Konichiwa fellow growth hackers. My name is Sam Parr and I run Hustle Con, the badass August 1st conference located in San Francisco where we bring together the greatest hustlers so they can tell their story and teach you how they did it.

The great part? Each speaker is a Founder of an immensely successful tech startup…but doesn’t know how to code.

One of the topics at HustleCon will be getting your content to really go viral. A repeatable process of doing it, which for one of our speakers, Rohin Dhar has mastered. In fact, it’s the only form of marketing he’s focused on to grow Priceonomics from 0 to 2.3 million monthly unique visitors.

To preface Rohin, I actually had my own experiences with creating viral content. In the summer of 2013 my team and I at Apartmetnt List created a roommate finding app aptly called Roommates which was seen by hundreds of thousands of people and featured in TechcrunchVenture BeatThe New York Observer, and dozens of other media outlets.

After a ton of trial and error, the team and I found what does and does not work when trying to “go viral.” You want the step-by-step to getting there?

I’ll start off with the myths.

The Myth  – Dude, Lets Just Go Viral!

It couldn’t be THAT hard, right? I mean, if you look at a lot of viral content, all the work involved seems to involve hitting post to Twitter/Facebook.

In creating viral infographics, I found that this is anything but the reality. After creating a ton of infographics that have been shared ten of thousands of times, I learned that there are three steps that can increase your chances of going viral.

These steps are:

  1. Define your goal and target audience
  2. Create irresistible and sticky content
  3. Distribute so you create an avalanche

Lets dig into each step.

Step 1. Define your goal and target audience

When creating an infographic or other viral content it’s important to first ask yourself  “Who’s this for and why am I doing this?”

I know it sounds silly but 90% of people completely forget this step. It’s easy to fall into the vain trap of chasing traffic for traffic’s sake, but to go viral and make it a success you need to have a “how” AND a “why.”


The goal is always a share, but beyond that it should be a sale, email conversion, or PR.

Check out this video Upworthy, the king (or queen?) of going viral. It’s pretty clear what they want – your damn email address, and who they want it from – liberal leaning hip young folks who like Seth Rogen.

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Whatever you do, make sure you have a “why” before creating your content.

How we applied this to Roommates

Before creating content we knew our target was 18 – 30 year olds living in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. The goal was to covered by a large media outlet like Techcrunch and to get downloads. The easy part was that our product – an app – was free.

Did it work? Yes.

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Coverage in Techcrunch
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And The Huffington Post.

Remember: Write down your goals and target audience before doing any type of content creation.

Step 2. Create sticky content

What the hell does that even mean? There’s one thing SEO specialists and marketers constantly preach: create good, shareable content.

But I HATE when I see that advice.

It’s so bland…like saying “be fast and strong” when someone asks how to run a 4 minute mile. Yeah, thanks a lot, GREAT advice. So I’m going to try and give you a better answer.

Here’s the deal: humans are fairly predictable creatures. If you’ve read Made To Stick or Contagious then you know there’s a science to creating sticking content. And I’ve broken it down into four categories:

  • Niches make riches
  • That’s SO me
  • Names, names, names
  • Be controversial, funny, or useful

1. Niches make riches (if it rhymes is makes sense…no matter what)

When creating content it’s easy to try and appeal to everyone, but that mindset will only guarantee failure. In fact, you should do the exact opposite: create something that only a small, passionate group of care about rather than appealing to a large, apathetic group.

For example, take a look at the top posts from from the subreddit r/programming. If you’re not a programmer chances are that not a single one of these article titles will make sense to you.


But check out how many times the 2nd most popular article has been shared.

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215 Comments – A sign of going viral

Sure, the article doesn’t  mean much to YOU, but it does resonate with a small, passionate group of people – programmers.

In fact, to prove a point I showed this article to two buddies of mine: John, a marketing wiz, and Rick, senior Android developer at Apartment List.

As he read the article, John’s eyes glazed over like he was reading the yellow pages. But Rick’s response (the engineer) was full of excited: “Oh wow” he said, “my buddies and I have been trying to figure out how to solve this problem…I’m gonna send them this!”

How we applied this to Roommates

If you don’t live in San Francisco then the San Francisco infographic will be pointless to you. In fact, even if you live in SF a lot of the jokes won’t make sense. To really understand each joke you need to live in the neighborhood we made fun of.

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You won’t get this joke…unless you’ve lived in The Marina neighborhood in SF.

Remember: If you try to appeal to everyone you’ll appeal to no one at all. Create content that’s insightful or funny for a very small, passionate group of people, not a huge, apathetic group.

That’s SO me!

Similar to the Niches Make Riches theory, when writing sticky content you want readers to identity with your content to the point where they say “Wow, this is so me!” or “I know someone JUST like this.”

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People want to share something that represents themselves or their friends in a funny/cool/interesting way. It’s not rocket science. It feels good to laugh at yourself. Just look at any Buzzfeed quiz. Title’s like “What Friend’s character are you” or “10 ways you know you’re from Boston” shared like crazy! People feel special when they see something that represents themselves online…and they’ll wanna share it!

How we applied this to Roommates

By creating stereotypes for each neighborhood San Francisco and predicting where they worked. Because we picked such popular employers, it was inevitable that many people who lived in that neighborhood also worked at the employer.

