How To Create A Viral Email Or Blog Post – Joseph Romm

Joseph rec



“Time is short. We have at most a decade to sharply reverse course."



A few episodes ago, I had the effervescent Rachel Miller on, talking all about how to get your Facebook posts to go viral.

And you guys absolutely loved it. It’s now one of the top downloaded episodes. I’ll link it in the show notes if you haven’t already heard it.

So with that in mind, I scoured the interwebs for other, awesome people who can help you take the virality, and inject it into other parts of your business.

And I was lucky enough to persuade Joseph Romm, author of  “How to Go Viral and Reach Millions", to come on the show and share everything he knows.

Joseph square old


Salena: Hey there and welcome to this week's episode of the bringing business to retail podcast, a few weeks ago we had an episode on how to go viral on Facebook with Rachel Miller and you guys loved that episode but there are more mediums than just Facebook right and I know that you guys want to know how you can go viral in those other spaces. So, I have brought Joseph Rahman he is the author of how to go viral and make reach millions and he is going to share some fantastic tips with you on how you can do just that so welcome to the show Joseph.

Joseph: Oh, thanks for having me on, I'm really excited to be here.

Salena: Dude that's a really cool title for your book.

Joseph: Oh, well I have been you know I've been blogging and writing online for twelve years, since just right when blogging started and you know you get you see what people like what they don't like you see what they post on Facebook and like what they post on other medium and like and then now that we've gotten the more sophisticated applications. I know quite literally how many people are reading my posts in real time and how many are sticking around for fifteen seconds or more, so you know the goal with anything is grab people's attention be clicky and keep their attention be sticky so that's how I just used the clicking and sticky.

Salena: I love that I saw that in the in the notes that you sent through and I was like oh I have to ask you to tell us more about being clicky and sticky, so clicky is obviously getting them to actually click on whatever you're trying to convey and sticky is hanging around.

Joseph: Hanging around and also then remembering it because they may not go directly to a sale at that point but if they could remember the title how to go viral and reach millions then maybe a couple days later they might see it again or something might trigger it and then boo and as you know people often have to see things multiple times before they really make a decision.

Salena: Yes, I was at a conference the other day and they were talking about the touch points that how many times somebody has to see you and they were saying especially in sales that moist peak nine times on the ninth time the person went to buy and I remember her saying to me why does it take nine goes to work out you want to buy something but it does.

Joseph: Yes, well look you know we all are afraid of buyer's remorse and you know we want some evidence that's a whole another aspect of going viral is we want to know before we click on something that other people liked so the number of views on a video you know or in the case of Amazon how many reviews and how good are the reviews I mean I've been you know I self-published on Amazon and Amazon as you may know is rapidly catching up to Google and Facebook on advertising because at least the United States half of all ecommerce is done on Amazon and you can tailor ads right you can do the same kind of tape ad tailoring keyword buying that you do on Google or Facebook you can do it on Amazon. So, but of course the first thing people say see when they come to your product or in my case your book right how many people have reviewed it and what's your average ranking and either say four to five reviews and the average ranking is four stars that's not going to cut it if some your competitors is hundred reviews and it's four and a half stars.

Salena: Yes, so tell me where we go wrong like do you think that look I wish copywriting was taught in school, I don't care what job you're in if you can write good copy you can sell just about anything and no matter what you're doing you're trying to sell whether it's services you know even if you work in a government job you're still trying to sell something to another department or something to the constituents so where do you think we go wrong when it comes to writing in a way that is clicky and sticky.

Joseph: Well the first and foremost and this is for the particularly for the cookie part but it also affects sticky is the headline well the subject line in your email that is the single most important thing in my book I have a whole chapter on headlines and I quote David Ogilvy who was some considered the father of advertising from 1963 on the average five times as many. So, the point is you have today the ability to test headlines you can do a/b testing on Facebook you can do multiple testing on Google or pick different ad words on your website if your traffic is sufficient you can do real-time headline testing or you can do what Ogilvy would have done which is try one headline one day and another headline another day and just see how many click-through.

Salena: Do you know what else we use here inside Selina night headquarters we use the coach add your headline analyzer and you type it in, it's free tool you type your headline in and it gives you a ranking and anything above about I think it's is seventy-three okay I can't say I've ever got into the s I've got eighty-nine once but the good thing is it actually tells you what you could change, so it says you've got too many common words or not enough descriptive words, so it makes you go back and go oh so I could do this but then my next question from there is how do you write a good headline that is not horribly click Beatty?

