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Benjamin Carlson

2 principles to find viral content

Published over 1 year ago • 4 min read

Hello and welcome back.

Last week I shared the strange experience of going viral.

(If you’re new to the list, here’s what happened:

A video I shared got two likes. One from Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter. The other came from Elon Musk.)

4.8 million views later, I’d like to share with you how I found it.

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Benjamin Carlson
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@bfcarlson
January 2nd 2023
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That story comes down to two factors..

1. The Mentality of a Collector

I come from a family of collectors.

(The boundary between a collector and a hoarder is often hazy.)

My grandmother collected antiques: porcelain boxes, pewter mugs, Chippendale highboys.

My father collects instruments: guitars, ukuleles, banjos.

Unless you’re rich, the art of collecting is discovery and valuation.

You find sources that are neglected by the market. Flea markets. Garage sales. Facebook “free stuff” groups.

You rummage through cardboard boxes. You get dusty. You explore with a strategy of serendipity.

In time you hone your eye to identify the buried treasure.

With luck, and attention, you may find a Ding bowl.

With content, it’s the same.

Ask yourself: What sources are people neglecting? Where is the hidden value? How would this shine in a different setting?

2. The Human Signal

The surest sign that something has value to people is that it is exchanged. (Take those paper bills printed with presidents' pictures on them, for example...)

That’s why I always pay attention to what people share with me.

When a reader sends something, I know he believes it has value.

So here’s the story…

About a week ago, a reader shared a link in response to something I wrote.

The link led to a 2-year-old article on the Intellectual Dark Web in a small, intellectual cultural journal.

In the fourth paragraph, the author mentioned Marshall McLuhan's theory that weak identities lead to violence as people feel the need to prove they exist.

He linked to a video. I opened it and was immediately fascinated.

A few minutes in, when the interviewer asked McLuhan about the FBI and CIA, I leaned in.

(I've been covering the history of entanglement of intelligence and media.)

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Benjamin Carlson
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@bfcarlson
December 9th 2022
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When McLuhan went on his riff about "discarnate identities" on TV (and the Internet), I knew I had found something.

A $3 million Ding bowl? No. But something of interest to people—as it turned out, millions of them.

This wasn't a fluke. The same thing happened a few months ago when a reader shared with me a video of Yuri Bezmenov, a Soviet defector.

I dug a little deeper, and this happened.

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Benjamin Carlson
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@bfcarlson
November 25th 2022
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The moral of the story

If you want to bring ideas of surprising value to people, pay attention to what is being exchanged within your audience...and peel back one one layer more.

Often the best content comes from taking from what's in plain sight and putting it in a new light.

One Last Thing: What I'm Enjoying

Tobi Emonts-Holley is a CEO and a father of six. He also exercises daily..

As the father of infant twins and a three-year-old, I'm in awe of anyone who can juggle twice that number of children.

Check out his calendar below. He wakes before 5 every morning.

As I said: awe:

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Tobi Emonts-Holley
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@tobi_emonts
2) Time Blocking Having a to-do list is a start. But you need to block out time in your calendar, to do them. It seems restrictive at first, but the more you assign blocks of time to specific items, the more freedom you create. Here’s mine: pic.twitter.com/JsHUqloNjd
Video or Gif
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Tobi Emonts-Holley
@tobi_emonts
During my PhD studies, I used Evernote and Things and now I use Notion. The most important parts of your info capture are: • it is readily available • quick to enter info • searchable Choose one that fits these criteria and don’t waste time finding the ‘perfect’ tool. pic.twitter.com/iEZ1L3GS2r
January 10th 2023
4
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64
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What's on your mind this week?

Let me know if there's anything you'd like to explore.

I'll be digging further into how the media works — and my experience of it—in the coming weeks.

Until then, thanks for reading,

Ben

Benjamin Carlson

I'm a communications exec and a former editor at The Atlantic and foreign correspondent. Subscribe for lessons from my 15 years in media and PR

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