How to Go Viral By Not Going Viral

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After walking to the stage, pumping his fist, and yelling ecstatically, Chancelor Bennett gives a nervous chuckle when he gets behind the microphone.

The crowd is on edge, waiting to see what this first-time Grammy winner will say. Every musical celebrity is packed into an enormous room which, somehow, actually seems too small for the amount of collective influence. Everyone is dressed to the nines, even Chancelor, despite the grey hat perched on his head. It boasts a single number — 3.

Clearing his throat, the winner speaks:

“I want to thank God and for my mother and my father who supported me since I was young. For Kirsten. For Kinsely. For all of Chicago.”

Chancelor Bennett won his first Grammy in 2017 for an album titled “Coloring Book.” Coloring Book was considered to be a masterpiece by most experts in his genre. It was filled with innovative ideas. Many superstars pitched in to help write each of the pieces, and the output what was some called “simply genius.”

During the final three months before the album was finished, Chancelor and nearly 20 of his friends — other musicians, family members, show promotors, etc. — lived in the studio. Typically this is an expression. For Chancelor, he meant it literally. His daughter slept next to him on the floor most nights as they sacrificed as much as they could for the music.

“There was a lot of fatigue and tension,” Chancelor said in an interview. “But the last time we played [the record] before we sent it in, we knew it was perfect.”

Question for you:

What is being overlooked in this story?

I think it’s a dynamic most people miss in this age of internet culture. We have been trained to look only at the viral stories — the Domino’s pizza kid who blew cheese out of his nose, the lady who put on the Chewbacca mask, the kindergartener who can rap Nicki Manaj lyrics.

Here’s the issue — Can you give me the person’s name from any of those phenomena?

You aren’t alone. Almost nobody knows who is in these seemingly random videos. They are here today and gone tomorrow, thrust out of the limelight almost as quickly as they found it.

Why then, is Chance the Rapper still selling out shows all over the world? Why has he become a massive brand who is turning down label offers left and right? Why do people know his name, even though his album does not have as many views as other “viral” stars? Why does he continue to dominate in a highly competitive field (music), in a genre which might be the most competitive of the options (hip-hop)?

It’s because Chance tapped into a secret. Before clutching a trophy in front of an audience of millions, he grabbed a microphone in front of tens. Chance had to become king of Chicago before he could be seen worldwide.

He unlocked The Law of Early Diffusion.

(This is probably undeniable rule #5 for creative people)

The Law of Early Diffusion is simply a theory of how fast new ideas take hold. Originally conceived in the 1960s, this premise has been tweaked, stretched, pulled, and updated even to this day.

A popular article is Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 true fans.” In the premise of 1,000 true fans, Kelly suggests if you were to ignore the allure of worldwide fame and set a goal to gain 1,000 true fans, your career would flourish, as they would carry you on to victory through their own social connections.

I would reduce the scale even more. If you are just getting started, 10 true fans is plenty.

There’s a problem with that, though. It is boring to sell your art to 10 people. It is sexy to sell your art to 10 MILLION people. Therefore, The Law of Early Diffusion is often ignored, momentum is never gained, a dream dies quietly, and another creative goes back to sit in a grey office surrounded by grey walls and grey desks and grey people, chained to someone else’s vision.

What if you weren’t worried about selling a massive amount of work right now? Instead, what if you focused now on making the decisions which would enable you to do exactly whatever you want the rest of your life? This includes using creativity as your dominant source of income.

This piece is not about selling 1,000 pieces of art one time and never again. It’s about slowly selling one piece and then another and another and another.

I would rather you have 15 years of boring success than 15 minutes of fame.

The Law of Early Diffusion is critical to building a career that lasts as opposed to being another flash-in-the-pan internet sensation. Think of the waves crashing onto the shore from the ocean. They don’t just pop up spontaneously. The currents build and move, aligning themselves together. Water swells in a current over and over until enough momentum is built to tip the wave. What was one thousands of individual drops of water now becomes a powerful force, crashing into the coast and dragging dirt, sand, and people with it.