Joseph: Right, so and this is the great challenge there's no question about it this is the single biggest challenge and what your program is doing is presumably has analyzed a whole bunch of headlines from online or from whatever companies they work with and see which one's work the shortly in an ideal world you're doing the testing yourself the second best thing I say from testing the headlines yourself is use what I call the tested the language that we know advertisers use in their headlines and those are the words and phrases that are memorable and grab people's attention and those are called the figures of speech they were invented by the ancient Greeks twenty-five centuries ago or they were not invented they were catalogued and if you look at modern ad headlines literally eighty percent of current ad headlines these days use one or more figures speech and by a figure speech I mean they're using rhyme or they're using upon or they're using a metaphor or an irony. So, those were the memory tricks of the great bards in their old storytelling and that's what the ancient Greeks codified. So, they were all these things had got people to remember these two hour-long epic poems or if you're in the audience listening you would remember that's why we have so much you know alliteration another.

Salena: Have a alliteration that's my go-to.

Joseph: Alliteration is like number one you know your headline you should have you should definitely have some form of repetition you could repeat a word in a different way that's always a good one you can use a literation we're repeating the beginning of the word obviously repeating the end of the word is rhyming sometimes I'm in the united states we have things like I don't know if you have in this country you know we had an advertisement for meow Mix cat food which went meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow and is literally just repeating the word yeah over and over again. So, the point is that as you see it's the nine touches right the social science the marketing science says that the more times you hear something the more likely you to remember it and then obviously the more likely you remember it the more likely you're eventually going to purchase it.

Salena: One of the strategies and I would love to get your opinion on some more strategies one of the strategies I heard earlier on this year at traffic and conversion and obviously this kind of helps if you've got a bigger email list but what they were saying they do is they have what they feel are their top two headlines and instead of a be testing it to the list they send out headline one to ten percent and headline two to ten percent and then they check for clicks in the next hour and whichever ones getting the most clicks then they use that to send out to the other eighty percent which I thought was actually quite smart.

Joseph: That is a great idea, I definitely know people in the United States who do that and of course you can get depending on what the email is you can get two pieces of information radiational email but if you're trying to fundraise or if you're trying to sell a product presumably you want them to go somewhere so you can get those two pieces of information and use that to judge and by the way there are I know in the states there are startup companies that will write email subject lines for that that promise that they can beat your email subject line because they're using a big data engine based on all they've been doing emails with all these big companies and so they've gotten you know tens of thousands of pieces of data right on what opens and what doesn't and they promise you, you know you can come up with your best headline we'll do it against our best headline we'll beat you and then you can hire us to do your subject so that's you know the world we're entering is this world of big data where people have so much analytical data at their fingertips that they can just make big decisions faster and more accurately.

Salena: And I think what we sometimes forget because I know that the whole a be testing that concept of sending the two emails out that okay with that but sometimes where people start talking about really in-depth they'd be testing my eyes glaze over and you know I think about what I have to cook for dinner but I have no problems paying somebody to write a great headline copy for me, if that's what we have a copywriter for but also in addition to that I think we underestimate the power of getting just two percent more people to open our open [unclear 11:00] because when marketers we're in sales everybody listening here is so like some kind of product or service and so if you can get to more people to more two more people to open that could literally mean tens of thousands of dollars for you and so I think too many people just take the easy road and just go I haven't done a newsletter said of that you know dinosaur type went out get one out but they don't actually stop and think if I do this right if I have it in usually means you'll get the effort you get the sales in return but also engaging the customer to get them to open more often so that's the sticky part right I would love some strategies on being sticky.

Joseph: Sure well you know I think there's no question the stickiest thing there has ever been developed is a story is a narrative and I'm sure a lot of your you know guests have said you want to when you're communicating you want to tell stories because that's what you know for tens of thousands of years during the time we evolved language all humans were doing we're telling stories to one another and the brain science modern brain science suggests that our brains are wired for stories wired for narratives. So, what you want to do is in certainly in the body of whatever you're doing you want to make clear early on that you're going to be telling an interesting story.

