In April 2015, I ditched my senior prom to make 20 boxes of clothes, food and supplies for homeless people in Chicago. I made a YouTube video documenting my experience which now has over 200,000 views. It has been shared by celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Nicki Minaj, and has been covered by international media outlets in Mexico, Ireland, Japan and more. All of this prompted a $6,150 donation drive on GoFundMe to fund future distributions.
With the right techniques, you too can achieve minor Internet fame. Whether you want to share a funny video, compel people with a photograph or tell a unique story via an article, you can take certain steps to do so. Use these five tips to increase exposure to your content and drive engagement.
1. HAVE STRONG CONTENT
Regardless of how much marketing or public relations experience you have, if your product or service is not good, no one will buy it. The same is said for content online. If people do not react to your content, whether it is with anger, delight or sadness, they will not share it. I needs to be funny, informative, persuasive or otherwise stirring in some way. It must be fresh, unique and provide a perspective that has not already been beaten to death online.
2. START SMALL AND WORK YOUR WAY UP
Sending your content to an international or national news outlet will not be given more than a glance unless it is breaking news or something insanely outrageous. Explore small Tumblr blogs, Facebook pages, subreddits and any other communities that would take interest in your content. Define your audience (for me, it was philanthropic people or those who liked inspirational stores) and chase after outlets that produce or share the same type of content for those people.
This worked out well for me when I sent my story to the relatively small inspiration blog, Abuzeedo. A writer from A Plus, Ashton Kutcher’s news media outlet, saw it and reached out to me to write about it. From A Plus, the Huffington Post found out and contacted me. From the Huffington Post, FujiTV in Japan and a podcaster in Ireland Skyped me to interview me. The story reached producers from the Ellen Degeneres Show and CBS all because of a small inspiration blog. My biggest takeaway from this article is this: Don't underestimate the impact of any news source or medium.
3. EMAIL AND MESSAGE WITH PATIENCE AND PERSISTENCE
So now you have the blogs, Facebook pages, etc. that you want to share your content. Now what? What do you say? Keep it short and sweet, but say enough about what your content is and why an outlet should share it. Here’s what I said:
“Hi ___. I ditched my senior prom to help the homeless of Chicago using money I was planning on spending on Prom. Here's what happened. I would love it if you could please share my story! https://youtu.be/enkPvV-9zSE”
Sends tons of emails/messages but don’t expect good news in response or any response at all. If an outlet takes interest in your content, they will share it or respond to inquire further. There is no need to repeatedly reach out to an outlet unless you are writing to multiple editors in the same company.
4. GIVE INTERVIEWS THOUGHT
Congrats! An outlet wants to interview you and write about you! The hard work is done but what you say matters. This article written about you will be seen by others, even other news outlets, so it still needs to be interesting and compelling. Put thought into your answers. Give the interviewer more than they ask for and include details you find important and tell a fuller story.
Here are some additional details I emailed to each person that interviewed me.
“The reason I created the video was not only to document my experience but I also wanted to help inspire and have an impact upon people the way the YouTube videos I saw affected me. The reason I filmed myself assembling the boxes is to show how easy it all is. I'm a high-schooler with no job, car or really anything I own to sustain myself. Giving isn't hard and it most definitely is not impossible.
Our prom tickets were $145. Our prom night was April 25 and I distributed April 26.
Driving out of the city, I saw at least 5 more homeless people. I crushed me that I didn't have boxes for them. That's why I want to do it again this summer.”
5. HOLD ONTO YOUR CONTACTS
Networking is still important, even in what seems like a one-time event. Treat those that reach out to you with respect and kindness. Keeping emails and phone numbers for future use is crucial. If your story develops further or takes an interesting turn, or if you have something else viral-worthy to share, having those contacts can make repeating your success even easier.
Because of a few weeks worth of personal marketing, I was on the premiere of a new CBS show: Hidden Heroes and am featured in a PBS documentary on philanthropy airing in Fall 2016. Now that you’re armed with the proper tools, go off into the world and make your content go viral!