Project Ignite Podcast by Derek Gehl A Viral Marketing Strategy That Led To 5,000,000 Impressions And Launched A Business - With Brian Swichkow
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  • Episode  95
  • Brian Swichkow


When Brian Swichkow wrote a post on Reddit about how he pranked his roommate he had no idea that it would turn into a viral marketing machine, generating over 5,000,000 impressions on Reddit and launching his business. In this interview he explains how he did it and how he has continued to use viral marketing to promote various different digital businesses.

Transcription Episode 95: A Viral Marketing Strategy That Led To 5,000,000 Impressions And Launched A Business – With Brian Swichkow

Welcome to the Project Ignite Podcast, a podcast designed to skip the hype, skip all the BS and bring you real actionable tips and strategies to help you grow your digital business online.

This is your host, Derek Gehl, and today we’re going to be diving deep into a topic that I’m constantly getting questions about and that’s viral marketing.

Today’s guest is really a master in viral marketing. Some of the viral marketing things he’s done have just been incredible. Single post that generated 5 million impressions on Reddit. He launched an eCommerce store that generated 156,000 page views in the first 24 hours. A software project that pulled 11,000 page views, 563 email sign ups in the first 30 minutes. I mean these are just a few of his viral marketing accomplishments.

Today we’re going to pick his brain, figure out how this whole viral marketing thing works, how he’s created so much success with that. Without further adieu, I’d like to welcome the founder and creator of, Brian Swichkow to the show.

Brian, thank you so much for being here to discuss viral marketing.

Thanks so much for having me on and for the epic introduction that I will now spend the rest of the interview trying to live up to.
Awesome. Good. I’m glad we’ve set the bar high. Let’s just start right at the beginning. Give us your story. You’re a young guy. You’ve done incredible things in sort of that viral marketing space. You have an awesome story. Walk us through it.

My story has many parts that are kind of disjointed and disconnected. It wasn’t until probably the last few years that I myself realized that they were actually connected.Very summarized, I was kind of an awkward kid and very much a thinker and was trying to figure out why my mom, my dad, my sister and everybody around me seemed really good at this whole making friends thing and I wasn’t. I became very obsessed with communication design and understanding how people engage with each other.

Naturally in school did creative stuff. I did graphic design, video production, photography. Never really touched marketing, but found myself at the end of college needing a job that paid more than the job that I had as I graduated and started a marketing agency and didn’t really know that’s what it was or what I was doing at the time, but got into it. Got some clients.

Ended up few years down the road killing that agency because I was less than happy working with the people that I was working with and decided that I thought I could do what they did better than they did it. It’s very spiteful. I was like, “You have a personal brand? Watch this.”

I previously had been very nervous to speak my voice, get in front of a camera, write, anything like that. It was probably only because of that spite that I was actually able to do it. Started a blog and made a commitment for the first 30 days. I was like, I’m just going to create content. I’m not going to try and pitch anything. I’m not going to create a program. I’m not going to develop a funnel. I’m just going to build relationships because everything that I’ve seen, that’s how it starts.

I’m not going to try and jump the gun. I just want to pull back and show people like hey, I’m here to help. In that I created my USP. I was like, what makes me different and I love stories and carrying people through the experience that I’ve myself lived or heard from somebody else and realized that I don’t remember any bullet points from any article I had ever read, but I do remember stories.

I remember all of the stories that I was told by professors in college and friends and whatever and the lessons that came from them, so I decided I was going to write articles that were stories that taught one lesson. The first one that came to mind was about six months prior. I had pranked my roommate with targeted Facebook advertising. Not because I was planning on starting a blog, but legitimately because I just wanted to screw with him.

It was purely out of fun. As I’m coming up with this blog, I’m like, “Well, shit. I got to tell that story.” I wrote that story as a story and how I wrote that, it was just a process and feeling comfortable with my own voice.

Prepped the blog. Prepped everything. Structured the brand to be very passive. I didn’t want people to think that I was selling anything or doing viral marketing because of the sole purpose of it was to drop it on Reddit. I dropped it on Reddit. Had half a million people hit my site within 72 hours. A site that I launched two hours prior.

Yeah. Three days. 72 hours. Then it just cascaded from there and I started getting press features and people were calling me saying, “I want to work with you because I saw that you screwed with your roommate with Facebook ads. Clearly you’re smart.”

I’m like I don’t know how you get to that logic, but okay if you want to give me money. For probably a year and a half after that, it just really shattered my reality of what effective viral marketing could be.

I mean, I knew how to do normal Facebook ads. I knew how to do normal sales and sales funnels, all these traditional things that we know work, but this viral marketing thing where I … 15 hours of my time making a site, writing an article and spending $2 on advertising and I’m like known for years and you were just talking about how you remembered reading the article two years ago and it blows my mind that the mental real estate is reserved in people’s minds. I just want to do stuff that does that.

I want to bump into someone five years from now, have them tell me this funny story, “This one time I saw this video online,” and then just like, “Yeah, I made that.” It’s like the fame where no one knows you have it. I think that’s super cool and I love building viral marketing projects that stick with people.

You’ve now parlayed that obviously into a viral marketing business and you’ve gone far deeper than just pranking your roommate and got into the science of the psychology of that. We’re going to dig into that. Now As far as that initial story goes, that is still published on your blog, correct?
It is. There’s a short version If you go to

Prank. Okay. I would just recommend that our listeners go and read that because I think it’s a good example of what a story is. Because I think when some people think in terms of story, they’re thinking like, “What? A book? What did you write?”I mean realistically it was a very easy short read and it was funny. I would encourage people to read … Go to check it out because it is an incredible … It’s really a funny story and it was absolutely brilliant. The best part was is I actually learned a little trick there for the Facebook targeting, for those one-to-ones by having 19 women and segmenting them. It was brilliant. I was saying, “Oh, that’s freaking great.”

It’s funny though because when I read that article, I mean what you were talking about there and I’m sort of going off on a tangent here, what you were talking about there was definitely related to Facebook advertising and targeting your roommate specifically.

It’s funny when I read that you said you were surprised at how people would call you up and say, “Hey, you must be smart. I want to work with you,” because they read this article how you pranked your roommate.

When I read that, that was my reaction as well. I thought, “Hey, this guy’s bright.” I mean realistically targeting a single person, stuff like that, not all that difficult to do but the fact that you unraveled it and stuff. Honestly, when I read them, I thought, “This guy’s bright. I’d love to learn more about what he’s doing.”

That’s really powerful. Let’s dig in a little bit here now and talk about … Ghost Influence. That’s kind of your brand, right?

It is.
Define it though. Obviously, it’s got a meaning. When you say Ghost Influence, what are you talking about?

I own a lot of domains because I have the unfortunate challenge of having the GoDaddy app on my phone and usually after a drink or two it comes out. I have a lot of domains.The Ghost Influence domain is actually probably one of the only ones that I actually don’t remember buying which I say that because it was … A lot of times you struggle so hard to come up with a domain or a name that’s truly representative of what you’re doing.

That was so natural that I actually went … For whatever reason I went to buy it again and I was like, “Shit. It’s taken,” and then realized that I owned it. I didn’t even remember buying it. Something told me that sounds like a good name and I totally forgot that I bought it.

I don’t think alcohol was involved there. I really just don’t remember any experience of it. It can sound very nefarious. It’s not intended to. It’s more that most parents will tell their children what they need to do. It is very much a directive of “I’m your parent. You have to do this. Because I’m your parent, you have to listen to me or there will be consequences.”

Marketing oftentimes is very much the same as influence. Any kind of marketing, it’s often on the nose. Right? It’s just very straightforward of “if you have this problem, then you need this solution.” That’s not bad. It’s very communicative. It tells people what they can expect, but the problem is that they know where it comes from.

If they try and challenge that notion just as I challenged my parents many times since when I was kid and still now, I know where it’s coming from.

If they try and pull the “I’m your parents and you live under my roof” card, well, I don’t live under their roofs so I can object to that. When you’re doing marketing and you sell someone that notion, you’re like, “Well, that’s coming from you. I can object to that.” They see where it’s coming from.

Ghost Influence is really just this notion of providing subtle prompts to the people that you’re trying to speak to and allowing them to make their own decision. Really just giving them the space to do that themselves and feel like it’s theirs, feel like it’s something that they discovered and then feel like it’s something that they chose and have it actually be that.

Because when they do purchase, the people who purchase are going to be the right people and those are going to be the people who talk about you.

Just in some sense really providing a catalyst environment for people to make those purchases and become raving fans and not try and force immediate “we have to get our sales goal this month” numbers because if you’re so focused on that immediate outcome, then you can’t stop and say, “Well, forget the immediate outcome. Let’s focus on the 60 day outcome,” which is not too far off in the distance and really focus on that.

By focusing on that, you helped the company as a whole. After that doing that prank which is essentially what it was after publishing at least, I still get consulting offers from that over two years later. It still boggles my mind and I’m like, well, all I need to do is do one cool viral marketing thing a year and I will never have to look for consulting work.

Now can you give an example of applying this? Like a specific business company where this has been applied so that people can sort of apply it to something real.
Do you want a personal brand or a larger brand?
Whatever you think is the best representation, easiest to understand.

All right. I’ll start with personal brand and then I’ll extrapolate on how I used it. I have this idea of hacking Facebook ads. I actually wrote about it and you’ll read the full story, but I’ll summarize. It’s /Facebook-ads-hack.Basically the notion was I want to become an expert in my field. I want to define what that field is and I want to do it as quickly as possible. The thing about Reddit marketing is that people really don’t talk about it.

Oftentimes if they hear Reddit and marketing in the same sentence they kind of object. I’ve had many conversations with communities and corporate and conspiracy who were like, “Oh, this guy’s evil,” and then I talk to them and say like, “Well, actually, I’m just showing who you are and saying let’s make cool shit for these people and let them decide.”

They’re like, “Oh, that actually sounds kind of awesome because then people won’t be spamming us. They’ll be making cool shit for us.” I’m like, “Exactly.”

My notion was I wanted to be the guy for Reddit marketing and I already had a little bit of a basis behind that and I wanted to expand on it. What I did is I created an ads campaign. Now instead of driving people to say, “I am the expert in Reddit marketing,” which I could have done and by default then because nobody was saying that they do anything with Reddit marketing. There are a few articles, but it’s kind of a very dry environment for training.

What I did is I went the Ghost Influence approach of how can I do this passively. The campaign that I created was not bidding for clicks. It was not bidding for engagement. It was actually bidding for reach, daily unique reach.

I wanted to show my ads to as many people in the audience as possible, as many times as possible. I didn’t care if they clicked. I didn’t care if they engaged. I just wanted them to see it. All of the ads that I created were very passive. Every publisher’s daydream and like very, very passive language. Not making declarations. Not making bold claims. Not using bold colors. Very quiet colors in the ad images and just trying to be blending into the background.

Every single ad was very different from a stylistic approach. Some were stock photos that had been edited. Some were illustrations. Some were photos. Some were snapshots, but they all had one thing in common which is the Reddit logo was somewhere in the image in some form or fashion. The word Reddit was in the title of the link.

The other thing which is very important is that of the about 10 different posts that I had, there were all different. Maybe half of them actually led to my domain and even of those that led to my domain, a lot were leading to my podcast which is visually very different than my blog. The other half were press and articles.

I had a webinar that I had done on someone else’s domain. I had an article that I was featured in as like a pundit, like I just gave a quote for the article two paragraphs in. Another one where I was interviewed. I had a few podcast where I was interviewed. The goal was I wanted to have as many different types of content, audio, video, screen share, articles. I wanted to be in as many different places as possible. Articles, YouTube, so on and so forth.

Basically with that campaign I had very quiet ads that were leading to a lot of different places. Bidding on daily unique reach. I just wanted people to see Reddit, Reddit marketing in the back of their mind again and again and again. I hit a very small audience which is I think about 120,000, 150 something like that.

After 30 days people had been seeing these again and again and again and I started to have influencers. People were actually tagging me in the posts of other influencers who were influencers in Facebook marketing and copywriting. They would post in public or private channels and say, “I keep hearing a lot about Reddit marketing like this is a big thing. What do you guys think about this?” Then like three of their audience members would tag me and say, “You’ve got to talk to this guy.”

For $470 in within 30 days, I became the de facto Reddit marketing expert. It wasn’t by telling people. It was by leading people like, “Look. Here’s an environment that you should check out. It’s worthwhile as a marketing channel. I’m speaking to Facebook marketers so I know that they’re looking for new avenues to promote.”

I provided them information. I provided them value and when they went looking for more value, they found that most of it is on my site. There are few top level basic things on Reddit marketing, but most of the detailed stuff that I found at least is on my site.

People started coming to me. I didn’t tell them to. I just provided that environment. Expanding on that a little bit further, I was working with a client a bit later who had a publishing company. The CEO, it was his this third company, young guy, super smart.

He told me that because of a prior business that he had in the concert space, his address book is very colorful. It has a lot of A-list celebrities and investors and some powerful players in a lot of different markets.

He had launched his company and he was progressively slowly telling them, “Hey, check this out. It’s really cool,” but keep in mind going to your A-list celebrity friend and saying, “Can you do something for me,” is typically frowned upon and it’s typically how you lose A-list celebrity friends.

What I ended up doing is I had him export his LinkedIn contacts and his address book and made a Facebook audience and ran the same campaign to his contacts. What I was targeting them with was all of the best content from the publication within its first month which also had 1,000 likes on it because I was also doing engagement campaigns.

Within a week his phone was ringing off the hook. He’s getting text messages, phone calls, all these people who were like, “I keep seeing this everywhere. Congratulations on the new project. This is so awesome. I got to share this.”

They didn’t know that they were being targeted. They didn’t know why. They just saw it in their feed and they thought it was awesome and realized what it was and wanted to champion it.

Really just understanding from your audience’s experience what they’re seeing in their Facebook feed, what mindset they’re in, when they’re sitting there and how to hit them not once and get them to convert, but how to really think 30 days out.

Think of the experience that someone’s going to go through over the course of your campaign. Are they going to get progressively more annoyed or are they going to get progressively prompted? I’m testing something right now.

It was actually a very slow scale up over the course of 45 days. I’m not actually pitching anyone until the 45th day. I’m kind of like priming them and priming them and priming them before I’m like, “Would like to go on a date?” I’m waiting until the end.

I actually had it in the first campaign. I was like, “You know what? I’m going to pull that out,” and I used very dull colors on a lot of the placements until that last one where I’m like, “You should jump in here,” and it’s a very bold color.

Right. Okay. I don’t want to say old school. It makes me feel old. I’ve been in the internet marketing space since ‘97. I don’t even want to ask how old you were in ‘97 because it’s going to make me feel old.How do you measure ROI? Because I’m an old school direct response marketer. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I get that whole side of it. I’m writing down numbers here and I’m thinking, “Okay. We go out there and we spend this money. The phone’s ringing,” but how are you able to track and measure response or are you?

It’s a loaded question. The way that I usually explain it is how do you measure the ROI of dating? Let’s go with the millennial equivalent. You get on Tinder or some app and you create a profile and you’re swiping and you’re trying to find a match. If you get a match, you’re like, “Oh, I have a result.”Then you try and convert that match into a date and you’re like, “Oh, I have a result.” Then you go on a date and maybe you get a second date and you have a better result. Maybe that person isn’t interested and they just kind of fall off and you find out well, they love cats and I can’t be with someone who loves cats, but I didn’t know that until I met someone who has cats so now I know that. You have a result.

You just learned something about the target audience that you’re actually looking for. The more results you have, the closer you get to that end result which is potentially marriage and move in and have kids and puppies and whatever that is for you.

The difference between dating and marketing is that in marketing you can have multiple marriages. You can have multiple lifelong partners. I wrote an article a ways ago with the metaphor that I’ve referenced a few times, but the internet is the bar. Your website is your house. Your email list is your bedroom and customer acquisition is … You get the point.

If you take someone from the bar to your bedroom and you skip over all the steps, you can’t really expect them to be there in the morning because it was kind of a mutual like, “Hey, we’re both going into this as like a transactional thing.”If you do care, it’s like, “Hey, I want you to be around,” and those people will buy anything that you sell. They’ll buy it just because you made it. The ROI can in some senses be measured in terms of engagement and conversations and leads.

I have those metrics and I look at them to be educated, but I don’t rely on them and I don’t make decisions on them individually in a vacuum. I make decisions based on how everything feels together. That definitely doesn’t jive with a lot of clients which is why I tend to say that upfront.

It’s like, “Look, here’s the goal. We’re shooting long-term. I don’t want to give you something that’s going to have a mild success now. I want you to have something that you’re going to get results from for years.