Salena: All right

Joseph: Okay, well the best-trick and this is in Chapter two of my book and this is the part that people say oh you've changed the way I write and speak this is called the rule of replacing and what you do you go through the text or let's say you're writing a speech to a group or a sales pitch or a VC pitch whatever you're pitching you write out what your speech you think your speech is going to be your standard remarks you go through and you circle all of the ands and wherever possible you replace them with the word but or similar words yet because those are the words of conflict and contrast which create the kind of tension we expect in our stories right stories are not I did this and I did this and I did this no one's interested in just a catalog right that's like when you used to show the home slides you know people want to exactly people want to see I did this but then this happened to me and how did I deal with it and then you need the resolution and the resolution you can get by replacing the word and with the word so or the word therefore hey word of this is the solution. So, in a sales pitch it's sort of like I'm trying to persuade you that I know the solution to your problem and a good way of doing that is I'm going to tell the story of how I had the same problem and it was just like the biggest roadblock for me but I decided okay I'm going to go out and study what it is that makes things go viral and I studied everything and I read the literature and I did a lot of writing myself so then I have come to these basic principles which I'm now going to share so that's sort of the basic structure it's also the same structure of a movies it's the three-part structure the setup the twist or the conflict and then the resolution and so it's hard to believe but that simple rule which screenwriters developed is literally at the centerpiece of all of the great viral speeches and stories and in the book I talk about the maybe the most viral speech of all time the Sermon on the Mount read by billions heard by billions in that in the cinema Jesus uses 1999 he uses twenty nine butts and twelve their force. So, it's there he… what?

Salena: He knew how to go viral.

Joseph: He go viral, I talk you know about the Gettysburg Address and how Lincoln does it I talk about Shakespeare that to be or not to be speech how the structure is the same so the point is whatever you're doing you want to really Storify it but again it doesn't have to be overly complicated we can get to the next the more complicated version of the story but fundamentally this one trick this is the thing by the way I bought the Kindle version of my book so, I could see which parts got marked up the most.

Salena: How does

Joseph: If you get the Kindle you'll if you, you know read on Kindle there's a place which you'll say what are the most high you know where the highlighted things and you can jump to the most highlighted parts and now this is great feedback for me right because obviously I also want to know what things and I can tell you that the lines the thing I just told you about the rule of placing in chapter is the part of the book that has far away the most highlighted text in it of anywhere in the book. So, I know and I know on the basis just talking to people who've read the book so yes, this trick I guarantee you get the book read two it will instantly start improving what you say and how you write.

Salena: And we will talk about this later but you are generously giving us chapter to give us a little bit of a taster to see how to go viral and reach millions, so tell me a little bit about what you have managed to make go viral you said that blogging is mainly your passion, so is it just the headlines and using these replaces or do you have other tricks and tips that you're happy to share.

Joseph: Sure well yes I think that the number one thing that I have done in over the last  twelve years is blogging and learning and it took me a while to realize just how important the headline was and of course over time as people moved from they're not being a lot of online content twelve years ago. So, now there's a staggering amount and we move from big desktop computers to I phones and stuff people don't spend as much time reading. So, you may be twelve years ago I could write a piece that was like a thousand words law but I can tell you today you know the average reading time of a typical post of mine might be fifty seconds.

Salena: That’s pretty words yet you know if some people can read faster but we're talking two three four hundred words, now I still some people will read longer, so you want and there are certain people you want to engage with because you have more to say or but fundamentally you have to understand even with the headline we find the first two or three words are simply the most important and one of the things that you want to promise people if you look at studies of people have done studies for instance in the New York Times what are the most emailed stories and then they analyzed the headlines right because that's a data very large database and it turns out that unsurprisingly the things people tend to share are things that trigger certain emotions and the three activating emotions are the three A's they are anger anxiety and awe and sometimes instead of anger I say outrage just because we all know how many of our friends share stuff that get them outraged usually in the realm of politics but not just in the realm of politics can be your Hollywood celebrity type or whatever it is but so anger and outrage that stuff gets shared. The stuff that provokes a little anxiety like the three foods you shouldn't be eating type of stuff so that's like oh dang wait a minute, I'm doing something wrong.

Salena: Yes beautiful years as well isn't that kind of also brings in that fear is and that being are, they're being seen as something less than what you want to be seen as.

Joseph: And of course a lot of advertising is obviously built around taking a dissatisfaction and saying if you only do or buy this then you'll get the man or the woman you want or you'll get the job want.

Salena: Using pound so we've all seen that have it drink this one thing every night and lose ten pounds in a week.

