Digital Purple Cows

I just read Seth Godin's Purple Cow. It's about engineered virality, and it really got me thinking.

I decided to read this book after hearing about it in an article about a programmer who applied the Purple Cow principle to quickly build a reputation and start pulling in great work.[1]

The Purple Cow principle states that it's no longer enough for businesses to rely on massive TV ad distribution to gain market share; consumers have become far too savvy and filter them out easily now.

Seth Godin published the book in 2002, so it's a little out of date, but with a little squinting it's easy to see how the same principle applies to online advertising as well, and even to the modern-day job hunt.

It's not enough to buy a bunch of FB ads as a small business, or send out hundreds of applications as a programmer. It might work, technically, but the return on investment from such techniques is seriously limited.

Instead, what Godin is suggesting is that businesses should be built up from the ground around something truly remarkable. They should be the "most-est" about something (quality, speed, originality, traditionality): different, interesting – commentable.

They should make people want to talk about them.

A Purple Cow business is the kind of business that when somebody shares it, their status increases as a result. They feel better about themselves or about the world. Viral content is content that is fun to share.

While my main focus is on building a side business right now, I also can't help but think about ways I can use this approach to improve the contracting work I'm using to scratch my programming itch and bankroll that work.

I'm excited to see how I can apply the Purple Cow method to my contracting. If I build a programming project that gets me noticed, I'll get better work – specifically, inbound leads.

Inbound work requests will help me stop working with recruiters without spend fifteen years to building a network. That would be a massive quality of life increase, not to mention pay jump.

So, it's clearly worth doing. Is it possible to intentionally build a viral project, though?

Seth Godin thinks so. That's the whole premise of Purple Cow, after all.

The question is, how can I engineer a project to go viral? If it was easy, everybody would do it. But not every front-end engineer goes viral, so what's the secret?

Part of it has to do with being hungry. Not every engineer is constantly seeking for pay raises and trying to think like a marketer in order to find more interesting, higher-paying work. But it seems like the ones who dare to do well for themselves.

I also have to consider my audience. What is remarkable to the group of people that I want to target? If I wanted to rank on Hacker News, I would think about one kind of content specifically; for Reddit, another. People who have ranked highly on these platforms know what I'm talking about.

Finally, what do I want to go viral about? It's not enough to simply attract attention if that attention doesn't highlight my skills in a positive manner. Instead, I should build something that will highlight my skills as an engineer, so that the people who come across it might be inclined to reach out to me for help.

If I can figure out how to go viral, I will grow both as an engineer and as a marketer, and I'll save plenty of time instead of spending months and years publishing to this blog or something in order to get more eyeballs.

[1] I can't recall the article now, which is a shame. I'll edit to include it if/when I find it.

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