Why do people share something? Here’s what I learned from my article that’s been viewed over 50,000 times and read over 10,000 times.
The Unexpected Response
In July, I published an article about my one-year hiatus from Facebook, which I did without deleting the app from my phone. After I published the article, I forgot about it. I did not promote it or even share it with my friends. In the original version, I did not even include a call to action at the end. No requests for hearts (this was before Medium switched to claps), no request to share it, no opt-in to my list (there is one now).
Despite having no calls to action, people read it. They commented. And they shared it. A few weeks after publishing it, I opened Twitter to see about 20 independent tweets of the article. At that point, it had around 3,000 views and 1,500 reads; those numbers dwarfed the reach of everything else I have written—combined. The numbers continued to snowball for the next couple of months.
To date, the article has been viewed over 50,000 times and read over 10,000 times, according to the Medium stats. Medium’s editorial staff picked it as one of their favorites and recorded an audio version of it.
Success Leaves Clues
I realize that this is probably just a day in the life for some writers, but, for me, it was huge. It still is huge. I wrote that piece before my current 47-day publishing streak. Nothing I’ve written since then has even come close.
Tony Robbins says, “success leaves clues.” And I believe that the best clues come from our own successes.
Here are some lessons I’m extracting from this success:
Lesson 1: Sometimes You Need Distance
In 2015, following a traumatic brain injury, I took a 4-month break from all social media (this was a year before the 1-year Facebook hiatus). I did not delete any of the apps from my phone. When I returned, I kept seeing people advise that the best way to stop wasting time was to delete their apps. I thought this was ridiculous advice, and wanted to write about it.
But I really had nothing more to say than “that advice is bullshit.” Maybe when I first tried to write it I didn’t have enough knowledge —not research or information, but true, embodied knowledge — to fully embrace why deleting the app is not the solution.
Don’t feel rushed to write about something in the moment it happens. You need distance or more experience with something.
Lesson 2: You Don’t Need to Contextualize
I write a lot from experience, rather than from research. And I often feel the need to contextualize, to explain the back story. This likely comes from my previous life as a lawyer.
In this case, I wrote many drafts that would diverge into completely different topics.
One became about the initial 4-month social media hiatus I took in 2015, and how things changed for me when I returned. I had an entire draft that dove into why I stopped checking Facebook in the first place in July 2016. Another about all the ways it wasn’t serving me. I had so much to say, and I couldn’t find a way to say all of those things in a way that made sense.
As it turned out, I didn’t need those elements. The readers got my points without knowing all the backstory.
Trust the reader to “get it” without giving them all the details.
Lesson 3: Write What You Need to Write, Then Decide What to Publish
After 2 years and several drafts, I had a moment of insight as I walked home from the gym on July 4. I sat down and I just wrote. I didn’t really know where I was going to end up.
It’s likely that I wouldn’t have written the piece in that way had I not spent the previous 2 years writing different versions. I had to get the other stuff out of me to get to what wanted to come out on that day. It was an angle I hadn’t previously considered, maybe because I couldn’t yet access that wisdom.
Don’t worry about publishing everything. Sometimes you need to write things to get them out of your head so that you can reach the real thing you’re meant to share.
Lesson 4: What Causes People to Share
When I mentioned it to a friend in September, this was her response (I’m paraphrasing here):
Oh my God! I read that article, and I remember thinking that “I love the woman who wrote this.” I had no idea it was you!
She had no idea because I did nothing to promote it.
I did not end the article with a call to action. I did not ask people to give it hearts or claps, I did not ask for comments or shares. Yet people commented because they connected with something in it.
People share because they feel something internal that prompts them to share. The trigger to our behavior is always internal. Always.
Lesson 5: Experience Creates Impact
The wide reach was great, but the impact I felt was beyond the numbers.
As I read the comments, I felt that, in sharing my experience, I helped others feel seen and heard by shining a light on what they felt but perhaps could not yet articulate.
In return, I felt seen and heard in my experience. I felt connected to the people who read it and commented. They helped me feel less alone, and I believe that I helped them feel less alone. That connection was a light for me in the middle of an incredibly dark time in what has been my darkest of years.
The impact came from my experience and emotion, not from some big idea or from my sharing a lot of “information.”
Lesson 6: Don’t Over-Edit
We progress through life constantly changing, why can’t our writing do so as well? I would far rather release something that wasn’t perfect, creating a feedback loop and discussion, then destroy a piece of writing by removing too much content.
This struck me as something I do a lot. By editing my work for clarity or to fit rules that others have created for what is “good writing,” I’m not just killing my work, I’m also killing my voice.
Even as I write and share my experience, even in my attempts to be visible, I’m pulling back. I’m sanitizing myself to better fit a mold. By the time I’ve finished editing they are generic and devoid of my personality.
In the process of trying to share myself, I lose myself.
Ironically this keeps me from what I crave most, the thing that is one of my core motivations to publish, indeed, one of my core motivations for everything I do: connection.
The piece I wrote about Facebook is a rare exception to this trend. Each time I reread this piece, I cringe. It repeats itself. It jumps around. It doesn’t follow a nice linear structure. If I spent more time with it, I could probably “tighten it up.”
Yet, each time I reread the piece on Medium, I also notice that readers have highlighted almost every sentence. What would I cut out?
Trust your intuition. Write and publish. Don’t over-edit. You can always write more or add another angle in a separate piece.
Lesson 7: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Here’s something interesting: it took until about 4,000 readers before someone pointed out to me a pretty significant typo. (Read through the comments and you’ll see what it was.)
I am a perfectionist. To publish something with an error like that was horrifying to me. It triggers all of my fears about looking ignorant and not being good enough.
When it was noticed, I fixed it. And I also realized: it took approximately 4,000 reads before someone cared enough to point it out to me. A lot of people read, commented, and shared it while it still had the typo. Either they didn’t notice, or they noticed but didn’t care. They knew what I meant.
You can always fix something later. Go with good enough for now. Published over perfect.
Lesson 8: Write From Your Heart
I have spent so much time laboring over other pieces that hardly got noticed, and this piece, which took maybe an hour to write, took on a life of its own — without my needing to tell people what I wanted them to do with it. They connected because I connected.
I know the experts say to write a great headline. And I did spend a little more time on my headline than I usually do. But I didn’t write 25 headlines. Headlines only take you so far. If the article doesn’t grab people, they won’t read it. If the piece doesn’t resonate with people, they won’t share it.
This piece resonated with people because it came from my heart.
Headlines get people to click. Heart gets people to read.
The lesson was clear: write from your heart and surrender.
This is day 47 of a daily publishing experiment. Thanks so much for being here and reading. I really appreciate it.