How Mark Manson crafts viral posts and grows his audience

An Open Letter to Brazil is one of Mark Manson’s more recent posts that have gone viral.

Why?

In part due to its controversial nature. The post is a commentary and one which is typical of his writing style. In the article, he labels Brazilians as the cause of their country’s problems and also its solution. The article sparked vigorous public debates that also shook Brazil’s national media and government institutions.

Controversy never seems far from his articles which spark debate and yet endear him to his large readership. Some view him as a provocateur, while others see a refreshing voice that offers a different, thoughtful exploration and opinion on a wide range of subjects including death, life purpose, passion, sexuality, insecurity, love and terrorism. This is reflected in the brief bio on the home page of his site.

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His style of writing has a lot to do with his business model. It is quite simple.

He writes to attract readers. A percentage of those convert to subscribers and social media fans, some of which will buy his books, courses and downloads. In other words, the more people that visit the site, the more he stands to profit.

With many of his articles being viral hits and the ability to write in a unique voice that resonates with his audience, we spoke with Mark to learn:

Early beginnings

Mark first got into writing by blogging back in 2007. His then roommates who were into blogging convinced him to start one. A year later, he started a couple of online businesses and decided to use blogging as a way to market them and gain traffic. By 2011, it was clear to him that he was a much better writer/blogger than he was a salesman.

People were responding to his blog posts and not so much to his promotions and products. Therefore, he decided to leverage his writing ability and invest as much as he could in it. As a result, he shut down his other projects and focused on blogging full-time.

From dating advice to self-development

Mark got started in the dating advice niche more by accident. He had a few friends who were into it, started working with them and soon found himself running the show. He stuck with it as he was young, single and dating a lot of women. So dating advice was of interest to him at the time.

However, over time, he was getting sick of the dating advice niche. He knew that he didn’t want to be some 40-year-old guy who was still writing advice about where to go on a first date. At the same time, he also began to realize that his writing would likely have an appeal on a much broader scale. After all, dating advice is a form of self-help. In other words, he saw benefits in opening up his branding to the self-development audience.

Having reached a point where he felt:

  • He had nothing much more to say on the topic
  • Realized that the niche had a ceiling in terms of growth and opportunity

And so he decided to pivot into the self-development space.

Mark’s advice on when a person needs to move on to other ventures/new topics –

When they feel as though they’ve saturated their target market and/or when they’re just sick of whatever they’ve been working on.

How Mark grew his audience to 2 million readers a month

Mark had been blogging for 9 years, honing his writing, and learning and understanding of what makes for good content on a site. This, along with the right branding, message and writing style, helped him take advantage of social media opportunities in 2013-2015. He says there were a few years where it was relatively easy to go viral on Facebook or Twitter and get millions of eyeballs looking your way. He was able to capitalize on that pretty well.

Mark uses advertising to promote posts that are doing well but does not use it to promote his courses and site subscription offers.

His audience on social media continues to grow because he still has a pretty high organic reach on social media.

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He says the reason he has a reach that is so wide is that he has high engagement from his followers. The second you lose your engagement, you will also lose your reach.

Social media for him is his bread and butter when it comes to growing his audience. Personal development travels very well on social media, and he has been able to leverage that.

About 40% of all incoming traffic comes from social media, and it gets higher when a new article is shared.

Facebook is far and away his biggest focus for gaining traffic. If you win Facebook, then you’ll likely win at everything else. Mark has spent a lot of time testing different posting strategies, different types of content and frequencies.

His advice to help your reach and engagement on Facebook is –

  1. Only boost or pay for things that are already doing well. If you boost stuff that already has amazing engagement and is already going viral, then you will get an amazing value for every dollar spent (Mark has gotten thousands of clicks for less than one cent per click on really successful articles).
  2. Most people feel like they need to boost content that is getting no engagement. The opposite is true. If you try to boost something nobody wants to read, then you’re just wasting money AND hurting your algorithm.

The other 60% of traffic comes from a combination of search traffic, email traffic, referral and direct traffic.

So what role do interviews, being featured on podcasts and guest posts play in growing his audience?

They’ve always been a factor, and they’re something he continues to pursue. In his experience, they bring less traffic, but the quality of the traffic is much higher than Facebook viral traffic.

How Mark picks topics to write on

Finding topics to write on can be a challenge for any author. Marks solves this by keeping a running list of article ideas on Google Drive. He has ideas for posts all the time just going about his day-to-day life. He records them while on the go on his phone. Then, when it’s time to write an article, he scans over that list of ideas, and he looks for the idea that he feels is the most emotionally charged.

This, to Mark, is an important part of his process. He believes that the best writing comes about when the author cares deeply about the topic. He offers this caution though –

Sometimes a post idea sounds amazing when you come up with it, but 4 days later when you sit down to write it, it feels boring and uninteresting.

Mark says he has discovered that forcing yourself to write on an idea that feels boring and uninteresting is essentially content suicide. For him, choosing topics to write on is purely subjective. He doesn’t test article ideas before writing them.

Mark’s secrets to being a productive writer

When it comes to writing, Mark tries to nail down a good outline. Once he does that, the article almost writes itself.

