How to Make Things Viral (with guest Ian Spector)
Already a couple years ago and this is where I met in at this party I was introduced to in as the guy first the first guy I met I forget his name but they were like he invented keyboard cat and then this other guy his name's in he invented chuck norris fact and it just blew my mind that ah person invented these things and like all the things that we are sort of now cultural touchstones there was someone behind them engineering that thing they had the idea they spread the idea and then they capitalized on it and I think he is a great example of someone who took ah weird weird crazy creative idea and made it an international sensation it's done billions of use at when I say chuck norris fax you imagine what they are and you can picture them and what I think is even more components he didn't do that through a viral video it's it's writing and to make writing that's so spreadable that it that it just overwhelms popular cultures to me is just incredibly impressive and I thought we could tal...
k to him about uh you know where that came from how he did it and sort of what principles we can deduce from his work and apply to our own okay and how are you good how's it going it's it's good uh we're having fun uh where you you're in new york right now yeah, I'm in a hurry windowless space in new york right now so that you you look like you're in the eighties right now or something really? Yeah, is it because of the why it's all dark and grey and weird I I'm working with this group of guys and we kind of squat in uh a larger office so way get by. All right, so let's start things off, why don't you tell us how you had the idea what happened? And you know how this all of this how this all went down? Sure I am I'm smiling because you know, it was such an accident uh and you know, the way I see it is is so different from the way you you praised it, but I'll take all that we'll go through, I'll prove that you actually were a genius mastermind who made all this happened, so just tell us what happened and then we'll go from there sure, uh, so it actually didn't really start with chuck norris it started with been diesel on this is back in like april two thousand five I was still in high school on that movie the past the fire I had just come out where bin diesel was like playing a navy field baby sitter and I was browsing this forum online and people were kind of poking fun at the diesel for being been diesel and being been diesel in this movie and it kind of turned into these like fake one life backs and so I had a web hosting company because you know, I was fifteen and some people get jobs you know, somewhere I guess I'd like to make life difficult for myself and ehh so I put together a quick site where um people you know, I did the best you know, facts from this thread put him in a random quote generator posted a link went to sleep woke up the next day and you know, ten thousand hits and that was, you know, pretty pretty surprising impressive and it made me think okay, well we're going to go with this next day too you know, I started thinking submissions day three uh put up you know, google ads and within a month or so there were about a million or two hits and about a month or two after that I put up a pole who do we cover next? And so this was april summer of two thousand five so you know, they were like twelve people on the list and you know, they range from you george bush and dick cheney to like samuel jackson, lindsay lohan then there was a write in and more people wrote in chuck norris than voted for any of the options that we already had and so I figured okay, well, you know, I have nothing to lose really I guess um and so then we added another section for chuck norris and um that always stayed sort of the the baby brother to the diesel sight for a few months until somebody posted the link to the the top thirty facts on collegehumor this is a pre twitter sharing in facebook sharing moments of um and that's when everything kind of blew up in a good way I guess um and then within a couple months you know, I was starting to get offers to do book and then you eventually get a book which was a best seller, right? Yeah, yeah if you want to sell or get on the bestseller list, you can make a book that pisses off a celebrity and hope that they sue you that wasn't really, you know, it's a very risky thing and you know, you you know, I'm very fortunate that it worked out but yeah, that that all happened okay, so I guess we could get into that at some point. So so you claim that this was an accident, but from what I hear in the story you started small in a web forum testing a funny idea about a well known newsworthy individual then you create then based on the success of that initial stunt you created a spreadable website that was cheap and easy to make you put it up there, you sent it out to your friends uh it blew up so use you got it blew up on a small scale so you sense that you were onto something, then you pulled your audience to see what other things they would be interested in then based on direct audience feedback, you identified a potentially more interesting target made that continue to make great content, then distributed it to a viral website which blew that thing up more and then you published a book about it which became a best seller because you were afraid to piss off a celebrity and so to me, it sounds like, uh, you were behind the scenes the entire time, doing everything right? Well, that's that's definitely one one lens to look through for you, I mean, you have to be modest, you're an expert, I was raised by a neurotic, you know, jewish attorneys were like, don't do this, you know, book because you're going to get sued for it. And so you took a risk and it paid off, right? Absolutely on you know, I didn't know chuck norris is gonna work, you know, I never watched, you know, uh, walker, texas ranger or anything back when it was on tv or you know even like now or I wasn't a huge fan so it was just sort of you know our these people just like messing around with me on the internet you know his pole or you know is a that's something that you know has legs and um and if it hadn't worked it's not like you invested a million dollars of your own money not your experiment yeah yeah um and you know eventually out of this is what got me interested I did you know this thing kind of spread out or uh how about this uh you know instead of you know end of studying neuroscience in school because you know the way this what website work people have you know write everything in my hand and moderate it you know as things grew in popularity you know with you know I was moderator and then it was kind of share like my friends wanted to get into it's it was me and my roommate and I mean my roommate guys across the hall I mean my roommate because it covers the whole of the guys upstairs and then it got to a point where they were just like screw you like don't do it anymore and um no it kind of got me interested in white people you know baby the way they do online and you know what what can we do to maybe in a near better web experiences and other stuff like so why why do you think they hit such a chord? And you and I have talked about this before but why? I mean, they're ridiculous facts about an actor that until recently nobody liked uh why why did this take off? Well, I mean, you mentioned before and I think it comes down to content I mean, the way that we're the website originally worked was you could only see one fact at a time and to see another one you'd have to refresh the page so I knew that, you know, if there was it was just open to everybody way didn't we think of craft or spam whatever and you know, it would keep people from coming back and you know, something else that I noticed it was because of that you know, people sort of gathering groups so one person would find it and then like call somebody ever be like, hey, check, check this out and you know, uh then you know, that's one way to get a bunch of people to go out and it spread has said, you know, it's very like analog viral so so that that brings up a question so you think the design of the website was integral to spreading it because it's like if I get it all in one sitting it's just like sort of like, hey, check out these funny facts but if it's really I'm like like, you know, one pellets coming down the shoot at a time I'm like just sitting there clicking over and over and over and over again it's like addictive right? And I mean eventually we had teo opened up so that people could browse through and it got to a point where we had enough content that people couldn't sit for a while and get there daily dose and you know as far as you know, content goes in the hole curation process you know, I was just like, really, really picky you know, I guess this might be something for a lot of you ugc user generated stuff but we had a rejection rate of you know, but ninety nine percent I mean, it was really just you know, the best stuff made it to the web so you're you're saying that as an editor there hundreds of thousands or thousands of shitty chuck norris facts that you got rid of its not you just post anything it's only the best of the best right? And I mean the ones that never made it to the site still, you know, people probably still told it to each other somewhere else so I mean like like, you know, I mentioned you know, this was pre, you know, mainstream social media stuff, so it was very easy to just text for somebody else to start a blogger oh are you know some other site to post their own facts but most people didn't want to you know have I guess the responsibility of having to maintain you know that that whole there's something like that I think it's interesting because so many of the things that are viral we think are usually video or they're like before video it was gifts or you know, sort of like little animated things with doors is one of the few that I can think of that went super viral that's text obviously maddox and some of those guys went viral too is text but this was a pretty sparse website, right? Yeah no I mean it was really bare boat so you knew what you were getting and I wanted to make sure you know, people you know I would like if they didn't laugh then and it was a failed uh so it doesn't matter what you're doing or what form what matters is the reaction the content elicits I mean, it comes down to the user experience and part of the experience that I wanted to have was that people would enjoy it and in this case you know that enjoyed by laughing and and how did it spread so pretty social media it's email right? People just eat it's so good people are emailing the link or they're like you're saying calling everyone over in the office to come now worthy things you know there were some uh, simple things where you know you could set it as your away message you know that sort of thing for remember that like on am and stuff yeah twitter is a siri's of away message yeah uh and uh yeah, it was just all about volume um and you know, once enough people got interested in it that's all it took for um you know, the concept of spread so do you think there's anything particular in what you sort of looked at as being a good one or a bad one like when you're judging the fact that gets supposed to know it's not just laughter but clearly there's I think an element of absurdity of offensive what is there a formula to it or just what? Because all that all of them actually I would say there's like the opposite of a formula it's more like what are the principles that make for or themes that make for a good sort of short viral pieces of content? I think they should be surprising you know, a lot of the facts that I like you they might start off one way but detour suddenly at the end and end up somewhere else so unexpectedness yeah unexpected surprise, right? Everybody likes being surprised uh if you look at some of the best viral videos out there now, you know they um yeah I'm just thinking of one of the time I had like the world's longest free throw shot one where you know the guys at the top of the stadium and you know, everybody's like there's no way this is gonna make it he's going to fall down the stairs or something right? Or you know he'll hit the backboard and like the thing just falls back over because it's so high up or you know whatever it is but now he makes it and you kind of want to you know you want to root for it but so so anyway uh surprise, okay? And you know, people respond to contrast I mean that's you know, kind of what surprise is a little bit right? And so you see that you know, so I like to play with language and the facts to the kind of play off those ellis um did you find it long or short did better? It depends there were a few where you can kind of just build on it, you know, like there's a fact I can't remember the whole thing off the top of my head but it's about, you know, like the path too like chuck norris this front door like in all of this stuff that you have to like crossed to get to it right and like and then the doors unlocked like but the stuff in the way is your so increasingly absurd that you kind of wanna see how it ends so this this sort of build in anticipation can be another style, but if so, if you're going to do length and I think this is something that I know if you're if you're going to go long every subs every subsequent sentence has pulling out the book now just to see if I can find anything actually did by the way, you did three books, right? This is this is number five I books from this one idea, which is amazing and, you know, kudos to you, but so if you're doing something that has length it's not to say that everything on the internet has to be