Joseph: Yes and of course other things are parts of your body could be bigger while other parts are smaller, so those I'm afraid you know they blanket the web and then the third one is awe so you know that's like the cat who can play the piano or the guy the soccer player who can kick a soccer ball through some two hundred feet away or if you've ever seen some of the just some of the incredible things that people can do online whether it's magic tricks or singing you know so the unexpected and also humor, humor is sort of the fourth one a certain type of humor ironic humor where sort of there's a little unexpected twist but what you're trying to do in the headline is promise someone that they're going to get an interesting story and interesting stories are interesting because they activate our emotions. We don't go to the movies we don't watch TV we don't read books so that we don't feel anything right well that's not we're doing it to feel something and hopefully we'll learn something but we don't read stuff to learn something.

Salena: They're almost straight to video movies.

Joseph: Yes and so you when you're you want to be trying to activate people's emotions so when you look at your headline you should be asking it's this headline and this gets to the point of the clickbait first of all it's a good chance someone may never read more than a headline right so the headline had better have your basic message in it because maybe you're going to send five emails over the course of the month and only one of them gets clicked on but they might remember a particularly memorable thing just in the subject line. So, you should you have to approach things like maybe I mean of people are just going to read the headline, so I better leave them with something and then but I at the same time I want to invite them suck them in with I've got an interesting story that's going to rouse an emotion and maybe I'll get something interesting that I can share or maybe even use for myself but we're all trying to get a little social credit by right being the first person to forward that amazing video.

Salena: I was going to say is the old life cute cat videos.

Joseph: Cat videos and you know the thing about cats people have written why are cats so viral and the answer is they're more feral than dogs than most other animals they and so they do very unpredictable things from a standing start if you own a guy had a cat if you own a cat you know they could be sitting there one minute they just bolt and they just do things that are very unexpected because they're less tame and so anyway the point is and we like the unexpected right we like a season anyway, so the these are all tricks and you know in how to go viral and reach millions I try to you know go through and discuss each of these.

Salena: Well I think you're doing an awesome job just sharing this here with us today, I've really written you can see me I keep looking down because I'm writing all these notes I've got headlines copies anger anxiety or sometimes I can't really read my writing but these notes definite we go because this is so important that I feel like I'm I call myself a be copywriter. I'm certainly not the expert but I write enough copy in my business that I've studied it a lot and I'm yeah I try things out and I do a bit of a bee testing and I have to admit I do have fall backs and my fall backs tend to be how to do X by how to do five things to fix so how do how to write five headlines in less than minutes. So, I that's kind of my fallback and you will find it so many of my blogs are how to and I think it's a…

Joseph: My book is about to, so I'm a big fan of counsel and my book is how to go viral and I tell people with book titles right books may be the hardest thing to make go viral.

Salena: Because really unless you're a book person and non-fiction books can be really hard.

Joseph: None unless you're famous you know if you're super famous person that's a different matter but for the rest of us um books titles are really hard and that's why I tell people yes you know you need to spend a lot of time on that title talk to people who really I talked to several marketing experts before I came up with this title because the one lesson I've learned because this I've written a bunch of books before this is you also want a title that you're going to be comfortable repeating in let's say a podcast right so one of those crazy titles well they can be catchy but remember are you going to if I'm talking to you is it you know how to go viral that's what the book is about right so it's very now viral is also a metaphor right I mean viral the Vaught the idea that things go spread online the way a virus does that was actually a metaphor created you know decades ago by Richard Dawkins. So, yes titles subject lines whatever people to sit so they can just get back the single biggest mistake is you're not spending enough time on those headlines and everyone can't be an expert if you're in a larger group find the person who is you know I blog they're about sixty people at the place where I blog we have two full-time social media people who do nothing but write headlines and socialize them. So, when we do our headline testing usually, I've got my original and maybe an alternative and then they come up with a few and in the beginning, I could never touch them now I've sort of gotten on to their secret so I can about a third of the time my headline will be will survive and be the winning one.

Joseph: And these the same people who now have a business where you can get them to write your headlines you know clearly people understand there's money to be made and you know if you have this is you know one of the things about the Internet is the winner-take-all world because once you start a business where let's say I'm just going to write email subject lines and I'm going to work with companies okay now I show some ability I work with some companies I get more data now my headlines become better I can sell even more and I learned that I advise a big data company in the cannabis space actually and I look like a year then it gets very it's very hard for them to catch up and you see that with Amazon or Facebook you know or Google right it's had you'd think search anyone could do a search engine well yes except after you've done it a while your searchers are going to be a lot better and everyone's good. So, it's a network effect.

Salena: Just ask Yahoo

Joseph: Well exactly or whatever Facebook my page was it my page.

