Don’t go viral

Don’t try to go viral.
Instead, focus on narrowcasting.

Let me explain…

By viral, I mean doing something that creates “buzz” really quickly, often via social media. Too often, writers and creative professionals feel overwhelmed by all the things they are told to do (blog! newsletter! podcast! Twitter! Pinterest!) because the goal seems to be to gain as big of an audience as possible.

For each, “results” are measured in numbers. Number of followers. Of subscribers. Of retweets. Of pins. Of clicks. Of sales as a direct result of these things.

Too often, we think that success with our work is about informing the largest number of people about our stuff, in the hopes that it increases the potential for more sales and more word of mouth marketing.

This is why I see too many authors racing to try to get 1,000 subscribers to their newsletters. Or 10,000. Or 100,000.

And it’s why they are miserable doing so.

Instead, what I tend to see work in my own experience, and that of many successful people I have worked with is this:

Focus on the right people, not the biggest audience.

Engage with them in ways feel more individual, that exudes a sense of meaning and caring.

Ask them to take meaningful actions to support your creative work.

When I use the term “narrowcasting,” I mean it as the opposite of broadcasting. It means to reach out to a very specific audience. You can define them in many ways, such as interest, region, etc. In other words: focus on a small audience, not a large one. Doing so allows so much more value:

  • You focus on learning about the right people, those whose interests align with yours. This kind of research is enormously valuable, and the kind of thing that most people skip, instead going for the largest audience possible.
  • You develop your voice, instead of constantly trying to censor yourself to appeal to a bigger audience.
  • You learn the big secret of business (and yes, publishing is a business): targeting matters. We tend to see Coke ads everywhere, so we assume that “go big or go home” is the only game in town. Do you know what is more effective and easier? Narrowcasting. Define your niche audience and double down on them.

Think about it this way: too many companies invest way more money to get a new customer than they do in taking care of their existing customers. Have you ever noticed the amazing deals that cable providers or mobile phone companies keep offering you to become a customer? Then compare that to your last experience when you called customer service.

Whenever I call into a company for support, I know that I will get a person on the phone faster if I click “1 for sales” than I will if I click “2 for support.”

These companies are playing for scale; a new customer matters more than pleasing an existing customer. They constantly offer lightning deals to new customers to get them to act fast. Then, they are constantly asking for “your patience” once you become a customer.

In developing your life as a creative professional, you get to choose how develop an audience around your work. I would encourage you to focus less on the biggest audience, and more on the right audience.

I researching this post, I found a similar essay I wrote back in 2010 called “The Fallacy of Going Viral.” What I realize now is that this topic has become even more relevant today than it was back then.

So much of this is about honoring ourselves. Honoring those we hope to reach. Using empathy, not publicity, to learn how to better reach them. To consider how to share your work, while also making others smile.

The more I do this work, the more I realize that it is human work. It is about the deep stuff in better expressing ourselves, more effectively reaching others, and creating the magic when those two things connect.

I just released a new guide that talks about some of this stuff, it’s a PDF that you get just by clicking here. No, there isn’t any additional opt-in, you won’t get spammed with anything. You click, you get it. It’s called “How to overcome 6 of your biggest creative challenges.” Within it, I talk about:

  1. Finding ambition
  2. Self-sabotage
  3. Feeling stuck
  4. Social media perplexity
  5. Creating momentum
  6. Feeling like a fraud

I find that addressing these types of topics matter dramatically more in helping someone grow their audience and find success than tips such as “8 ways to use Instagram hashtags to go bonkers viral!”

I would love to know: has their been a moment in your creative work where you felt a deep sense of fulfillment and success because it reached a single person? If so, I’d love to hear that story.