Are we talking 70% viral and you put 20% pay per click 10% other stuff, or is it 10% viral? And that’s just the interesting stuff. And that’s all we’re talking about it. Like, how does it break down for you guys in terms of actual inbound traffic, you know, that kind of thing?
Emerson: It’s mostly viral, but it’s passive viral, not active. It’s not like we try to engineer every piece of content. It’s more like, all right, how do we make sure that every website that we launch has the highest possible probability of. Don’t separate when you think about viral with content, remember, just viral viral website just means that the experience was really awesome. So how do we know what experiences we really awesome that people are going to share it on their own and there’s all kinds of little tricks and hacks that we do to increase that. And actually that would probably be a good Segway for me. I’m going to I’m going to dump a bunch of quick tips like actionable things that you can do, and then that might be a good springboard for you. See, like when I talk about virality, there’s so many different things that could potentially go into it that.
Bronson: You know, now that would be awesome. Go for it.
Emerson: Okay. I’m pulling up a quick little list that I typed up. The Church is going to live on once again.
Bronson: Yeah, no problem. Take your time. Yeah. It’s worth the wait to get specific advice because that’s the thing. So many people want to talk high level. But the specific advice is just no one talks about it, you know?
Emerson: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Okay. Something. I’m having some computer problems, but. Okay, so I remember a lot of this anyway. Okay. So first, first and foremost, we found. So we’ve got a data, we’ve got a team of data scientists. You just crunch numbers and look for correlations in everything you could possibly imagine. And we found some really interesting ones that are actionable and useful to other people. We found that you can tweet the same thing out three times, 8 hours apart and see only a very small drop off and click through rate between Tweet one to Tweet three.
Bronson: So we’re not seeing it.
Emerson: Right, because almost as many new people will see the third time as the first time you post it, because the Twitter feed is so transient that people will only read whatever’s on their Twitter feed at the time there, but they don’t go back and read all their old tweets. So if you have something, it’s important. Don’t tweet it once. Keep tweeting it like we have tweets that we tweet over and over and over it. In fact, we treat them like every month practically because they work really well and new people see it every time. And if the tweet is awesome enough, then it’s gonna get a lot of retweets, even if a lot of people have already seen it. So again, you can tweet three times if you want to tweet three times because you’re scared, then at least tweet it twice, 5 hours apart again, different time zones at different people, but definitely at least three twice lists. This worked magically well, whatever content, if you’re writing content for the web or you’re trying to reuse content like find a way to put it into list form, I don’t care how ridiculous it seems to put it into this form, find a way. You were just hijacking the brain’s neural circuitry and giving the brain exactly what it wants when you put content into the form of the list, to give you an example of how meaningless the actual content of this has to be relative to the fact that it’s in a list form or how like non relevant the list part of it has to be we actually have it where if you land at any what we call permalink pages on our websites, which just means that it’s like a standalone piece of content, like one funny picture of fact or something. What we do is we dynamically create a list of random content and then we just, you know, say like for example, if you land on a website, iPhone auto cracks, it gets like ridiculous traffic doing 50 million pages a month. And at this website it’ll say like 19, it’ll, it’ll just automatically create a name for the list with a random adjective like 19 hilarious autocrats or 19 totally mind blowing autocrats or 19. And again, it’s random, but it’ll say like one of 19. And then what we found was that that had a dramatic increase in click through rate when we just put it into like a A list, it’s a list. It is a real list. Like they are hilarious autocrats, but it’s not like we like curated this list at all. Yeah. So a big increase in pages per visit and the reason why that’s important and why that’s virals, because the more content that they view, the more likely you are to see one that they really like and then the more likely they are to share it with their friends. Yeah. So the overall volume of shares that we get from the website is much higher because of that. So lists are very important. Find a way to put in to list form and also unnumbered lists work better than even numbered lists because your brain isn’t used to. Your brain’s less used to seeing our numbers than it is to see even numbers. So again, your brain season on number, you’re like, Hey, what’s this, a better fruit, what this is? And then a brain use it. Yeah. Web copywriting. So brevity is almost always better, right? Shorter sentences. Oh, way to think about this. Imagine that you have to change every single comma to a period. The more readable it is, the more likely people are reading, which means more likely to actually take action on it. So you’ve got to write for the web. Shorter sentences like Imagine someone’s paying $2,000 for every word that you remove. Paragraphs never put more than two sentences back to back without adding paragraph tags more. You break it up. Easier just to read them. Well, I think people learn to read the more likely they are to share it a honeymoon period. So this is an important idea. When people when people are most likely to share your content or share your website, whenever the first time they use it, don’t forget this. Don’t expect that they’re going to share a month later or three weeks later. They’re going to do it the first time, maybe the second time they use it, but by the third time, they’re not going to share it because you’re not new anymore. What’s your not new? You lose a lot of the emotion. So there’s this period, there’s this huge spike in their likelihood of sharing with you, sharing your website or sharing your product. And then it falls sharply. So ask them right away. So if you’re trying to get views, you’re trying to get people to share your video, you know, at the end of your video, put out a screen that says, ask them to share right then and there. Don’t hope that they share it on their own. Ask them to share and ask them right away. So, for example, we show people the first time they visit like we had them on the third page. You ever get to the third page view? We know that they’re pretty engaged, that point and we’ll just throw a little pop up saying, Hey, like us on Facebook, we get a lot of likes now, but if we do that on the same the 25th that we’re going to get them to like us, but then we’re not as cool. Yeah. So that’s an important way to increase the probability of getting people to share Facebook. So Facebook, if you didn’t know Facebook has its own algorithm, just like Google does, Google has a thing called PageRank, which says like which search term should rank, which website should rank for different search terms? Well, Facebook has one called Edge Rank, which is like the same thing Facebook. But Facebook decides what content to show on Facebook. So if you’ve got 250 friends or you’ve got 500 likes on your Facebook page or whatever, and you upload a new piece of content like a post like Facebook is only going to show it to maybe a hundred people, maybe 150 people, but you can easily increase that number if you upload a picture with the post.
Emerson: This is like one of the simplest and easiest ways that you can dramatically increase your effectiveness on Facebook is just make sure that there’s always a picture attached to your post.
Bronson: And not just on Facebook. It has to actually be a picture, right? You have to actually upload it. Yeah.
Emerson: Yes. You can’t just paste the link and have it grab a thumbnail. You actually have to click that upload button to upload a picture. If you do that, you will get 50 to 100% more impressions on Facebook. So it’s like, imagine you’re buying advertising and then, you know, the person you buy advertising from just throws an extra 50 to 100% more impressions. It’s a total no brainer. And if you don’t have a picture, like fine, a picture, but if you don’t have a picture, then you can just do what I do and just upload a one by one pixel white dot. Get out of Facebook doesn’t know.
Bronson: That’s all.
Emerson: Facebook to see that there’s a jpg attached to it. And Facebooks algorithm is like, Well, who? There’s a photo, let’s make sure we show this to twice as many people. Yeah. So that’s a really easy way to get a lot more impressions on the stuff that you post on Facebook. We also found that on Twitter, if you add a little arrow before links like a dash, dash greater than symbol, you also increase, click their rates, you click the rates, more people took your links, more viral things are. Yeah, and the reason why is because there’s a lot of people who follow you on Twitter but don’t actually read what you tweet. They don’t unfollow you for political reasons or because they’re lazy, but they’ve gotten used to ignoring your tweets. The arrow is weird. The brain season, your brain goes, What the hell is this? Why is there an arrow? Their brain sees the arrow, sees the tweet, then has to read it, because now that they’ve already started reading it, they have to finish it. And that makes them more likely to actually read it, which makes them more likely to actually click it. So again, some small things that you can do to increase your effectiveness.
Bronson: No, it’s awesome. And all the things you say that make sense after you say them, but I wouldn’t have known them until you said them. It’s like when you talk about the arrow instantly. I’m like, Oh, that happens to me. Like I do that. Like I have to finish it and then of clicking on it and it’s, it’s so awesome to see you actually put it in a forum, but now I know what’s going on inside my own head, you know? So that’s awesome.
Emerson: Yeah. Let me ask you a.
