The Formula Behind 2 Million Views of a Viral LinkedIn Post
I wrote it in 15 minutes.
Here’s the post (tap the screenshot to view full post).
Previously, I thought — and read — that LinkedIn “articles” were better than LinkedIn “posts.” An article “stands out,” looks better, and makes a bigger splash.
Clicking into his profile, I noticed he put together an analysis of why this post went viral.
Here’s his formula in a public Google Doc:
It’s worth the read and maps out exactly how to write a compelling story. But, to be honest, I only read the LinkedIn post itself.
As I read it, I realized his story was similar to mine. Especially the first line.
“I quit my job.”
In true Austin Kleon fashion (“Steal like an artist”), I decided to try the formula for myself.
What if I wrote my story in a similar format?
So using single-sentence paragraphs, I wrote a short post — not an article — in a few minutes.
I hit publish and went on with my day.
Then, people out of nowhere started commenting and liking it.
And the next day I woke up to this.
And the next day.
In total, I went from 1,300 connections to 2,969.
My 1,000ish LinkedIn followers turned into 5,154.
It started to slow down five days later and leveled off around 1.8 million views.
Besides the shock and awe of having my personal story read by millions of strangers around the world, I observed a couple interesting phenomena from this brush with “virality.”
- Platform spillover. Despite the zero links in the post, my other social networks felt a small burst. I had just started a vlog thing on YouTube and before this happened, ~50 views was my typical average per video. Once the LinkedIn post erupted, my videos jumped up to ~300–500 views. My Medium publication Entrepreneur’s Handbook jumped up in views as well.
- Subsequent opportunities via direct email. Perhaps the best and most exciting part is the direct emails of people reaching out. As a writer, I make my email address public on my Medium profile. Sure, I get spammed but I also get interesting stories.
Examples of the best emails I received:
- One fellow who was born without hands emailed me his life story.
- I was invited to join a growing audio network as a paid content creator.
- CNBC reached out and asked if they could republish the story.
- I was introduced to the editor of a popular news media company. We’re scheduling a conversation this week.
In the end, the reason why this post took off is not because of me. I can’t take credit. I just followed a formula.
If I were to restate “the formula”, I’d simplify it into three parts:
- Start with shocking vulnerability. Present a dire problem. “Bleed in the first sentence,” as James Altucher likes to say. Grip. Hook. And “knife-twist” as Josh describes in the Google Doc above.
- Present practical takeaways. What can the reader enjoy and use in their own life? Write about relatable problems and inspiring accomplishments. Describe the “hero’s” journey out of the aforementioned dark pit.
- End with a thought-provoking question and a challenge. Sum up your story with a question that your actions answered. Then challenge the reader to make a positive change in their own life.
One final thought about writing viral posts, because who knows if this will happen again.
Virality can’t be manufactured. If this formula guarantees reliable success, then why doesn’t everyone who uses it get millions of views, every time?
I am 100% confident my next LinkedIn post won’t be anywhere near this one.
Virality is illusively elusive. It’s not worth chasing.
Regardless of what happens to my next LinkedIn update, whether I get 5 likes or 5 million likes, the takeaway for me is this:
Live the story worth writing about.
In other words, it doesn’t matter what the formula is, it’s the story you put in the formula, whether it’s from history, another person’s, or your own.
Writing by itself is nothing. It’s the life behind it that makes it worth reading.