It is very different than a traditional approach and from a tradition perspective does not make sense. In the context of how we as human beings build relationships, we don’t measure the ROI of new relationships. We don’t go to a bar and come back and be like, “Well, that girl is definitely going to be my wife and I have a conversion so now I need to move on.”

We just don’t operate that way. Use analytics and tracking as a piece of education and information, but not something that you should rely on for life and death.

Right. Right. Back to your point, I can see a lot of companies and a lot of entrepreneurs not having the patience or the confidence in that because there isn’t a direct this click converted to this. Right? If I drive this many clicks, I get this many conversions.
Patience and confidence are exactly the two things that prevent most people from doing that.

I can totally see that, but I also see the value and power in what you’re doing. It’s interesting because I’ve contemplated this as well and I was looking at doing something similar to this leading up to when I do in my big events and stuff in certain markets rather than just going straight out, “Hey, event, event, event.” Literally seeding the market and starting to build that.This is where I’m trying to draw the line between branding and what you’re doing, right, because branding is getting them to remember you subconsciously. When they go to the store and they have a choice between you and the competitor, they pick you. Right? That’s kind of what branding is. Now what you’re doing there almost feels a little branding-ish per say. Would you agree with that or no?

Absolutely. I look at the way that my brain works and work backwards from there. I love advocating for people that I like and companies that I like. I’ve sold probably $100,000 in Apple computers and phones just because I’m raving about how much I love it and that sells other people.What I started to realize was that people and the companies and the products that stay in my mind are the ones that have an easy anchor. Something that I can really communicate cleanly. The example that I used more recently is I have a friend that is a broker, kind of like real estate broker, where he is between the buyer and the seller except for eCommerce businesses.

I asked him one time and I said, “Who are you looking for,” and he said, “I am looking for owners of eCommerce businesses that are making $300,000 to $500,000 per year net and to see if they’re interested in selling.” I was like, “Shit. Okay. That’s easy to spot.”

I don’t come across those that often, but as soon as someone tells me they have an eCommerce store, as soon as they tell me they’ve been doing it for a few years, I start to get a feel … I don’t ask directly, but I start to get a feel that their numbers might be in that range. I said, “Have you ever been interested in selling?”

The answer is always no because no one ever does that. I’m like, “Well, you know if you’d like, I can make an introduction to someone who does that,” and they’re like, “Yeah, absolutely.”

I have that introduction actually pre-programmed in my computer so I don’t have to type it because I send it so much. I make an intro. If he says, “Hey, I’ll give you 10% of my commission if you ever send me anything.” I’m thinking, “Well, that’s easy to do.”

I started doing that because he stuck in my head. It was such a great ask that it just really bought that real estate of eCommerce successful founders looking to move on and retire, whatever.

Think of my friend Jock. Kind of reverse engineering that, I wanted to … That’s why I went after the Reddit marketing. I wanted to be the Reddit marketing guy is because I knew that it was something that was definable. It was something that when people hear Reddit and business or marketing or anything like that in the same sentence, they’re going to go, “Oh, you have to talk Brian.”

I’m known for a few things. From a branding perspective, I kind of have a few brands, the Facebook prank guy and the Reddit marketing guy and the really weird dude who does stuff when he’s drunk. They all have their audiences and they all have their merits, but yeah, no, it’s absolutely a branding thing.

Telling someone that you do Facebook advertising does not help you in any way because they don’t understand what that means. It’s the equivalent of saying a 20 gig iPod versus 2,000 songs in your pocket. It’s way more than that.

Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Okay. Now let’s shift to this Digital Empathy. Now this is a term you’ve used a lot. Where does Digital Empathy fit into this whole thing? Let’s dig a little deeper there.

Digital Empathy is kind of hand-in-hand with Ghost Influence. I think both of them have their … They make sense once you’ve explained it which from a branding perspective always kind of drives me nuts because I’m like, “It makes perfect sense, but I have to explain it which means it doesn’t make perfect sense.”Make sense to me, but I acknowledge that it does not make sense to everybody. Digital Empathy is something that I … A term that I borrowed from someone else. It really is this notion that when you get behind the keyboard, it’s very easy to forget that you’re talking to another person.

It’s very easy to forget that when you get an email that you’re not expecting from, it could be anyone. It could be a bill collector. It could be an attorney. It could be an ex-girlfriend, whatever.

Your shoulders tense up. You close off. You don’t feel like working anymore. You just need to get out of the room, close your computer. You physically respond to what you see on the screen. You know that what we do on the web has that power. When you’re placing ads, it can make people happy. It can make them sad. It can make them feel enlightened and emboldened.

You have the ability to impact how other people feel when you touch your computer. I think Reddit is kind of an extreme of that that people often do forget that they’re talking to other human beings. When I have a whole system of alerts set up across the web for anytime I’m mentioned and Reddit is one of the ones that I get mentioned … I think I get like … It’s within two minutes I get a text message.

I always am quick to jump in and just say, “Hey, I’m the guy that you guys are talking about. What are you going to chat about? Oh, you don’t know anything about marketing and you’re saying marketing is the devil? Let’s have a conversation. I don’t need to prove to you that I’m right or you’re wrong, let’s have a conversation. I’m curious to hear your perspective and provide you any answers, information, like fill any gaps. Let’s have a conversation.”

No one ever does that. No company has jumped into destructive conversations very rarely to really offer that element of humanity. Empathy is really a communicated understanding of what someone else is feeling. If your spouse comes home and says, “My boss just said I was fired today,” if you’re the guy in that relationship, you’re going to have the biological urge to try and fix things which doesn’t really work out as I found in relationships.

