If you’re a content marketer in a boring niche, it can be difficult to drive lots of eyeballs to your content.
Getting people to aggressively share your content is a great way to leverage your readers as your own free marketing team.
However, people share content to say something about themselves. They want to share information that makes them look smart, good, funny, controversial, or insightful.
So if you’re operating a business and blog in a traditionally considered boring niche, how can you get your readers to actually share your stuff… and ultimately produce viral posts?
I’ve been successfully using a technique that I call The Datatainment Method to tackle this problem. I have applied this method multiple times and every time it has delivered.
It has consistently driven more shares and traffic to my blog posts than any other approach.
In this article, I am going to show you how to apply this method to any niche.
A Case Study of The Datatainment Method
Before I get into the specifics of what the method entails and the steps to execute it, let me give you a little background.
I am the CTO and founder of Proven, a tool that helps small businesses with job distribution and resume organization. Not the sexiest topic. It’s hard to get people really excited to share tips about making the perfect resume or how to write an effective job description.
However, I recently posted an article called What Career Paths Lead to Success on Survivor, where I used The Datatainment Method, and I increased my traffic from social media channels by 68% and received over 3,000 views in the first 24 hours!
Not bad for a boring niche 🙂
I had the top voted article on the Survivor subreddit for two days along with 63 comments.
My link on the Survivor Sucks forum received 21 comments within 48 hours, 13 comments and 17 shares in a Survivor-related Facebook group and a featured post on the Survivor Oz website.
So what exactly is this method for creating viral posts and how can you use it?
What is The Datatainment Method for viral posts?
Quite simply, The Datatainment Method is taking something that people care about (think TV shows and music) and mashing it up with a topic from your boring niche.
It’s similar to the idea behind the success of the book Freakonomics. The authors (Steven Levy and Stephen J. Dubner) melded together pop culture and economics, creating a book that sold over 4 million copies.
So how do you apply this to your niche?
The 5 Steps to Applying The Datatainment Method
I will go over each of these steps in detail in a moment, but here’s an overview:
- Step 1: Find a pop culture topic, e.g. TV show, musician, possibly sports
- Step 2: Find a topic related to your niche
- Step 3: Define problem, collect and analyze data
- Step 4: Write up the results in a blog post
- Step 5: Reach out and get your shares
The first three steps form the basis of The Datatainment Method formula for viral posts:
Pop Culture Topic + Niche Topic + Data = Viral Posts!
The last step is a big part of why this approach is so successful. You are going to be tapping into an already fanatic fan base to help promote your material.
Alright, let’s break down how to execute these steps.
Step 1: Find a pop culture topic
To get started, you first need to pick a TV show or musician to use as part of your mashup. A sports theme is certainly possible but there’s already a lot of stats and analysis that goes on in sports by professionals; it makes the bar higher for your work to really stand out.
Almost every topic you can think of is going to have an installed base of fans that really care about it, but some topics are going to be better than others.
You want to pick something that is not too mainstream, because if it’s super mainstream, it’s probably already so widely covered that your content might get buried beneath all the professional journalists and writers that are already talking about it.
Think topics like Star Wars, Star Trek, anything Reality TV, or a musician that’s not too popular but has a solid enough fan base that you can appeal to a wide audience.
It also helps if you are somewhat of a fan yourself because then you’ll have more context for writing about it and appealing to the people that really care about the topic.
I’ve had success with mainstream topics like Seinfeld and Game of Thrones, but I think Reality TV is the perfect case study. The reason it is perfect is that there’s not only people that are fanatical about those shows, but the contestants themselves are perfect evangelists for whatever you come up with. Most of them are active on social media and they usually have a solid number of followers, but they are not so well known that they are above responding to your outreach.
Take for example, Billy Garcia’s Twitter account.
This guy was on Survivor 10 years ago and was voted off second. Yet he has nearly 87 thousand followers and I’m confident he will 100% respond to you if you are writing something related to him 🙂
Once you have a topic in mind, before moving on, you want to make sure that topic is going to be worth your time. That is, it has a high likelihood of being a topic people will engage with.
