In today’s world of online marketing, most channels require paid advertising to get reach while organic traffic becomes continually more difficult to drive. For most, driving hundreds of thousands of impressions without the ability to leverage a Fortune 500 budget or an A-list celebrity audience is the stuff most entrepreneurs dream about.
For Brian Swichkow, creator of the Ghost Influence community and podcast, this is what he accomplished over the weekend. Swichkow first became known in 2014 when he published a vibrant story detailing how he pranked his roommate with hyper-targeted Facebook ads.
After publishing it to his blog, Swichkow submitted the story to the /r/marketing subreddit, a community for interesting marketing discussions, and it quickly rose to the top. The initial Reddit submission was then cross-posted to another subreddit called /r/bestof and continued to develop a following. Ultimately, the story drove over 450,000 visitors to his website in the first 72 hours of its launch and resulted in features on numerous publications like AdWeek and Business Insider which cited him as a marketing pro.
Swichkow estimates that in the 3 months following the viral event, his story generated over five million earned media impressions and still catalyzes new consulting work nearly three years later. With only $1.70 in Facebook advertising spent to orchestrate the original prank, we can only imagine his ROI.
Seeing the Reddit community champion his story, Swichkow became enamored with the viral potential packed in educating people through immersive stories. He quickly shifted the focus of Ghost Influence, formerly My Social Sherpa, to teach marketers through experiences—breaking away from the conventional drab instructional bullet points.
This past weekend, a photographer captured Swichkow for the first time as he was training on the Traveling Rings; an aerial gymnastics apparatus at Original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California. Wanting to promote the photographer as a form of gratitude for capturing the shot (and perhaps attracting a barrage of compliments in the process), Swichkow submitted the photo and the story behind its capture to Reddit’s /r/happy community.
Where most would see the 510,907 views the photo has since attracted as luck, Swichkow asserts that strategy was the key to success. His process, as Swichkow explained to me, provides the framework for driving viral traffic on Reddit.
Make it Personal
Every marketer knows that facts tell and stories sell. If you’re looking to go viral, the first step is crafting and effectively communicating your story. Swichkow recommends identifying and colorizing 2-3 elements of your story to lay the best possible groundwork for conversation. He provided this example:
Don’t say “I saw this in line for coffee today” but rather “While waiting to try the Mocha Cappuccino, I spotted this character ahead of me. Typical Los Angeles.”
Instead of posting the photo with a descriptive title like, “See Me Looking Cool on Traveling Rings”, Swichkow wrote a personal story detailing his struggles with the psychological costs of entrepreneurship and summed it up with the title, “Anxious and depressed, I stumbled into aerial gymnastics and found peace. After thirteen months, a photographer walking by managed to capture the first photo of me in my state of ultimate bliss.”
His post title was designed to provoke curiosity and prompt the reader to see what the “state of ultimate bliss” looks like. Swichkow spent hours talking to Redditors who shared similar stories and the activities they’ve found to climb out of depression.
If you’re thinking about posting on Reddit, be sure to make it personal and provide meaningful details. People connect with emotions, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that marketing is purely an analytical process.
Make it Relevant
The Reddit platform is organized by subreddits that focus on a menagerie of conversational topics. Communities range from /r/iAMA (aka ‘Ask Me Anything’) which has been graced by the likes of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Arnold Schwarzenegger to the /r/NoStupidQuestions community on Reddit where one user posted the question, “What is Reddit?”
Swichkow first submitted his photo to /r/happy where members “post about what makes you warm and fuzzy inside” but another user commented with a link to /r/EOOD which leads the charge for those seeking to “Exercise Out Of Depression.” Seeing that the conversation in /r/happy was related to his own happiness, Swichkow saw a different form of relevance and cross posted it to /r/EOOD to spark inspiration and discuss strategy with others fighting depression.
For Swichkow, what had started slowly, but climbed to number one in the /r/happy subreddit, was soon the number one post in the /r/EOOD (Exercise Out Of Depression) subreddit as well. He admits to later attempting to bring the conversation to /r/beards after a few positive comments about his manly image, but they were less impressed with his beard air drying technique.
The interests and character of Reddit’s 9,000+ subreddits vary as much as the individuals within them. The key is not to barrage multiple subreddits, but rather find different ways the same story can be hyper relevant to different audiences.
Make it Stick
It’s a challenge keeping tabs on your family and close friends, let alone the hundreds if not thousands of connections you have on social media. Having developed relationships with an array of entrepreneurs, investors, and other go-getters over the years, Swichkow remarked, “it’s impossible to keep tabs on everyone you know, but social media provides a platform to stay on people’s minds in creative ways.”
By first sharing the image on his personal Facebook page and following it with subsequent updates about the how the story and photo were spreading, he was able to quietly remind his colleagues of his skills as a Reddit marketer. Swichkow’s social connections have already begun to reach out to him sharing the status of their projects and ask if there’s anything he can do to help.
If you’re looking to drive organic traffic for your business without a budget, it’s time to start investigating the potential of Reddit. The strength of the community provides a massive opportunity, but only for those willing to learn the voice of each subreddit and contribute meaningful value to the discussions. Next time you consider posting, remember to make it personal, make it relevant, and make it stick.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.