short, but it should pull every sentence has toe pull you down to the next one, right? Absolutely. Yeah, I should have a purpose because nobody wants to redo the whole thing and, you know, really oh, okay. All right. No one wants to delay gratification. It has to be a siri's of gratifications on, you know, that instant gratification. I think you know, it's something that people definitely got on the web site, you saw that bite size chunk and you would immediately, you know, hit five or refresh teo, get another bit and ryan and I think a great example of that if I could jump in from the website. So if you guys don't know this cheque, norris, once a roundhouse, kicked a sales person over the phone, and I don't know if you know this as well, but chuck norris can gargle bread, so just just just in example, for you get back to you right now. Thank you and that's also another example of you shouldn't detours or contrast like you don't expect it to end with, you know, bread, but it seems so normal up until that last word. So, uh, what? What have you let's just do one question than you guys, if you want to ask him questions, but what did you feel like? What lessons did you learn from this? That if you were launching something else and you advised startups and companies and authors and such, what principles did you learn from this that other people should apply to their their products and businesses? Um, I'd say speed is important, especially with the volume that I had going to the site. We have speed to market. I mean, well, I think just being able to move quick, like I would say, you know, being lean, so yeah, so I would say you know, nobody wants I think it's a bad idea to rush to market with a product that isn't finished or we'll break or something you know, I feel like, you know, I like to champion the experience so you know if the experience is compromised then you fix that before showing it off or let people know what they're going to get to but with this it was all about making sure that there was a constant supply of fact so in that sense in that you know, having to you know go through the this emissions you know frequently enough so that people were always is satisfied, you know, so its momentum you have to keep the momentum yeah um and um what else? Um you know, there was a talk I once saw you know, it was all about trying to get people to fall in love with your website yeah um and you know, I don't know if that was something that you know was uh designed for for this particular things right, but you want to build some kind of emotional connection and actually with this it ended up being, you know, humor right, which is a strong emotion absolutely uh so you want people to, you know, emote somehow or you know, you have to give them a reason to care uh there's a good word for that so it's vaillant what's the extreme nous of the emotion that you're feeling so whether it's hilarity is going to be better than making someone kind of angry or making someone super angry is going to be better than making someone chuckle yeah, there are a couple select like I guess diehard chuck norris and you're like very pissed off with this book so does anyone have a quite we canoe? Maybe one question if some questions out here in the audience while liver has one's grab a microphone but before we go there just to remind the audience that chuck norris doesn't call the wrong number you answered the wrong phone alright with the question here in the audience I kind of random question I'm fascinated by the you know you posted one thing about diesel and then the next day you're there you woke up and you have ten thousand hits does that really happen overnight like how you posted that literally happened overnight how many people were hit you? How many hits we're getting previously the day before we did you have like five hits or was it like five thousand hits this I did not exist the day before like it was so here we're here let's let's drill down on that question make it really specific what were the sources of traffic and what do you feel like? Maybe you didn't have the material then but you've been spread like your sight and your work is featured on those sort of like hey check out this really cool slash funny slash awesome thing kind of sites and maybe people don't know what those sites are so what of the sites that are great for spreading a message and making something go viral? That is a good question um so I mean I had the I guess fortunate slash unfortunate case of like literally I was on a forum that was popular enough where I could post once late one link and go to sleep and wake up and you know that was all it took to get it off the ground before ums are huge and a lot of people don't think about like, hey how can I craft something for this forum they think I've got to be on some blogger website but forums are daddy waited communities of people passionate about something julie and you know brands all these you know, huge cos they're all having a community managers and all these things to to maintain some sort of you know, cortical crummy community but forum you know predates all of that and they are you know, really active communities and I'll let you know usually right away you know whether or not you're you hit something or not and you used a forum as the sandbox for your idea and that's where you refined it I think it's hilarious so so interestingly enough as it got popular like the form I posted on you like it made it of animal offense to reference chuck norris because it got so annoying like you know people were throwing them out left and right and so uh yeah it's crazy that that chuck norris ended up being bigger than vin diesel how many facebook fans do you think vin diesel has he's got a lot it's like twenty million it's ridiculous because I've been it was a vin diesel fan I don't apparently twenty million people are for that but I don't know they're doing another fast furious so I guess so would you so I guess all throughout some sites you could tell me yes or no farc dot com very big uh reddit dot com and read it is made up of multiple subreddit we're going to be interested in content like meta filter collegehumor um I would throw in you know something awful also which is you know that and you know like four chan or kind of the under billy sort of of the internet where all of these things kind of come out of there's like the chive uh it's going to matter about your specific space and weaken we could drill down on howto find howto invention that'll be authentic uh if you haven't mentioned that already you know like these you know, people informed especially in a specialty forms you know can smell when you're trying to push something on them, use is like, hey, you know, check this out. We think you're gonna like it, right? And how it has to be likeable. If it's not, they're going to tear it to shreds, right?