“Going Viral,” is more like a freak thunderstorm. It gets a lot of attention in a moment, but is quickly forgotten.

In September 2015 I wrote my first viral post. I have no idea how it happened or who caused it. Actually, I was a little embarrassed by the post. I considered not even pressing publish and starting on another idea. As it happened, I let it go, and my career really did change trajectory. Hundreds of thousands of people saw my name for the first time.

Those people who read and enjoyed that viral post helped activate The Law of Early Diffusion for me.

Enough waxing poetic. There are two practical ways to leverage The Law of Early Diffusion. Based on the fact you read this far, I can probably guess which of the two will be more attractive to you, but I’ll list them both anyway.

Option 1 — Decide to go for a very niche market.

You will see this all the time with products and markets that are very crowded. Young companies don’t just make products for “golfers.” They’ll make them for “young female golfers in the southeast region of America.” In this instance, the law of early diffusion is manufactured. The business zeros in as far as they can go and wins an entire market. Once our imaginary company has captured an acceptable share of the young female golfers in the southeast region of America, they will be able to ride that momentum and word of mouth up the coast, expanding to Kentucky and Ohio and perhaps on up into New England.

This option requires considerable thought up front. You must know exactly where you are aiming. Businesses who manufacture The Law of Early Diffusion in this way are often quite boring to watch. They are narrow with their content and marketing because they must be. They know and follow the law.

Option 2 — Do what interests you at all times to attract your niche market.

This option is the more attractive to most creative people. Sounds great, right? All you have to do is follow your heart!

Reality is much more jarring.

When you choose option 2 in today’s era, you are now competing with everyone else in that space. I wrote one post encouraging people to live their best creative lives, not realizing I’d be jumping in the ring with the likes of James Altucher, Jeff Goins, and Srinivas Rao.

Let’s pretend you are terribly passionate about writing. What separates you from all the other writing blogs?

Most likely when you begin, the answer is “I don’t know.” That’s okay.

“I don’t know” is always an excellent place to start. But unlike option 1, where you are definite about your differentiator, an attempt to create an early audience by following your interests requires much more faith.

When I began writing online in 2015, I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to be. I just knew I wanted to write. That sounds nice now that I have over 50,000 people, but for the first year, I didn’t break 10,000. That means I operated by faith alone for at least 365 days.

If I’m completely honest, I am still operating on faith alone most days. Hope and Faith.

Still, though, I recommend people follow their interests first, and find the differentiator second. If you choose that route, you must address both the quantity and the quality of your work.

Quantity is simple: Do as much as you can as often as you can.

It could be the difference between your cooking blog and every other cooking blog is the amount of recipes. When you focus on the quantity of your work, you will have hundreds of items to refer to by the time the world even realizes what you are doing.

Quality is a little more difficult to define. After all, who gets to determine quality? The health nut might shove a hemp protein shake in your face and rave about how good it is, but if you think it tastes like dirt mixed with cement, you are probably not going to value that drink very much.

There is, however, a bullet proof formula to mastering your craft. Even if not everyone is drawn to it, you can be confident of your best work if you follow this process.

To improve quality every day: Do something to the best of your ability. Then do a little bit more.

Those are the only two steps.

Are you an average writer? Write as much as you can. Then add 100 words.

Average painter? Paint as well as you can. Then start a new canvas.

Average intelligence? Read as much as you feel like reading. Then turn the page.

Average musician? Practice as much as you can. Then do 10 more minutes worth.

Still feel average?

Repeat this process. Then do it again.

Then do it forever.

The trick to The Law of Early Diffusion is this: there is no one way to accomplish it. However, quantity and quality almost always get you there. Choose your path and stick to it.

Relentless practice of this law can lead to long term success. Refusal to acknowledge it will often lead to burn out, slow results, and consistent frustration.

Luckily, you get to make the choice.

Originally published at on March 27, 2018.

And if you don’t know how to attract those first few fans,

This might help — a book I wrote for creative people called The Ultimate Guide to Infinite Ideas.

I’m giving it away for the price of an email address.

Get your copy here.

Written by

An optimist who writes.

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