I’ve learned a lot in my dating career, but that is definitely one. All right. You go, “I got to fix this. I got to make you feel better. Oh, we can prep up your resume. I know someone. So and so has been trying to hire you,” whatever.The reality is is that that doesn’t help. Just sitting there and saying, “Oh, man. That really sucks. How do you feel right now,” and just really opening up to that person and letting them speak, they need the catharsis of being able to voice what they’re experiencing to someone else and having someone be open and non-judgmental.

As a result that person builds a strong relationship with you. The same thing goes when you’re working online. Very few people do email me. Most people don’t email the people that they follow or read, but when someone does email me, I often get the response of, “Oh, my God. I never thought I’d hear back from you.”

It boggles my mind that these people who are influencers or trainers or whatever, that they don’t answer their emails. Also that people don’t reach out to them.

Digital Empathy is really just the understanding that when you connect with someone in person empathetically, you have a better ability to understand where they are, where they sit, how to communicate with them and how to help them whether that be moving them out of a difficult situation which could be buying a product or just being there for them and building a relationship.If you have that relationship, they’ll buy anything from you. It doesn’t matter if it’s even relevant.

I’ve had people that I just had a conversation with them and they’re like, “I have to help you.” Years later a guy I met in a Starbucks at least four years ago just made a really awesome, probably very profitable introduction to me and I’m like, “Really?”

I just talked to the dude in Starbucks four ago and we were Facebook friends since. Same thing happened with a woman. She was crying in an airport and I brought her tea and ended up calling the airline and getting her on a flight because she was stuck in the airport for like seven hours.

I just used my nifty negotiating skills to get her on the next flight. She was just like, “I don’t even know what to do,” and years later she ended up making a really awesome connection. I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t attached to it. It was just I wanted to be there for that person.

Really it is just understanding that you are talking to people and listening to them and connecting with them in a very emotional, empathetic way, but through a digital means.

It’s fascinating because I think that the internet … As you said, when people are behind the keyboard, they forget they’re talking to people. That there are real people out there that you’re affecting with your messages. Reddit can be a pretty cruel place as well.Now let’s go down the Reddit rabbit hole for a minute. What drew you to Reddit? My question I guess Reddit’s kind of a tough one. It’s not a lot of people who have written about marketing on it and it’s almost anti-marketing in many ways. Right?

It is very anti-marketing.
I mean if you go in there with a straight pitch or a promotion, you’re just going to get roasted. Right? Now obviously you’re working with companies to leverage Reddit. What approach are you taking to leverage that massive community without getting roasted?

Well, first question first, I don’t even know where or why, but when I was launching my blog, my personal brand after closing the marketing agency, something popped into my head of I’ve heard of server crashing traffic coming from Reddit. I want to try that. That was it.I really don’t know where that original idea came from, but I at that point in time had never been on Reddit. I got on Reddit and I spent about 30 minutes a day just reading and seeing the differences between the communities and how people were engaging and posting comments and seeing if they were well received or not well received. I remember one time I responded to someone’s comment and they got really pissed and I didn’t understand why.

About a week later I figured out that there was a pun string like everybody was making a pun in response to the previous pun and I ruined it because I didn’t make a pun. I was like, “Oh, okay. I didn’t know that was a thing.” I was very, very, very aggressively, kind of like a language immersion. I was trying to learn what the language was.

The great thing about Reddit is that there’s over 9,000 active communities and all the communities are most often very specific. There is cheeky communities like Never Tell Me The Odds which is just a string of animated GIFs where impossible things happen.

Then there’s more analytical, straight to the point communities like Our Gadgets which is a very logical discussion of new things that are coming out, the features that they have. It’s less emotion and very much like what are the tech specs and really understanding the difference.

There’s a Reddit language and then there’s a different language between each community. The great part about that if that if you take the time to learn it, you effectively are being told exactly who these people are.

You can jump in and say like, “I understand you. I get you. I can have a drink with you and we can bro out about tech because I love that. However, most of you are going to be much smarter than me because I’m not a tech specs guy anymore. I’m more of a how this integrates into the whole picture of all the devices I have kind of guy because that’s just who I’ve turned into in my nerdiness.”

Really just acknowledging that and acknowledging who they are and where you are in that picture, they effectively are telling you exactly who they are personality, interest and so on and so forth.

At that point once you know that, it’s a matter of crafting something that you think that they would want. Now that can be difficult for a lot of companies because a lot of companies come to me and they say, “We want to go viral on Reddit,” and then they show me what they have and it’s like an iteration of somebody else’s product at a cheaper price point because they’ve manufactured it in China and they just want to make money.

I’ll say, “This is not going to work. You don’t have any personality to the brands. You’re just doing this profit. I’m sure you’re going to be great because it’s a great business. It’s very logical. Not for Reddit.” Versus other people have these really crazy stories and just like how they came to be.

Someone explained themselves they said their new venture was the New Yorker for the vice generation. I’m like shit, that sounds awesome. Then they had articles about basically kind of scientific studies saying that the way that we need to save the planet is by getting everybody to do psychedelic drugs because then you feel more connected to the earth and you are statistically more likely to take care of the earth if you’ve done drugs.

I’m like that’s subjectively really interesting. There’s a ton of neuroscience communities and psychedelic communities and all these people who were like, “That’s a really great article. I love that.”

I was like okay. Let’s figure out how to package that story and put it in a place where it’s not pushy, it’s not invasive. It is in the voice of the community and let them judge. Let them decide. Let them tell us, “Is that a good piece of journalism? Is that interesting to them?” If it is, we create more like it. If it’s not, we change.

Just really being a servant to the communities is, and I can’t stress enough, the crucial element is to take the time to understand, be a servant to them and provide value. The way that you were in Reddit is not by stepping on a pedestal and saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have this new solution,” but rather saying, “Hey, let me help. I brought something to the party.”