A good topic is going to have at least 3 out of the 54 following properties:
- Active subreddit
- Active forum
- Active Facebook groups
- Active Facebook page
- Strong Twitter presence
Here’s how to check each of those things.
First up, go to http://www.reddit.com and search your topic.
Reddit will show subreddits that match your topics first followed by posts. You want to check the subreddits and look for at least one with lots of subscribers and an active community.
If you found a good subreddit, make sure you save the URL, we are going to use this later.
Look for forums
There’s really forums available on almost every topic. A lot have been around for years and have thousands of active members.
To find relevant forums, you can use queries such as the following on Google:
- “TOPIC” forums
- “TOPIC” yuku
- “TOPIC” board
- “TOPIC” “message board”
- “TOPIC” “powered by vbulletin”
You can also use a site like http://www.boardreader.com to find relevant forums.
Whenever you find a good forum prospect, make sure you save the URL for later.
To search for a relevant Facebook page or group, go to Facebook and type your topic into the search bar. Make sure you click the “See all results” link from the dropdown.
From the results page, select “Groups”.
You are going to want to look for an open group that has a significant amount of members. Save any groups that you find.
It’s also worth looking at the “Pages” results and copy down any pages that have lots of Likes.
Similar to what we did on Facebook, you can go to Twitter and search with your topic but I personally like using Moz’s Followerwonk tool to search Twitter bios.
With Followerwonk, search for your topic, sort by the number of followers and look for things like fan blogs, writers, fans, participants, podcasts, etc. that are influencers within the fan base of your topic.
Copy down all the Twitter feeds that are relevant.
If you found lots of relevant sites and influencers then you know you have a good topic and you’re ready to move onto the next step.
Step 2: Find a topic related to your niche
Ok, now that you have your pop culture topic in hand, you need to come up with a topic from your niche. This niche topic in combination with the pop culture topic that you came up with in Step 1 will form the basis in the mashup for your Datatainment piece.
You want to choose something that you can relate to the pop culture topic. General topics are the easiest since for Step 3 you’ll need to do some data collection and something generally applicable will make it easier to find relevant sources.
For example, if you work in nutrition, you could use general topics like “food”, “nutrition”, “health”, etc. and likely relate that to anything from a genre like sports or even a TV show.
In the piece I wrote, What Career Paths Lead to Success on Survivor, I chose the general topic area of “career paths” since my niche is small business hiring.
If your business is really specific, like solar panels for jet propulsion, then you probably want to move up the topical hierarchy and go with something that’s a bit more general like solar panels or perhaps jet propulsion.
Step 3: Define problem and collect and analyze data
Now the fun part.
We need to come up with a way to relate the pop culture topic to the niche topic that you picked in Steps 1 and 2.
This can take a little creativity and digging, but again, it helps if you know the pop culture topic to start with because you may already know how to relate the two.
The investigative process
You can start by checking to see if your pop culture topic has a Wikia page. Search Google with the following: “TOPIC” wikia. Most TV shows will have a Wikia page.
The Wikia will be nicely organized into relevant categories. For TV shows this could be seasons, characters, crew, etc.
Each of these pages are rich with data that’s already semi-structured and that you may be able to relate to your niche topic.
For example, take a look at this Wikia result for character Jake Harper from Two and a Half Men. There’s all kinds of juicy data here like birth dates, episode counts, family members, and so forth.
If Wikia is not available or doesn’t work for you, go back to some of the links you collected in Step 1, and search any subreddits and forums for keywords related to your topic. You may find some people already talking about your niche topic and that should give you some ideas about how to define your problem.
Finally, you can also try searching Google for the combination of your pop culture topic and the niche topic you chose and see if something relevant comes up that will help spark an idea for your piece.
Based on your investigative process, you should have an idea about how to tie your niche topic to the pop culture topic you chose.
You now want to define that combination in terms of a problem or question that you can answer in your post.
The problem should directly contain both your topic and the pop culture topic.
Here are a few general examples that should be applicable for almost any combination:
- How does NICHE TOPIC relate to POP CULTURE TOPIC?