Bronson: Question that you may or may not have an answer for. I don’t really know. We’ll see a lot of people watching this. They’re going to be building software companies that are software as a service or business to business enterprise solutions. You know, you had to pull out a credit card, pay a monthly fee. It’s not, you know, O-M-G facts. It’s not, you know, mobile net. It has its own kind of, you know, ecosystem they work in. How much of what you’ve talked about today do you think is applicable to other kinds of businesses? Is what you’re saying just very germane to you, or do you think there’s a lot of crossover and that SAS companies are just behind the eight ball? They don’t get it yet, but it still is applicable. What’s your take on that?
Emerson: SAS is a lot harder on number I talked about there’s two separate types of reality. There’s content reality where the content is just so awesome that people don’t share it because of how awesome it is and how much emotion that that content creates. And the other type of reality is the bribery. Part of bribery can work just as well or almost as well, if not better with SAS, because you actually have people forking over money and if you have people forking over money, then you can bribe them with money. And money is a powerful thing to bribe people with. Yeah, it’s really hard to bribe somebody into sharing something on Facebook. Like just sharing, you know, some like blog article or whatever. But if people are paying money for a product and you can give them discounts and give them coupons and give one for ones like one of the best ones is like I use level up as an example because this one is just like tried and true. It works so well. If you say get $5 just for signing up and then you have to share, you have to get, you know, but if you get a friend to sign it and you both get $5 to use for free. So if your customer acquisition costs, your customer acquisition cost in this case is very small. So your product lifetime value of customer lifetime values, you know, $20 or $30, then it’s a no brainer and you should do that a lot. Yeah. So those kind of strategies can work really, really well for SAS models now.
Bronson: That’s great. Emerson, this has been an incredible interview. I want to end with one final question here, kind of a high level question. What’s the best advice that you have for a startup founder, this listening to this that’s trying to grow their site, trying to go there and try and grow their product? What’s the best advice you have to end with?
Emerson: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use content like there’s so much content coming out online right now. If you’re sitting there writing content, like trying to be smart and clever and funny and creative and to make something go viral, that’s not a good use of your time. You’re better off just reusing something else that someone’s already written. And yeah, you know who wrote it? I give them credit, of course, but most content online now, it just gets remixed and made. I mean, no one has any idea who creates content online anymore. Just someone uploads it and then it goes viral that it’s everywhere online. And if you take that piece of content that’s already gone viral and you post it on your Facebook or on your blog or whatever, and you obviously it’s gonna be the kind of thing that your audience is going to respond to, and you will get way, way, way more engagement, you’ll get way more virality. So can you use this strategy? Let’s say like give me one good example for like a brand that does this really well, RetailMeNot. So RetailMeNot on their Facebook page, they get like 20,000 likes per post on average. And the only thing they do differently than all the other coupon sites out there is that instead of just posting like a daily like 20% off dog’s widget at RetailMeNot. Cool. I mean, some people think that’s cool, but like most of their followers just don’t even care. But they do is they’ll go in, they’ll go into like Reddit or something and they’ll go into a section with like pictures of cute dogs, the great picture of a cute dog, and they’ll attach that to their Facebook post and they’ll still have the 20% off thing, but they’re going to get literally ten times as many people to see it because that cute dog, a lot of people say, they’re like, Yeah, cute dog. And they like it and they comment on it, they share it, and then they get like 1010 x the number of people who see that coupon, see that promotion, like that’s a good way of like having your cake and eating it too, where you get, you know, you’re able to get people to do what you want them to do, but at the same time, you’re giving them what they want, which is, you know, entertaining, engaging content. So the general idea is don’t reinvent the wheel. There’s so much content that’s already out there. Like I would estimate right now for humor, I. In particular, I would estimate that half of all the traffic going to humor sites online, their websites do absolutely nothing except scrape content from other human sites like other humor aggregators, and automatically publish that content on their sites. People don’t care who made the content there is. Did they laugh at it? So just keep that in mind.
Bronson: Now, that’s awesome advice. This is an incredible interview. There’s been so many specifics. I know the audience eat this up. Thank you so much, Emerson, for coming on the program.
Emerson: AP now.
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