Burning Man, actually I went for the first time, very much that everybody in our camp just like, “I really hated taking showers over here last year, so I built a shower booth for our camp.” Everybody’s like, “That’s awesome. I hated that too. Thank you so much for bringing that.”

Someone else was like, “Well, I don’t know how to build stuff, but I brought cookies.” It’s very much provide, provide, provide with no reasonable expectation of what should come back to you.

Now I’m going to come at it from the business standpoint. You’re pitching to me. Let’s say I come to you and I want to do this Reddit thing and I said I’ve got this idea and you’re saying, “Hey, we’re going to create this awesome viral marketing thing and have no expectations.”My immediate response is, “What are you talking about? Of course, I have expectations. I’m a business. I need to make money.” I get where you’re going with this, but the question I’ll always have is okay, so we create this incredible piece of content or journalism or something.

We push it out into the community, into the sub Reddit that works for our specific whatever our product or our brand is. Maybe it gets passed around or it’s well received. How do we monetize that off of Reddit?

This is where it gets a little complicated to talk about in a conversational form because it really … This is the thing that people struggle with. It relies in what you’re doing. It relies on is it a personal brand or is it a product, is it an established company or is it just launching.What is the personality of the founder? Is there a story behind it that’s interesting and worth telling? I kind of go into MacGyver mode and I start looking at where are the assets.

Okay, you got drunk and came up with this idea and then a year later it became a real thing. Now you’re partnered with Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg and that happened you got drunk with that guy and this is a really funny and colorful story. Let’s just tell that. That’s a true story by the way. Soon to launch true story.

You can have other people who are like, “My dad passed this business onto me. I’m trying to revamp it.” We’re just like, “Okay. People aren’t going to be too interested in that.”

Really looking at the assets and one of the ways that you can do that is kind of looking back to all the conversations you’ve had with strangers in bars or coffee shops or whatever where they say, “What do you do for work,” and you tell them and then they ask a question. What questions do people ask?

If you look at dirty jobs, Mike Rowe, he’s always asking the question that everybody else wanted to ask but never had the opportunity to. Same thing goes with any AMA on Reddit which is ask me anything. Look at where people are curious. That’s often where I tell people to shine a light and look at that.

Ask people where they’re curious. From a business perspective and an investment perspective, the thing that I always point out is that my Facebook prank took me $1.70 and 15 hours of my time to build a blog, write the article, and so on and so forth.

I built out an eCommerce site which was an affiliate site. It was called The Gift Shop. It is called The Gift Shop, it’s still live. The entire site is populated only by animated GIFs. There’s no still images. There’s no videos. It’s just animated GIFs and the whole thing is satirical.

However, it drives traffic to Amazon. I make referral commissions. I’ve entered content through commerce was like this idea that I came up with that I was also just trying to justify an obsession with animated GIFs. That was the one where you mentioned 156,000 page views day one. That was within 24 hours.

$0 in marketing and a conversion rate of 2.8% which is ridiculous. I did the testing and I had very smart investors who have done stuff in eCommerce. They’re like, “That’s never going to work. Your average page load is 3.5 megs. That’s idiotic.” I’m like, “I know, but I tested it and it kind of worked.”

I’m $500 out right now which I had to pay a developer to do something I didn’t know how to do. For a $500 experiment, why not? I would spend $500 on Facebook ads in a week. Why not? I think that a lot of people have this notion that, “Oh, we can’t do that because we can’t waste money and hope that we’ll get a return.”

The amount of money you spent doing these experiments, and experiments is the correct word to use, is so minimal by comparison. I think the most I’ve ever spent on one of these is like $1,200 and saw a return still.

It isn’t a notion of like quit everything that you’re doing, stop marketing and start making these crazy viral things, but take a chunk out of your budget that you’re already spending and experiment.

When you call something an experiment, you either succeed and make money or move your business forward or you learn something and you’re smarter next time. There is no failure. It’s a win or a win. You either succeed or you learn. Both are good.

Viral marketing campaigns

Really just taking the time to say, “Yeah. I think we can spare five hours this week and $500 to dick around and do that thing that we were joking about at the lunch table.” Why not?

Really just expressing the personality of the business, the story behind it and doing it authentically, not because we want to go viral, but because we like viral content and we like consuming this stuff and we want to create something that we would share.

Really just going at it from that approach is like what can you create that you yourself would be super excited to share even if it wasn’t yours? I have a list of ideas and some of them I will laugh until I cry as I explain them to people because I’m watching their reactions and I think it’s so funny and others where I’m like, “Well, that was kind of entertaining like three months ago.”

I’m not going to focus on that because yeah, it could be a great business but it’s hardly funny. It doesn’t connect that well. I have to explain it a little bit. It’s not packaged enough. I don’t have the right parts. I have 100 ideas that are very well documented and waiting for their catalyst or waiting to be thrown out. I’m emotionally unattached to all of them.

Right. Right. Now would you say most of your ideas are going to tap into … When you’re pushing the viral marketing stories out there, humor is obviously a big one because I think your initial … I mean your initial Facebook story and prank your roommate was definitely a humor-driven one.When you’re looking at creating these viral marketing mechanisms if you will that are going to get accepted on Reddit and generate that influence, is there a formula where your … Is it more humor? People don’t like sad per se. People like cute. Where is the formula? Where do you focus your efforts mostly?