Salena: My space.

Joseph: My space there you go exactly right.

Salena: Not quite young enough for that one but tell me one thing that makes you cringe when you get an email or a blog reading a blog.

Joseph: Something that is planned, something that would you would say oh this sounds academic, I mean I went through a lot of schooling and I actually have a PhD in physics from MIT and I say it took me ten years to unlearn you know all the stuff there for instance you know you I learned you want to use big words well you don't want to use big words in ads.

Salena: Right at a fifth graders level.

Joseph: For a fifth-grade level absolutely and you know so yes that's another thing I tell people that's another sort of simple go through your speech or your headline and focus on keeping everything as many words as possible one or two syllables.

Salena: Let's see if they can understand it you find.

Joseph: And by the way when you do that it will force you to use stronger words this was a point that Winston Churchill made in an essay he wrote when he was twenty-two called the unpublished SS scaffolding a rhetoric but he said look the those shorter words are more ingrained in our culture and it's the big Latinate words those words and then in tion and all of those other words that are kind of abstract what you want to do is get as concrete as possible and those are the descriptive words, words that actually describe something. Those tend to be short words.

Salena: And they're not alienating either like you think if you put a big word in sometimes you might not know what that word means or you might think it means something else and then the whole it's all disconnected.

Joseph: Well and you might get it wrong and but the point is anything that causes the reader to stop and say I'm not certain that's a chance for them to say I got a million other things I could be looking at online right now.

Salena: I remember once I had the autocorrect problem I had written appalled like I was appalled at something and it wrote applauded which are two very different things.

Joseph: We have a lot of problems with autocorrect and now that people more people are doing voice dictation because you know on their phones and stuff you get the hominem errors and of course you don't need to say nothing is going to turn away a potential customer then someone who hasn't even copy edited and gets there they're wrong or the it's wrong so yes if you can't show people and people do think this way it's like if you can't show people you can do the little things right they're just going to think well I can why do I want into business with this person you know they can't they can't even do the basics why would I think they could do something you know complicated for me.

Salena: Yes, I reckon that we have probably stuffed everybody's brains with a lot of information and I could talk to you for so much longer but I'm just going to let what you've said sit because I filled up a page of notes, so I don't know what everybody else is doing as they're going through, now you as I said are graciously sharing that first chapter of your book so where can we find it.

Joseph: Well I go to read.

Salena: because I have to say I don't know how to spell that one.

Joseph: Rhetoric.

Salena: Okay see their right knee maybe when you created that that wasn't the best word to use for your website.

Joseph: Well is funny because ten years ago before I understood a lot about the marketing side I was very interested in Shakespeare and rhetoric and I was able to get that website and but yes for the people who want an easier way there's always Amazon and I can tell you I have purchased as I run ads on Amazon using different keywords. So, if you go to Amazon and just type in how to go viral or go viral one of the things that will pop up will be my book, so you know…

Salena: Is any like a book that a lot of people could very much use, so thank you so much for writing it and thanks so much for sharing that first chapter is that where you hang out mostly on

Joseph: No, I actually write at a website called think Progress or climate progress because I climate change is one of the main thing’s climate change in clean energy, I write a great deal about the book is mostly focused on what I've learned.

Salena: Well I would love to talk to you about those things because I'm passionate about them as well but this is a business and retail podcast, so we will focus there and finish up thank you so much for sharing all of this information it has been so useful and I'm actually writing a script today, so I've got these replacing the replacing notes written down and I'm going to make sure that I implement them.

Joseph: Well thank you so much for having me.


Joseph Romm was named one of “The 100 People Who Are Changing America” by Rolling Stone magazine. CNN host Van Jones calls Romm “the communicator’s communicator.” Time magazine named Romm one of the “Heroes of the Environment (2009)” calling him “The Web’s most influential climatechange blogger.”

Romm is an MIT-trained physicist and author of 10 books. His latest, “How to Go Viral and Reach Millions,” is “an indispensable book for everyone who tweets, who posts online or who loves language,” NY Times columnist Tom Friedman tweeted in June.

Romm is also Chief Science Advisor for “Years of Living Dangerously,” which won the 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Series and now generates viral videos online seen by tens of millions a month. He is a senior advisor for New Frontier Data, the leading “big data” firm in cannabis, whose content reaches hundreds of millions of people.

“Each week I interview industry and thought leaders for their take on business and life. Subscribe and leave as a review”