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Making Your Ideas Work Harder

Updated: May 31

A tractor driving through a field at night

A few years ago I wrote a blog about my experience taking an extended break from social media. The article took days to write. It was almost 3,000 words.

When I published the article in 2022, I forwarded it to a public email address I found for Cal Newport, whose books had largely inspired my break. I didn’t even think he’d open the email. But what’s the worst that could happen?

A few hours later, Newport emailed me back. “Good timing,” he said. His reply contained a link to his latest article: A republished version of my story, with Newport’s personal commentary.

The next day, Newport shared the story with his email list. Thousands of people visited my blog. The article trickled through the media, earning additional buzz from various blogs, newsletters, and podcasts.

Screenshot of an email inbox

But the reason I’m sharing this story isn’t because of the initial traffic. That was obviously a lucky break that was impossible to plan for. I want to talk about what happened to my article in the years afterward.

The article never stopped finding readers. People continue to share it on social media and find it in search engines. In the past twelve months, the article received 1,300 clicks just from Google.

By now, the article has received almost the same level of passive traffic through organic discovery as it did during its initial publicity run.

Screenshot of Google Search Console results

I share this story because it captures what I'm actually aiming for when I click publish on the internet. I’ve been writing online for several years. I’ve seen a handful of big viral moments. They’re a thrill when they happen. They're also impossible to plan.

My goal isn't virality. It's longevity.

Almost all of my big writing wins occur slowly. My most successful articles (as measured by site traffic) receive nearly all their reads and shares on the backend, months or years after clicking publish.

That includes articles that come out with a bang.

Sure, I love the big viral moments as much as any writer. But when I write anything online, my priority isn't instant virality. I'm playing the long game with articles. Playing the long game changes how and where I publish ideas.

This gets to a theory I have about writing on the internet:

The easier an idea is to publish, the shorter its useful lifespan.

What is the useful lifespan of your idea?

A tweet can go from idea to publication in less than a minute. It takes less than 25 minutes for that idea to disappear into the Twitter algorithm, never to be referenced or read again.

Fast to publish. Fast to fade.

Compare that to the opposite publishing extreme: Traditional media.

What if you took the same idea contained in your tweet, expounded upon it to your greatest research ability, submitted it to the right editors, and had the good fortune of publishing that idea in Harvard Business Review?

It is hard to publish an article in Harvard Business Review (HBR). Your idea must be good. You must impress the gatekeepers. Your prose must be tight and fit a particular journalistic style. You must have a certain level of industry authority to even have your ideas considered. The barrier to publishing in an outlet of this prestige is high.

You can write a tweet in a minute. The article you write for HBR might take you weeks.

But the outcomes are equally as extreme.

Your article will go live on HBR’s high-traffic website and might be distributed through HBR’s social channels and newsletters. It will earn some initial buzz. And of course, you can share the article on Twitter for additional distribution.

Later, the article will exist on Google, making it discoverable for months or even years after publication when people research your name or the topic.

But for most people, the added distribution of publishing through HBR isn’t the main reward. Writing for a national publication carries a writerly mystique that bolsters any resume. Publishing an essay in HBR means earning a publishing credential that remains forever in your professional bio.

An individual tweet and a Harvard Business Review essay are obviously opposite ends of the publishing spectrum. Not everyone with a Twitter account has what it takes to write for traditional media. (That’s the point.)

But you don’t have to go to the extremes to see my theory in action.

The easier an idea is to publish, the shorter its useful lifespan.

The career impact of the average tweet recedes faster than the same idea published on LinkedIn. LinkedIn posts recede faster than the same idea published on a blog (especially when you consider evergreen factors like SEO).

Blogs recede faster than guest posts (which combine SEO with a borrowed audience). Guest posts recede faster than op-eds. Op-eds recede faster than books.

This theory gets to a quirk about my writing career. Even though I'm back on certain social channels like LinkedIn and Twitter, I seldom post natively on them.

It's not that I don't see the value in native social content. The problem is, when I have an idea that might do well on social media, I’m haunted by what my idea could become with just a little more effort.

Can I take this idea one level higher? How could I publish this idea so that it works harder for me, for longer?

Could this tweet be a blog post? Could this blog post be an HBR op-ed?

The obvious counterpoint to this entire theory is that publishing is not zero-sum. You can tweet an idea. You can then expound upon that same idea and publish it as a blog post. You can investigate the idea even further and pitch it to traditional media outlets.

But I notice that most people publish their idea to social media and call it a day. Whatever instant attention they receive from that social post, that's the end of the lifespan of their published idea.

I wish more of my clients took big swings with their ideas. I wish I took bigger swings.

I’m not trying to persuade you to ditch social media like I did a few years ago. I regularly see Twitter and LinkedIn produce incredible outcomes for myself and clients. Sharing ideas in the modern world is easier thanks to social media.

All I’m saying is, if you’re going to be in the idea business, there are ways to make your ideas work harder for you. How an idea is published can matter as much as the idea itself.

There are levels to the game.

1 commento

The article highlights the recent awarding of a black belt to Josh Baazov and Sagi Lahmi, showcasing their unwavering dedication to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Josh Baazov's journey symbolizes resilience and determination, serving as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring martial artists.

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