I have written over 400 columns for Inc Magazine.
Before I landed my own column, I was a Top Writer on Quora with several million views on my work (this was back in 2015). My “claim to fame” was the fact that I had reached Top Writer status in less than 9 months of writing on the platform, had over a dozen of my articles go viral (100,000 to 1,000,000+ views each), and had been republished by just about every major publication on the Internet: TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, Slate, Observer, Thought Catalog, Hacker Noon, Medical Daily, The Chicago Tribune, and Inc Magazine—to name a few.
During the second half of 2015, there was a 6-month period during wherein Inc Magazine was republishing one of my Quora answers every single week.
I had found my stride as a writer focused on personal development—and Inc took notice.
I was already writing an Answer per day on Quora (which I deliberately structured as a full article). But instead of replacing Quora with Inc, I worked the night shift writing a column per day there as well.
1 month later, I was one of Inc Magazine’s most popular writers (and one of their only paid writers). And in 2017, I was named one of their Top 30 columnists for the entire publication.
To me, writing is a sport as much as it is a form of art. I view the craft the same way I viewed hockey as a teenager, eagerly chasing the dream of one day making it to the NHL. I do not subscribe to the mantra that one writes when one is inspired. I think that’s a cop out. If one is truly a writer, they write regardless of whether they feel like writing or not—because writing, just like everything else in life, requires practice in order to master.
What I found instead was a world of press pitches and marketers that wanted what I had—a column.
Within days of my being listed on the site, my inbox started to flood with pitches from PR companies. And aside from the fact that half of them couldn’t even spell my name correctly (there is no “h” in Nicolas), I had no interest in writing about the “revolutionary technology” some up-and-coming company claimed they had.
I am a writer.
I know what people want to read because I write. I know what works because I publish and iterate, publish and iterate. I know what resonates because I work hard to share who I am as a person, human to human, through my writing. And I know how to get exposure because I take the time to learn what it is people want to read—and why.
So, as someone who has written thousands of articles on the Internet, I want to pull back the curtain and debunk some myths about getting exposure onto your written content.
Not a single day goes by where I don’t hear someone make the Hail Mary statement that if only their company could be mentioned by a major publication—then they’d get the exposure they’re looking for.
People love data, so let me give you some data.
Out of my top 10 performing columns, 9 had to do with personal development.
The 1 that had to do with a company was about Facebook.
You’re not Facebook.
Side by side, my Inc Magazine column has never once out performed my viewership on Quora or Medium.
Big publications are idolized because people assume that “70 million unique monthly readers” means that every single piece of content receives 70 million views.
That’s like saying in a city of 70 million people, everybody knows everybody.
What most people don’t know is that while the entire site might yield tens of millions of views, the site is also publishing thousands of articles per month (hundreds every day).
On my best month writing for Inc Magazine, I cracked 300,000 views. I wrote 30 columns that month.
In comparison, 300,000 views is considered a weak month for me on Quora and Medium—where I consistently average closer to ~400,000+ views month over month. And when I was writing original content every single day on Quora, I averaged over a million views per month for a year straight.
If you’re publishing content on your company blog (or worse, a single byline in a major publication) and expecting millions of views to appear overnight, you’re in for a rude awakening.
The single best place to write on the Internet right now is Quora and Medium.
They just don’t.
Unless I was talking about Facebook or Amazon or Tesla in the news, all of my most popular articles have been devoid of a company mention.
Reason being, nobody reads an entire piece talking about how great someone is, how “game-changing” their unique (it’s not unique) approach to their industry is and thinks, “Wow, I have to share this with all of my friends!”
I know what people want to read, and I know because I have written and tested and iterated and learned and refined and delivered. I know what it takes to write a viral article because I frequently write viral articles. 99.99999% of marketers and PR companies cannot say the same—and yet, every single day, another business gets sold on the pipe dream that a single mention from a columnist on a popular site will drive significant ROI for their business.
The average column on a major publication barely receives 1,000 views.
Let me say that again:
The average column on a major publication barely receives 1,000 views.
And in the off-chance your company gets a soft mention in a viral articles (“According to company, 49% of Millennials actually hate their jobs…”), that’s the one part of the article nobody is paying any attention to.
There is no other way around it.
You can’t buy a real audience. You can’t cheat a real audience. And you certainly shouldn’t expect a real audience after your company writes 3 blog posts.
It astounds me how many PR companies and marketing agencies promise eons of exposure, when they can’t even get exposure for themselves. I don’t know about you, but I would have a hard time getting my hair cut by a bald barber.
As someone who has racked up 50,000,000+ views on my written content, who has gone viral dozens of times, and who has had work published in just about every major publication on the Internet, I am telling you from first-hand experience that nobody wakes up to that overnight.
The rewards I have seen for myself as a writer and for my business were not paid for (I’ve never spent a dollar on PR or advertising). They were earned.
And that’s not to say you can’t earn it too. Because you can.
Just don’t expect it to happen overnight.
Read enough leadership articles, and there is only 1 thing that separates the stuff worth reading from all the rest.
There are thousands upon thousands of companies in the world. Thousands upon thousands of founders and CEOs. Thousands of writers, thousands of “industry experts,” thousands of everybody, everywhere. So, what does the Internet sound like when they all say, at the exact same time, “Being an effective leader is all about open communication.”
Noisy. The Internet sounds very, very noisy.
A thought leader isn’t the person on the front of the magazine, or the lucky name drawn out of a hat and quoted in a column. A thought leader isn’t the person with the biggest ad spend, or necessarily even the one with the keynote speech.
Those are all just stages to stand upon.
Again, speaking from my own experiences here, I would like to share a few of my most popular articles on the Internet:
2M+ views: 7 crucial lessons people often learn too late in life. (This piece has been reposted on Business Insider 3 times now. The first time it racked up 1.5M views. The second, 200,000+ views. And now ~100,000 for the 3rd time.)
800,000+ views: How to become more confident.
783,000+ views: How to stop being average.
507,000+ views: What it feels like to go from unattractive to attractive.
425,000+ views: A stranger I met once that changed my life forever.
412,000+ views: Why having everything you want won’t make you happy.
There are lots more, but they all follow a similar theme.
What makes a great piece of written content online requires a conflict. The reader wants to know the journey you’re about to take them on. What was the challenge? What were you afraid of? What was holding you back? And how did you overcome that challenge and make your way safely to the other side?
Again, most people (in any industry) don’t want to do this. And the reason is because they think they can achieve the same result (“Look how impressive I am”) without having to reveal the vulnerable part.
But the irony is the more open and honest you are, the more people will relate to you, hear you, and ultimately share your message with others. But trying to prop yourself up behind this facade that you have it all together, you’ve always had it all together, and you’ve never once sat in front of an obstacle and thought, “Shit, I have no idea how I’m going to overcome this,” is a lie—to yourself, and to your readers.
Anyone can write something thoughtful, meaningful, and exposure-worthy on the Internet. Literally anyone.
In order to do that, however, you have to be willing to put your audience before yourself.
Some people call that “effective marketing.”
I call it Writing.
Thanks for reading! :)
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