I paid to have my latest Wired story promoted on social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, to try to show that a lot of the metrics* we use to measure a story’s success are bullshit. It worked. When the story went live today, the page appeared with more than 15,500 links on Twitter, and 6,500 likes on Facebook. The story is a part of Wired’s Cheats package for the latest issue of the magazine. It needed to go live online at the same time readers encountered it in print, and it needed to have all those social shares set up in advance.
That posed an inherent dilemma: How can you make a story popular without attracting any attention to it?
I listed the services I used in the story, but I didn’t get into how we managed to have all those likes and links set up in advance. It was easy, but it took some creativity, largely thanks to Wired’s Jenny Mckeel who thought through all this.
The entire package was going live at once. I could publish my story a little bit early, but the timing needed to be very close. I wanted all the public-facing stats (like the 15 thousand links and Twitter and 6,000 Facebook shares) to be live by the time the text appeared. Certainly, if someone found it in print or on the tablet, it needed those metrics to already be there. To make that happen, we cheated.
The Cheats package was scheduled to go live on July 16, but we quietly published the URL on July 13 without any of the actual story text. To keep it from appearing on the front page of Wired or in RSS readers, we back dated it to July 1. That let us keep the URL structure it would eventually need to have with the month and year (http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2013/07/cheat-page/) without it being so front facing that lots of people would stumble on it and think it was some sort of mistake. Once the page was up, I went to Fiverr and paid to have it linked on Facebook and Twitter. Because most of these accounts doing the retweeting only have a follower or two (max) it meant the page was able to appear popular, while still remaining largely invisible.
This morning (or last night) at a little after 1 am, I added the story text, set it to the current time, and hit update. Now it showed up in RSS readers and I could openly tweet it form my main account. (I had originally used a secondary Twitter account I have for testing 3rd party stuff to link to it and score retweets.)
So now, the story goes “live” and as if by magic it has tens of thousands of social shares listed on it the instant real people start to encounter it. It worked.
*As is site traffic, to a very large extent. My original idea was to use a botnet to throw traffic at it, but Wired’s lawyers said “no, no. Don’t do that.”