- How does NICHE TOPIC effect POP CULTURE TOPIC?
- What does POP CULTURE TOPIC have to do with NICHE TOPIC?
- What NICHE TOPIC leads to NOUN in POP CULTURE TOPIC?
But don’t restrict yourself to these examples. There’s lots of ways you could define your specific problem.
Collecting the data
Through this investigative process, you will likely have some idea of what data you need to collect to help answer the problem you defined.
The simplest way to get data for your analysis and eventual blog post is to look for existing sources. You might be lucky and find out someone has already done the legwork for you and has the exact data you need available on their website.
You can try searching Google for the problem you defined and see if you find some good sources, but another approach is to look for infographics related to your pop culture topic.
On Google, simply search “TOPIC” + “infographic”, and see what comes up. You might get lucky.
I also like using Pinterest to search for infographics. I used this approach for a recent Game of Thrones Datatainment piece.
If you can’t find what you need with these approaches, then Wikipedia and Wikia are great resources for data collection.
You can tackle this by hand, dumping the relevant information into a spreadsheet. If you have programming chops or access to someone that does, they may be able to help collect data by building custom web crawlers.
Another option is using something like Mechanical Turk.
If you are unfamiliar with Mechanical Turk, it’s run by Amazon and it allows you to pay workers to complete Human Intelligence Tasks (HIT).
You define the task, choose the budget and publish it.
In a recent project, I used Mechanical Turk to collect the heights of contestants on Survivor.
I paid people 5 cents to either find the person’s height from available sources online or provide a best guess based on images. You can make it so multiple people have to provide results to your task, so in this example, I had 3 different people provide responses, as long as they were close to each other, then I used the average of their responses.
The key here is that your collection doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough.
Analyze and collect results
Armed with your awesome data in hand, you now need to analyze it and draw some conclusions to help address the problem you defined.
If you go the stats route, you really only need basic statistics like averages, mininums and maxes. You don’t need to worry about things like statistical significance or correlations, you are not submitting this to a peer-reviewed journal. If you are comfortable doing that type of analysis, then by all means go for it, but it’s definitely not necessary.
If stats scares you, no problem. You can try analyzing the data and looking for trends through qualitative methods. For example, you can simply look for consistent themes or patterns by hand.
You just want to be able to show some evidence for your conclusions.
Again, your analysis and results do not need to be perfect.
Make sure you keep track of your process here because we are going to use it in the next step.
Step 4: Write blog post based on your analysis and results
So you have your pop culture topic, your niche topic, your data, analysis and results. Now you just need to put it all together in a blog post.
To maximize the share potential, you want to tell a story with your data and analysis.
In the introduction you want to give a little background about the pop culture topic you chose, just one to three sentences to set things up.
Now, bring together the pop culture topic and your niche by presenting the problem you defined and state it as a question.
Finally, let the reader know that you tackled this problem and that you have amazing results to share.
Here’s an example introduction:
Present the results
You want to walk the reader through your process. The best way to do this is as a series of sub-problems.
There was likely a number of steps you took to reach the results you derived, how did you get there? Did you need to solve several problems to get there? What were they?
For example, in the Survivor post I wrote, before taking the reader through the result of my main question, “What career path leads to success on Survivor?”, I started by addressing the following three questions:
- What careers are most common on Survivor?
- What is the age range for Survivor contestant occupations?
- What career is most successful in challenges?
Walking the reader through your process makes your results feel more legitimate and helps establish you as an authority.
Throughout this part of your post, it’s best to use visual elements to help tell your story like basic graphs or anything else that is visual and relevant. These visual elements can also contain share CTAs to help encourage sharing.
Summarize your results as a series of key findings that relate back to the problem you presented in your introduction.
Finally, ask the reader what they found surprising or what would they do differently and ask them to write it in the comments. You can also experiment with asking people to share the article if they enjoyed it. Sometimes people need reminders 🙂
Step 5: Reach out and get your shares
If you got this far, you already put in a lot of work, but don’t worry, it’s about to pay off.
Remember all those subreddits, forums, Facebook groups and so forth I told you to keep track of way back in Step 1? Now is the time to use them.
Posting to Forums
Using the URLs you collected of forums, subreddits, and Facebook groups, go back to each one and post your content.
Do this cautiously.
You need to handle this delicately. A lot of these forums and groups are very sensitive to anything that seems spammy.
For any of these places, it’s a good idea to join, participate in 10–20 conversations first, before doing something self-promotional.
It’s also often less risky to start by using your blog post as an answer to existing questions or threads if any of them relate to your post.
Search the boards for existing threads related to your topic, join the conversation and respond with your results, then add a link to your piece for more details.
Once you’ve built up some rapport in the community, you can post your piece.
Below is an example of what I posted on the Survivor Sucks forum. I actually took a risk here and this was my first ever post.
If you have something of value that relates to the community and you present the results without forcing the community members to visit your site first, then you may be able to skip some of the rapport establishing process.
Reach out on Twitter
Using the Twitter accounts you collected earlier through Followerwonk or any other process you used, reach out directly to these accounts to let them know about your content.
It can help here if you’ve already put work in to establish rapport with these people but it’s not strictly necessary. I’ve had success with contacting people directly on Twitter without any kind of prior relationship.
For example, professional poker player and podcaster Jason Somerville responded to my tweet below.
I had no problems with getting current and prior cast members to respond to my tweets and retweet my content.
The other great thing about The Datatainment Method for viral content, is that you never know who is going to be a fan of these pop culture topics.
Below is an example retweet my article received from a CBS Meteorologist.
So, why does this work?
There are a number of reasons why this approach can be so successful.
Built-in Fanbase: Almost every TV show, musician or sports team has their fanatical fans. Those fans consume everything there is to do with the topic: podcasts, blogs, subreddits, and other online platforms. If you engage them, they will fanatically promote and discuss your material.
Lots of Influencers: Besides the fan base to help comment and share your post, any pop culture phenomenon has influencers that run blogs, podcasts and online forums. Reality TV is a great candidate for The Datatainment Method for viral content because not only are there lots of people writing about the shows, but the contestants themselves are influencers that are generally very active on social media. They are well known enough to have solid followings, but not so well known that they’ll ignore you when you contact them. They went on Reality TV for a reason, often having to do with getting attention, so they’ll usually be more than helpful with promoting something as it is essentially promotion of themselves.
It’s Unique: Most people writing about TV shows and music are focused solely on what’s happening on screen or with a particular artist, they are not really doing any kind of analysis. Your content being unique is going to help create “memory glue” for the reader and content that is more memorable gets shared more often.
Controversy: This helps create discussion. For my own post about the careers of Survivor players, the big controversy was around how I classified certain contestant’s professions. I had to make certain subjective decisions about where to place people and sometimes that’s not going to be exactly how the reader would do it. But that’s completely fine, they’ll comment and let you know, then someone will disagree with them and so on.
Easy Science: Your analysis is likely not going to be something you’d find in a peer-reviewed economics paper, but it’s probably far more in-depth than anything anyone else is writing related to the pop culture phenomenon you tackle. As long as you explain the results with nice pictures, then everyone can follow and they’ll be happy. They’ll feel smart and want to share what you have to say.
If you want to drive tons of traffic to your site through social media channels, then you try The Datatainment Method. I believe it is one of the best ways to leverage social media and tap into people’s natural share triggers.
It’s also a lot of fun to put together and write about. (Sure beats another post about tips to improve your resume 🙂.
You may be thinking, viral content marketing is one thing, but will this lead to customers and long term value?
In my experience, the answer to this question is yes. You just never know who is a Game of Thrones fanatic or loves The Amazing Race or really any other pop culture phenomenon. It’s likely that there is an overlap between followers of those shows and your customer-base. This is an effective way to get your brand in front of thousands of people very quickly and completely for free.
I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions. I’m also happy to help brainstorm ideas for how you might be able to use this method to create viral posts in your own niche.
Also, I want to give a big thank you to Brian Dean from Backlinko for his helpful advice and review of this post.