On the other hand, if he struggles with the outline, then it probably means that he isn’t clear on the main idea. He finds that in such instances writing the article will be a huge pain and a poor use of his time.

Once he has a good outline, he writes the first draft as quickly as possible. Hemingway famously said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Mark accepts this as part of the process and so tries to get everything out as quickly as possible.

The skill in writing, he says, lies in editing or revision. He spends just as much time on this as he does writing, if not more.

He does not have writing habits, unlike some authors. For example, he does not write every day nor does he have set times or habits to help him write. Instead, he finds he has the mental capacity to do 2-3 hours of good writing. So he writes until he hits that point and then sets it aside until the next day.

Why do this?

Bad writing is often worse than not writing at all; it creates more work for yourself down the road. So he writes as long as it feels good and comes out well. The moment it feels like drudgery or stops being good he stops and tries again another day.

To become a great writer, Mark recommends one thing – a lot of practice. While most people would be put off by this, nothing can really take the place of practice. So what helped him practice?

He has practiced writing for so many years just because he has genuinely enjoyed it. He enjoyed it before anybody had ever heard of him or read anything he had written. He enjoyed it when he was writing on video game forums or sitting alone in his room trying to decipher James Joyce or Shakespeare. He still enjoys it now that it is his profession.

He says most articles can take anywhere from 3-12 hours between him and his assistant. At times, the writing goes quickly and at times, it takes days. Once the writing is finished, he edits it, grabs images and ports it into his WordPress site.

Authors that have impacted Mark’s writing

Favorite authors that have affected if not influenced Mark’s work include:

  • David Foster Wallace, Steven Pinker, Christopher Hitchens for non-fiction.
  • Tolstoy, Bukowski, Hemingway, Nabokov for fiction.

On the best ways to promote your content

Mark promotes his content by posting all his articles across his social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn). For him, Facebook is his biggest mover, so he spends a lot of time making sure he has a good image, good description, good title, etc. He believes it is important to approach social media with a copywriter’s mentality these days.

Why?

Because creating a link post is not very different from constructing an ad. You need a killer title, an intriguing/beautiful image, a description with a hook and so on.

Mark claims he is terrible at networking and reaching out to people. So he doesn’t do much influencer marketing. He says it is probably his biggest weakness in his business.

His philosophy has always been more of the “be so good they can’t ignore you” type. It’s a philosophy that has worked in his favor. It has been promoted and re-posted by people like Tim Ferriss, Elizabeth Gilbert, and some B-list celebrities and professional athletes. But he has never actually reached out to them or consciously tried to do anything to achieve that.

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The best ways to convert visitors into subscribers

Mark finds the best way to convert his site visitors into subscribers is to offer them something that is relevant to the article they’re reading (and ideally enjoying). In other words, if visitors are reading an article on relationships, he will have an opt-in promoting relationship oriented content. If they are reading an article on habits, then he has an opt-in on the page promoting productivity tips. He also finds that when it comes to content marketing, NOT being pushy is best.

His priority is not to convert people to opt-in immediately; it is, however, to get them to stay on the site and read as much as possible. For example, at the end of the post Stop trying to be happy, you’ll find the following related articles being suggested to readers.

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At the very end of the page, on each post is this opt-in offer.

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His philosophy is that if you get people reading enough excellent content on your site, then they’ll opt-in on their own. He says this has resulted in his site always having incredibly high engagement numbers.

On writing a book and being published by Harper Collins

Mark just had a book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” published by Harper Collins, a traditional publishing company. This a deviation from the digital publishing models of his previous books.

Mark says it is an interesting time to be an author. According to him, self-publishing and conventional publishing are both alive and well, and each offers their costs and benefits. By self-publishing, you’re guaranteeing yourself greater creative control, and you make more as a percentage on each sale. With a publisher, you give up a lot of your profit, but you gain access to a wide network of publicity and distribution that you would never have otherwise. Also, in terms of credibility and prestige, an author has to have a publisher behind them.

He self-published his first book and experienced a lot of success with that. However, he chose to pursue a conventional publisher with this one because:

1) He wanted to reach a much wider audience than he would otherwise, and

2) If you have a successful book published by HarperCollins, that’s a huge thing to add to your resume and sticks with you for life.

Mark’s aim has been to grow his audience and so will obviously point them towards his site via this book, but the beautiful thing about being a successful author is that you don’t need to be in people’s faces all the time. He says –

I think on the internet, to build a platform, we’re accustomed to pumping stuff out and showing it to people constantly, but this isn’t necessary once you’ve reached people in a certain capacity. Like, I haven’t read a Cormac McCarthy book in 5+ years, but if he released another one tomorrow, I would buy it without needing to follow him on Facebook or hear a sales pitch.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life is available at all retailers, both online and in bookstores. Mark promises it will at least raise an eyebrow and get a laugh, if not completely rearrange your life. Check it out!

Creating content the way Mark does requires consistent practice of your craft. A key challenge however, is being productive while you are working despite the many distractions we face. To help we have put together a list of 13 essential productivity tools/apps to keep you focused on what matters. Download it below.

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About

Vinay is the content marketing manager for WP Curve. Follow him @wpcurve

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