I’m going to butcher this, but Gary Vaynerchuk was talking about the apps on your home screen. He basically said that there are three different types of apps on your home screen and I believe the answers were this is that it was escape, engagement and I believe education was the third.Escape is going to be anything entertainment, gaming. I’m wasting time in the queue at Starbucks and I want to not mentally be in the queue at Starbucks. Most people will kind of hit one of those. I try and hit two or maybe three. When I was writing the Facebook prank, the notion was that I wanted this to be entertaining to 99% of people and I wanted it to be educational to the 1%.

I wasn’t trying to only hit the 1% Facebook marketers who saw me do this prank. I was telling the story as if it was a very detailed account that would make sense to anyone technical. I told that story. By the time I wrote that, I had told it a 100 times. I’m not exaggerating. Like literally 100. I told it to the speakers at a marketing conference and I told it to my mom.

The version to my mom was a minute long of, “Hey, you remember my roommate? Yeah. Well, I made ads that appeared on Facebook only for him and they were like super specific and they freaked him out. He was like really freaked out.” She’s like, “Oh, that’s kind of funny.”

Versus to someone who’s have experience in marketing. I had told that story before in person before I wrote it and it probably was an hour long because I was going through the details and I was acting out how he responded where he like jerked his shoulders back and he was like, “Oh, I’m really jumpy.”

Being able to create something that is appealing to the people who are not going to take action. When someone is sharing something, if you look at Dollar Beard Club, Dollar Shave Club, those launch videos, if you look at Squatty Potty, if you look at Save the Bros by Organic Valley, these are all straight up ads.

They are selling a product, but people share them even if they didn’t have a beard and weren’t going to buy Dollar Beard Club’s oil. They share them if they were female and didn’t need to buy razors to shave their face. Even if they didn’t have constipation and want a stool for better stool, they still shared it because they were entertained by it. Those are great examples of viral marketing.

It was interesting. It was unique. The Save the Bros campaign went straight at it and they said, “Share this with a bro that you know.”

Every single person was like, “This is hysterical. I know that guy. I’m going to share it with that guy.” You provided non-customers, people who you would never expect to buy, you provided them value by giving them an experience they could share with their friend who happened to be the prospective customer.

Really creating something that provides value to those who are not going to purchase and wrapping it in that shell of entertainment, education, whatever it may be so that it gets carried by other people. You design to be carried.

Just for the listeners, what you just said there is really I think the underlying formula to making this work is creating something that even the non-targeted or non-ideal client is going to share. Because if you don’t … Like you said with your Facebook, if you only targeted the 1% that actually cared about that, probably would have never taken off. It was just written for them.
I think that’s a really powerful underlying message. What you just said there is creating something that even if they’re not your client, they’re going to want to share it. The point of the Dollar Shave Club or the Dollar Beard Club is actually getting people to share it with people or the story I think was the bro one you said. Getting it to share it with people they know that are like that.

To share, I always do them in tandem, is the Instagram Husband video which wasn’t selling a product. It was actually promoting a comedian. Both the Save the Bros video and the Instagram Husband video both of which you can google, they quantified a human emotion that people didn’t know they had.The Instagram Husband one was hilarious because everyone who saw that was like, “Oh, my God. I’m an Instagram Husband.” They thought it was just like, “Oh, man. My girlfriend keeps asking me to take her Instagram photos or my wife keeps asking me to take her Instagram photos,” and they just thought it was something that was their experience, but that video made them realize, “Oh, my God. There’s so many other people like me who also have this experience. I didn’t realize that about myself. I have to share it.”

That’s a rare one is quantifying human emotion and really packaging something that people didn’t realize was “a thing.” Smart humor, planning things out, there is … Keep in mind that viral in the sense of this conversation, 99.99% of it is research, strategy, preparation, preparation, testing and testing can be taking a story that you intend to share and telling it to someone in a bar. I always use bars because it’s just an endless flow of random strangers.

I’ll go out and be like, “I have a story.” I actually went out one night. I was like I have an idea for a thing. I don’t know what I want to call it. I went out with a friend for a drink. We went across town. Two cute girls sitting next to us started talking. I go, “You know what? I came out with one objective tonight. I want to get your feedback on something.”

Just two random people and started telling them the idea and it was about I wanted to do a dating site project where guys came up with these really romantic dates and wrote them as stories and then women applied to go on them.

Because I always go way overboard on first dates and it kind of scares people off sometimes because I’m a romantic at heart, I was like what if I just aim it out into the beyond and I just come up with a stupidly fairy tale first date. I don’t tell one person we’re going to do this together.

I just say I want to do this with someone, who’s with me? And once I accept someone to go on that date with me, I’m never allowed to do that again. I have to come up with a new one. You only get to use it once. I was like how do I package that? I went out and this girl goes, “You should …”

Literally her first response is, “You should call it meet cute.” I’m like that’s kind of dumb and she’s like, “No. No. No.” I didn’t say that, but I was like … She’s like, “A meet cute.” I’m like is that a thing? She’s like, “Yeah. A meet cute is the film term for the moment in time when two future romantic interest meet.” I’m like holy shit.

There it is.

That is so perfect. Bought the domain on the spot two drinks in. I never talked to the girl again. She gave me her Instagram and I was like seriously thank you. I cannot thank you enough. That was awesome. It turns out I think she works in film, Yay! LA.I mean go out and test things as stories. They don’t have to be a packaged sales page. It could just be, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. I’d love to hear what you think about this,” and open up objectively to the feedback and watch how they respond, where they’re furrowing their eyebrows because they’re confused, where they’re pulling back because they object to it, where they’re leaning in because they’re interested.

Really just learning to read people’s responses and create something and mold it for your audience.

Awesome. I could keep talking about this all day because it’s fascinating, but we’re running out of time. What I want to do before we wrap up is give people the opportunity to connect with you. You mentioned you have a podcast. Before we wrap up, how do people continue this conversation with you? Where do they find more about you?

I am @GhostInfluence on pretty much everything, Twitter, Facebook, all that jazz. Ghost Influence is at its core a Slack community which is essentially designed as kind of like answers for the questions in between the courses because I always got very frustrated by like well, I see this course on Facebook ads and I see this course on branding, but they don’t fit together because one is square and one is circle.Really just that snack size consulting community. I just recently did a seven day trial thing. I would love for people to jump in and bombard me with questions in that seven days. That would make me super happy, but other than that, Twitter and anywhere else. If you say my name, I just magically come.

Nice. Nice. I’ll test that.
Sometimes it would be a day later, but I’ll be there.
It’s like Batman.
I’m like the State Farm people. Yeah.
Yeah. That’s right. That’s good.Like you said, so you have a seven day … It’s a free trial to join the community?
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cool. All right. Well, I would highly suggest everybody take him up on that and pepper him with questions because I feel like I’ve just barely scratched the surface.This is a whole different segment, whole different side of the world of marketing. I think it’s baffling for most companies, for most people. It’s so far out of the realm of what the traditional marketing is whether it’s direct response, whether it’s branding, whatever it is, right?

I’ve met lots of people that say, “Yeah. I’ve had success virally,” but they’re kind of one hit wonders. Right? If you really dig in, they’re not really able to explain how they did it or how to replicate it and nor have they ever been able to replicate it. I’m always fascinated when I get to talk to someone like you that not only has done, but has replicated it numerous different times.

A huge kudos to you because that’s a biggest indicator to me that I’m talking to somebody that actually knows how to execute on this and it wasn’t just the one hit wonder that so many viral things have been over the past decade.

It’s a fun iterative process. I would stress to so many people that anyone who’s listening and thinking of like, “Oh, my God. That’s so far off or I can’t connect with that,” it’s actually the simplest way to look at it because it is a very big mental process. I still am like, “I don’t know if this is going to work, but we’ll try it.”Think of it as an experiment. Set aside some time and say, “Okay. We’re spending 10 hours a week on marketing. We’re going to spend nine hours a week doing what we’re normally doing. We’re going to spend one hour experimenting and ask that question of if everything that we knew was wrong, what would we try to do? What couldn’t possibly work? What is the weirdest way we’ve ever connected with a customer? How can we do that in a weirder way?”

For those that follow my blog, I do aerial gymnastics for fun and usually those two worlds are very different. The aerial gymnastic group which I go down there, I work out with people who are like Instagram models and circus performers. Most of them just know me as like Brian. They don’t know anything about me.

Yesterday I was down there. There’s like a big gathering every Sunday and a friend called me over. Someone who I camped with at Burning Man. Very different worlds.

As I walked over, the girl that he was with was like, “You look familiar. Are you that Facebook guy?” I’m like, “What?” I didn’t know if he had looked at my Facebook page and had told her something. She’s like, “I went to a course called Content Marketing Summit.” I’m like, “No shit.”

I had video interviewed for this course and that material had been presented at this thing I’ve never attended. They took the material from a bunch of different people and this girl recognized me from my face being on the screen for 40 minutes. I was like that’s crazy. I don’t know how I feel about that.

I kind of liked being the guy that nobody knows. It’s experiment. For me, that was such a weird encounter because I didn’t expect it. Looking at that and saying, “Okay. Wait.” One of the guys that used to be in my community called me and asked for 40 minutes of my time so that he could sell my expertise in a package with a bunch of other people in a course and I got nothing out of it. It wasn’t a paid thing, but I thought it was super cool.

I didn’t know what would come from that and then that came from that. That’s kind of weird to me. How can amplify that? How can I do it again? Can I offer my time to other people who are doing courses and say, “Would you like to package this in,” and do that more? Yeah. Just take some time. Ask yourself really weird questions of like what won’t work and see what comes from it. Don’t be afraid to wander down a rabbit hole or two.

That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, Brian thank you so much today for sharing your wisdom in this and experience. Like I said, awesome conversation. I could have talked to you all day. Unfortunately, we’re on a time limit. Again thank you so much for taking part today and sharing all your knowledge unconditionally with our listeners here.
Thank you so much for the amazing questions, the invitation and the energy. I love that it’s so much easier to get into a story when you’re getting excited.
Yeah, totally.
I’m a very empathetic person.
Right. You’re a great storyteller and yeah, I really enjoyed it. Thank you very much and hopefully we’ll have you back here again because I think there’s a lot more to talk about.
Absolutely. Looking forward to it.

Awesome. All right. That was Brian Swichkow.As always any of the links we mentioned here will be included in the show notes along with the entire transcript of this episode. You’ll find them all at

Don’t forget, if you haven’t done so already, you can subscribe and just have these all automatically delivered to you.

Head over to iTunes or Sound Cloud. While you’re there, leave me a rating, leave me a review guys. I don’t have ads in this podcast. For me, it’s about giving the community value and building connections with awesome people like Brian here today. Your ratings, your reviews, I mean that’s a fuel that gives me the momentum, the motivation to continue to make this the best info packed podcast for digital entrepreneurs.

Now it’s time to take the tools, the strategies that you’ve learned here today and apply that final essential ingredient and that ingredient is action. Go forth. Take action.

Like Brian said, take an hour a week. If you’re spending 10 hours a week, take an hour and say, “Okay. This is my experimenting time,” and start applying it. If you’ve never been on Reddit, go to Reddit. Set up a Reddit account. Start learning from the communities that you need to connect with. Start understanding who they are and the ideas will start to flow.

Go forth. Take action. Apply what you’ve learned and stay tune for more info packed episodes of the Project Ignite Podcast.

This is your host, Derek Gehl, signing off.

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