Monday, July 15, 2013

The Eye Gouge That Went Viral, and Lessons Learned

Early last week, one of the companion videos for Don't Wear Your Gi to the Bar: And Other Jiu-Jitsu Life Lessons (my newest book) went viral. The video, a tongue-in-cheek montage about eye-gouging vs. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, racked up 10,000 views in three days, and the numbers are still climbing.

Viral content is a powerful way to spread a brand, and having the eye gouge video make the internet rounds has driven a significant volume of traffic to the Artechoke Media site, resulting in increased downloads of our e-book and driving sales of the softcover. As a content creator, seeing my material reach a massive audience is both gratifying and rewarding, intrinsically and financially. It fuels my motivation to continue creating, and it grows my brand.

Developing viral content, however, is not easy. After years of creating content, here's what I've learned, and I hope that it helps you in your content development.

1. The vast majority of your content will not go viral.

And that's okay. Between the Artechoke Media YouTube account and my personal YouTube account, I have uploaded 104 videos. Eight have broken 10,000 views, with the highest having over 600,000 views. I've written 75 blog posts for this blog, about 20 blog posts for Artechoke Media, and over 400 posts for Lockflow received a lot of traffic to begin with (2 to 4 million hits a month). Taking that into traffic volume into account, we had maybe twenty posts that went viral, shattering our average view numbers, over my two years there.

For a piece of content to go viral, it will likely have to connect to an audience larger than your immediate target, which is certainly good for your brand and your content, but maintaining a meaningful, consistent relationship with your audience is more important in the long run than a big surge of traffic in the short term. Your loyal core will support you, so continue to keep them happy with content that they enjoy, even if every piece isn't a record-setter. A few quality fans are more valuable than 10,000 fans with short attention spans (Kevin Kelly's piece on 1,000 true fans really drives this home).

2. Designing viral content is a matter of knowing what your audience likes to talk about.

Of the content that I've created that has gone viral, that accumulated a large volume of traffic over a short period of time, I had a pretty good idea beforehand that the content would stick because I was in tune with my audience. As a fight journalist, I am a part of the audience that I write for. I know what they'll like because I know what I like. When I see something that gets me excited, I can reasonably assume that the people that share my interests will get excited about it as well.

So when I interviewed Ryan Hall for Lockflow and he expressed some seemingly controversial views on jiu-jitsu technique, I knew that the combination of Hall's high profile and the discussion-potential of the interview would set the fight community a-buzz. When the article (and interview transcripts) went live, we were concerned that the server might not be able to handle the traffic. Our forums were on fire and communities around the net were discussing the article.

When I selected which behind the scenes videos to share from the making of Marcelo Garcia's Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I chose the ones where Marcelo expressed his views on incorporating certain techniques instead of others into his game. These perspectives are somewhat controversial in jiu-jitsu terms, but chasing controversy is not the key here. Chasing discussion is the key. Marcelo teaching a technique will definitely attract an audience, but videos worth talking about breed a stronger level of engagement. To prove this point, a video of Marcelo discussing Wrestling vs. Jiu-Jitsu garnered ten times as many views as a video of Marcelo simply teaching a crab-ride. The discussion in the comments of Wrestling vs. Jiu-Jitsu continues even still, two years later.

In the case of the eye-gouge video, we picked a topic that was both entertaining and discussion-worthy. Viewers would laugh, and they'd talk about the too-true events that inspired the making of the video.

3. Plant your content in active communities to create viral champions.

To get your content to go viral, you need to hand it off to vocal fans. These vocal fans, your champions, are the ones that are truly responsible for making your content go viral. If they love it enough, they will share it to their networks, write about it on their blogs, and post it to other online communities. From here, the snowball grows and grows as other vocal fans pick it up and do the same. Having a platform like a blog or a YouTube channel is an okay place to start this process, but to truly succeed, you should find online communities that would be interested in the content and share it there as well.

For the eye-gouge video, we posted it in /r/BJJ, a growing jiu-jitsu community, and the video spread from there. It's important to note, however, that I am an active member of /r/BJJ. I participate in discussions. I answer questions for new members. I upvote and share the content that other members post. I am a contributing member of the community because I am just as passionate about the subject matter as the other members. If I wasn't an active member, any posts I made to my own content would soon be seen as self-serving, and rightly so. Community is about giving, so if you want your planted content to grow, you should do the right thing and give as much as you can to the community first.

4. No matter what, focus on serving your core fan-base.

The more popular you get, the more people you will find that despise everything you do and write as though they would happily hit you with their car if they had the chance. I've received hate mail, 1-star reviews, downvotes, angry YouTube comments, and even a few viscous phone calls. Because of the eye-gouge video, dozens of martial arts groups and message boards are writing some pretty nasty things about my intelligence, my martial arts ability, and my credibility as a journalist.

This is inevitable. When you grow your audience, you will inevitably unearth more haters. Do your best to ignore them, focusing instead on the people that represent your target audience (if the majority of your target audience is critical of your work, consider their feedback). The internet is a haven for negativity, and part of growing your brand is learning to cope with that element.

Good luck with your content.


  1. pretty cool my friend, been needing to see if i can get my animation and art work viral

    1. Hi Tina! It's been a long time.

      If you subscribe to some communities like DeviantArt (I'm sure you're there) and some of the key sub-communities on Reddit, you can get a sense of what types of content are capturing people's interest. It's a bit of an imperfect science, but it's a start.

      The most recent one that comes to mind is Zombie Playground. The image gained so much traction that it lead to a game based on the image, which was successfully funded via Kickstarter. The image: