Sam runs TheHustle, a business news site, and HustleCon, a TED-style conference (happening May 13th, 2016 in SanFran....I'll be there too).
Sid is a big-ole dog.
What's impressive about Sam is that he writes a massive number of content articles on TheHustle every week, about 30% which go viral. Then they use all the exposure to build an audience of 1million+ and they make money off ads, conference ticket sales, and other products.
With a giant audience (over 120,000 email subscribers as of this writing), they gain distribution power.
This is a perfect example of what's known as "Content Marketing." It's a very simple outline:
Write Content --> People Share It --> Drive Them To Buy Products/Services/Ads For $$
It's impossible for one person to write this fast & effectively (30+ articles per week), so he's gathered a team of around 3 writers, and create a very specific content creation process. I asked what his process was to find topics, research them, write the articles & publish them. He answers in full below:
-------------------SAM STARTS TALKING HERE-------------------
Content is like sex. Everyone wants it, but few know how to do it right.
But thankfully for you, I’m about to show the process that my media company The Hustle uses to produce thousands of articles that are seen by millions.
Who am I? I’m Sam Parr, founder of The Hustle, a media company that explains the most important stuff going on in the world of business, tech, and culture and what it means to young, ambitious professionals like yourself.
I’ve written on this blog about how I started Hustle Con and made tens of thousands of dollars in profit in six weeks. Well, what I didn’t tell was that I hosted the conference to fund the launch of The Hustle.
(BTW... Hustle Con is happening again on May 13th in San Francisco...there’s a special discount code for at the bottom of this post).
Since that last blog post, we raised about $500,000 in funding, launched the site, and have had millions of people read our content.
However, most people are shocked when I tell them I wasn’t a great writer (still ain’t) when we launched The Hustle and I never had more than a few thousand people read my personal blog. So how did we do this? By creating a badass, streamlined content creation process.
Since creating this process, we’ve produced hundreds of articles that’ve been read by millions of people, and are now one of the fastest-growing media companies in America.
Although we still have a small editorial team (3 people), we can produce up to 10 articles a day.
So what’s this process? I’ll explain.
Note #1: When done properly, this process can be done fast (30 minutes or less). Some articles (like this one) only take 90 minutes from idea to publishing but still have lots of value and easily go viral. Others take months to write. The process is the same regardless of time.
Note #2: This process is exactly what we use for our team. I edited it to fit this audience, but there's still parts that may not apply to you. I kept them in because you never know what you’ll learn from.
But first. There’s one thing I tell the team before we start the process:
Be bold. Before writing make sure to toughen up. Be confident and act as if you’re the shit. Most people suck at writing because they’re scared. “Will people like my article?” they say. That's loser talk.
The only way to get past this is to toughen up. Come at your keyboard with boldness. Pounce on it. Timidity is the enemy.
Most folks think being a great ‘writer’ means writing well. That’s wrong (most of the time). Great writers are those who use the written word to get their point across in an engaging way. Notice I didn’t say “they use proper grammar.” So be bold and focus on the point you want to make, not grammar (but you still need to proofread and fix obvious grammar errors).
Now on the the goodness. This post is broken into four pieces:
- Before writing.
- How to write.
- Making it readable.
Each point is related. After you do the process a few times the steps blend together.
Lezzz do it.
1.) Before Writing
1. Find an idea. This is, without a doubt, the most important part of the process. There are two methods to figure out what to write: instinct and data.
ViralNova, BoredPanda, and this guy rely primary on data for editorial choices. This method drives a ton of traffic, but it most likely won’t be the type of traffic you want (unless you make money from ads).
The other method is using your instinct. The New York Times, Bloomberg, and smalltime bloggers like Tim Ferriss do this. They don’t care what other blogs cover or what will go viral because they aren’t motivated by pageviews. They write about what they find interesting. Unless you already have a massive and loyal following or don’t need to rely on traffic to make money then relying purely on instinct won’t work.
The best approach is to combine the two methods. Some media folks call this method “programmatic content.” But really it’s much simpler: use data to find out what’s popular, create a clickable headline to get traffic from social, and use your instinct to write the story in a way that matters to your audience.
For The Hustle, 50% of our content is on stuff that’s already popular or has been written about. 100% original content is tough to create and many times isn’t needed. Our goal is to put a different take on what’s happening in the world, regardless if it’s been covered.
For example, others already wrote about living off Soylent for a few days, but we decided to do it for 30 days. Same with our article on LSD. Others have talked about it, but we had a different spin.
Here’s where we turn to find out what’s popular:
- Quora - Go to Quora and search for topics that align with your brand. Then find the most viewed answers and questions. Boom...ideas.
- Reddit - Reddit works well because there’s a community (subreddits) for practically everything. Go to a relevant subreddit, click “top” to see the top posts for a specific time, then use those topics. But there’s a trick… the golden nuggets are actually in the comment sections. Read each topic’s comment and use them as inspiration.
- Medium - For startup, business, and lifestyle content, Medium is gold. I typically read each of the most popular posts to understand what the community is craving.
- CrowdTangle - This software is the best if you have a few hundred bucks to spend a month. UpWorthy, Mic, and other top publishers use it to get millions of views. CrowdTangle monitors the Facebook pages you tell it to watch (your competitors, brands with similar content) and tells you what is about to go viral. Using the data you know what to cover.