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Names, Names, Names

Hoover Adams was the founder of The Daily Dunn, the local newspaper in Dunn, North Carolina. It’s one of the most successful newspaper in the country – on average, every household buys 1.12 copies (apparently couples don’t know how to share). When asked what his secret was, Adams said he’d had the same strategy for 40 years. It boiled down to three things: names, names, names.

What people wanted, Adams discovered, was to see their and their friend’s names in the paper. “If I could” Adams once said, “I’d publish pages from the phone book.”

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Hoover Adams

A person’s name is the most beautiful sound in the world. Not only do people LOVE reading about themselves, they also love reading about the people/things they know and identify with. This concept is perhaps the most powerful on this list because the people you mention in your content will almost always share the content with their followers. I like to call these people “stakeholders.”

How we applied this to Roommates

We made sure to always specifically name employers, restaurants and people because not only did they share the content but their fans did as well.

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We called out Adroll, Quantcast, and Hipmunk for a reason – their huge following.
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It worked!

Be controversial, funny, interesting, or useful

This is easier said than done and if done incorrectly you can really hurt your brand – so be careful.

When you provide value, like being funny or useful, people will share your content. For example, if you’ve found this article helpful I hope you’ll share it 🙂

Check out Neil Patel’s famous Advance SEO Guides. They are crazy helpful and also extremely popular.

Make sure to NEVER try and make a homophobic or racist joke. Sure, some people have pulled it off in a funny and tasteful way, but the risk it too great. And never make your content sad. It’s been proven that the most shared content is typically happy and uplifting, not depressing.

Niel Patel’s Advance Guide to SEO – golden!

Fun tip: Need help brainstorming? Check out these places

  • Yelp: I’ve never been to New York, but I helped create a popular infographic about New York neighborhoods. I was able to do this because I read every review for the most popular places on Yelp to understand the culture. Always check out the most popular, highest reviewed, and lowest reviewed places on Yelp and read the comments for ideas.
  • Reddit: Gold. There’s a subreddit for everything. Check out the highest votest threads of the past week, month, or year for ideas.
  • Top posts from other blogs: if you have a target audience in mind then check out other blogs they read and find the top posts. Use this as inspiration.

Step 3. Distribute

Ok, so now you’ve got some sticky content. Now what?


You’re not Kevin Costner and this isn’t Field Of Dreams. One of the biggest misconceptions in content creation is if you create it, people will magically come – but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Going viral is like an avalanche and rarely an accident, once it gets started it builds up and gets bigger and bigger…but you’re responsible for the first step.

Here are my favorite three ways to distribute your stick content:

Reddit/Hacker News/And similar sites

They say that Reddit is the front page of the internet…and I completely agree. The most popular memes, trends and internet jokes typical start at Reddit. With over 100 million monthly unique visitors, Reddit is a fantastic place to kick off your viral avalanche.

The key to succeeding on Reddit is finding the right subreddit. You should only post your content in a relevant subreddit, otherwise you’ll be accused of spamming.

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When creating the Roommates’ infographic Reddit was always the first place to post. But be careful…if you post too much you’ll be accused of spam, and you cannot delete people’s comments.

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Other sites similar to Reddit are:

  • Hacker News
  • Digg
  • ProductHunt
  • Inbound.org
  • GrowthHackers


Remember when we talked about the importance of naming specific people, places, and companies? Well we may have had a sneaky little reason behind exactly who we named.

When creating viral content, it’s important to work backwards. Rather naming funny people in your content and hoping they’ll share, you should find people who: have a large following and you know they’ll share.

Stakeholders will naturally share things they’re mentioned it. It feels good to be mentioned online…so they’ll want others to know.

How we applied this to Roommates

We made sure to only mention people who had at least 5,000 Twitter followers. This wasn’t an exact science, but overtime we realized it worked. Before launch day we’d list all the stakeholder’s Twitter and Facebook handles. When the big day came we simply Tweeted at them and post on their wall. 9/10 times people retweeted or shared with their followers.

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Big Media and Influencers

Big media coverage or retweets from big names can make or break your viral launch. I like to break this category into two sections: big media and influencers.

Big media: Getting coverage from Techcrunch, New York Times, or Huffington Post can be huge. Not only will this type of coverage create a trickle down effect and convince other blogs/media to write about you, but you’ll also capture huge amounts of residual traffic months or even years after your initial launch.

The good news is that most of the journalists from big media will troll Reddit for popular stories, which is yet another reason why you should post your content on Reddit. Additionally, big media likes to follow smaller blogs for story ideas.

If you want media coverage I suggest emailing both small blogs first and working your way up the chain. This can be a tricky thing and if you want to become an expert at this then I suggest reading Ryan Holiday’s book Trust Me I’m Lying.

But beware: 7/10 times big media will screw up your article. Whether they write incorrect information or forget to link to your site, it’s important not to solely count on big media.

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Influencers: Similar to big media, influencers will have a similar trickle down effect. While influencers may not have as much traffic, chances are their following is more loyal and they’re easier to contact.

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Would love to hear your thoughts on getting your content to go viral. Let me know in the comments, and come meet me at HustleCon, ok?