- Hacker News - This may not work for you, but Hacker News is like Reddit but for computer nerds.
2. Pick the headline/angle. After picking what to cover it’s time to pick the angle.
Headlines are responsible for 90% of the article’s success and thus should be planned ahead of time as the headline dictates the article (not the other way around). I’ll dive deep into headlines later in the post, but know that they come now. As for angles, it's all about finding one nugget that's golden and then using that as the angle. For example, I found an interview that the founder of Wish.com gave. The original interview was something like "The Founder of Wish Explains How He Built His Amazon Competitor". boring. In the interview he said that they did $3 billion in revenue by year 3. That was my angle. Much more interesting.
3. Make people feel. As you select your headline and angle, it’s imperative that you understand how to use emotion. Emotions get people to share. Awe, excitement, and anger. Those emotions, in that order, are the emotions you should care about. The headline should be a statement.
4. Write in the first person. If you’re blogging to an audience between 15 - 45 years old then use the first person. “I did this”, “we’ve found that”. Not only does data show that first person articles get the most shares, it also makes your brand more likeable.
2.) How to write
After selecting your idea it’s time to write.
1. Take a big, fat dump. Dump all your thoughts into a first draft in one sitting. It will be bad. Very bad. But that’s ok. Just get it out there.
2. Incubate. There’s a reason why good ideas come in the shower or during exercise. Take time to not focus on your draft. Depending on your deadline, this could mean a 3-minute walk or a 24 hour time-out. Magical things happen during this period.
3. Edit. Now go back and make your draft awesome. How?
4. Cut. You cut like crazy. Take out the first 10% (most people’s intros suck) and then cut another 35%.
5. Hit the reader. You then make the first sentence punch the reader in the face. Go back and read the first sentence of this post.
6. Next, you write simple. No need to use complicated words.
7. And you always create a slippery slope. The goal of the first sentence is to get you to read the second sentence. The goal of the second sentence is to get you to read the third.
8. Then you get rid of all the adverbs. As the great Stephen King once said, “adverbs pave the way to hell.” Adverbs are anything that describes an verb. He ran fast is the same thing as he ran very fast. The word very is an adverb, and in most cases it’s useless.
9. Get rid of needless words. Speaking of cutting, get rid of any word that isn’t important. How do you know what’s important? If you remove a word, but the sentence still makes sense, then it’s useless. Notice I didn’t say “If you can remove the word then it’s useless.” “Can” was useless.
10. Know how brains think. Readers comprehend “the boy hit the ball” quicker than “the ball was hit by the boy.” Both sentences mean the same, but it’s easier to imagine the object (the boy) before the action (the hitting). All brains work that way. (Notice I didn’t say, “That is the way all brains work”?)
11. Still can’t figure it out? Do copywork. Find a writer whose style you admire, and copy their word by hand. It’ll such while you do it, but this exercise will help you mimic their flow.
3.) Making it readable
1. The optimal post length is 500 words or less, or 2,000+ words. Don’t bother with anything in between.
2. Make your sentences and paragraphs short. Sentences should be mostly be less than 25 words and paragraphs no more than 5 sentences.
3. Use the Hemingway App if you can’t figure out how to write good. It’s free and named after a famous writer, so it must be good. I use it all the time. Try to get your writing to be at a 7th grade level.
4. Headlines are important. There are two different types of headlines: social and search. Search headlines are keyword-heavy and are something search for. Social headlines use the curiosity gap. The curiosity gap is when you show a photo and have a headline that alludes to the story but doesn’t give it away.
When we wrote an article on a guy who went 30 days living off Soylent (a new age meal replacement), our social headline was “I Went 30 days without food” along with a photo of a shirtless guy holding a bottle of Soylent. But people don’t search “30 days without food.” They do search for Soylent though, which is why the search headline was “Soylent: I want 30 Days without food.” See?
1. Email is the best form of distribution. The Hustle has a big email list (depending on when you read this, it has 100,000 to 200,000 subscribers). We send stories we want to be read to our subscribers. Although we collect close to 1,000 emails a day, in the beginning we collected only 20 a day. The key to email collections is to have a high conversion rate of visitors to subscribers. Our popup collects hundreds of emails a day because it’s funny. Funny works well. Just be different.
2. Facebook is the second best method of distribution. The people who care about the number of Facebook likes a page has are dumb investors and media companies like us. Facebook’s reach is atrocious and is only getting worse. Only 5% of your fans see the actual post. Companies pay money (through Boosting) to reach their audience. Unless you make money from this. The part that Facebook helps with is sharing. Web visitors who share an article on Facebook is what you want. So put Facebook buttons all over the place.
3. Reddit, Hacker News, and other aggregators are third best. The Hustle has been on the front page of Reddit many times. Each time Reddit drove hundreds of thousands of visitors. However, there’s not science or way to hack this. Submit your work to relevant subreddits that you are part of, and if you’re lucky, something might happen.
4. Twitter? More like Shitter. Not only do few people share on Twitter, when they do it drives practically zero clicks. Twitter sucks for getting traffic, so don’t waste your time.
Now go on and be fruitful. Create great content, gets lots of traffic, and hopefully seeya at HustleCon.
P.S. What's the process you use to write content? Do you even have one? Lemme know in the comments.
P.P.S. If you've ever worked for a company producing content, what was their process like? I love learning new things like that.