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How this influencer gained 15 million followers in 15 months

Magician reveals the secrets to his greatest trick — going viral online.

A year and a half ago, Julius Dein was just another university graduate with no idea what he was going to do with his life. Today, the British magician performs all over the world for his more than 15 million followers on social media — and this massive number continues to grow.

How did a 23-year old kid with a magic hobby become an Internet sensation in less than a year and a half?

This past November in Portugal, Dein spoke at Web Summit, Europe’s largest independent technology conference, to reveal some of his tricks. Although Dein is admittedly focused on the young consumer audience, much of his online strategy and tactics can be transferred to other markets. That includes getting creative with content and distribution in the business world.

“When you see viral content on the Internet, a lot of people will attribute that to luck,” he said. “That is absolutely not the case. There are aberrational circumstances when content does go viral, but I’ve nailed it down to a formula that I will explain in this talk.”

Over his 25-minute presentation, the enthusiastic influencer discussed the two primary areas of concentration that allowed him to build his social media empire: content and distribution.

Here’s how the magician pulled 15 million followers out of his hat.

Content

Be platform specific

Dein started his online career by posting videos of his tricks on YouTube, but struggled to get traction. “No one was finding my content, that’s the problem,” he said.

After spending some time studying how people discover content on each platform, Dein realized that videos needed to be platform-specific in order to be seen. Facebook viewers, for example, typically find videos in their news feeds, and often view content at times when they’re not supposed to, such as at work. Videos also play automatically in the Facebook News Feed, but can be ignored simply by scrolling up.

Julius Dein Facebook post example

“A lot of people are watching Facebook without sound,” he said. “So one of the first things I learned is that you have to subtitle your content.” Unlike YouTube, where audience members are typically more willing to watch lengthier videos, Dein says introductions are edited out when transferring content to Facebook, adding that it has to be “super snappy” to keep eyeballs focused.

“Clarity is so important in the viral video, especially when there’s no easier exit on the Internet,” he said of Facebook’s News Feed layout.

Have a compelling thumbnail

While videos play automatically on Facebook, users need to hit play on YouTube and other platforms, which is why Dein says it’s vital to have a compelling thumbnail image. “Have a click-bait thumbnail. That’s so important, because if you have that thumbnail when people are scrolling, they’re going to click on it,” he said.

Ditch the camera

While Dein began his influencer career by hiring professionals with high-end camera equipment, he says he has since ditched the cameras, and now films everything on a phone. “People on social media, often they’re trying to use high-quality cameras. That does not need to be the case,” he said, adding that smartphone videos tend to feel more personal and often outperform content shot using the high-end equipment.

When shooting with a phone, however, Dein says some angles are better than others. “If you film it portrait, on Facebook it’s going to come up bigger,” he says, explaining how Facebook gives more real estate to vertical smartphone videos.

Compilations kill

When he began making viral videos, Dein says he’d put all of his efforts into nailing one trick, one time for the camera. More recently, however, he’s discovered the importance of filming multiple takes and splicing them together.

“Whether you guys are running a food brand or a mental health brand, when you’re aiming for viral content, try to have compilations,” he advises. “I see it all the time in different formats, whether it’s viral sketches or a magic video or some kind of message — if you have it in a compilation style, it goes more viral.”

Distribution

Find pages that align with your brand

Though he’s got a sizable following on all social media platforms, Dein really owes his fame to Facebook, the platform he believes is easiest for people’s content to go viral. When he first began posting videos on Facebook, he’d look out for pages and groups that both had a sizable following and had posted videos similar to his in the past.

“I had zero followers. I then made a good video, I put it on Facebook, and I reached out to hundreds of pages with the same generic message,” he said, adding that all but one either ignored him or asked him to pay a fee in order to share his video.

The one that agreed to share it for free had six million followers. “Instantly, that video went semi-viral, got several hundred thousand views because it was shared on that big page, and all of a sudden my page went from 100 followers to 7,000 followers.”

Dein adds that unlike YouTube, which doesn’t have a share button, Facebook lets users more easily post content created by others. “This is the trick [for] distribution,” he said. “The problem with YouTube is that people can’t get that level up, but it’s a different story with other platforms like Facebook. If you can find the right pages to share your content and the content is good, then it will explode on the Internet.”

Go share for share

Once Dein had built a sizable audience of his own, he’d engage with other influencers who had similar audiences and similar follower numbers to propose a “share for share” agreement.

“If I’ve got a video with a million views, I go to a page with a million followers and say hey, if you share my video I’ll share your video,” he said, adding that the technique has helped add millions of followers to his Facebook and other social media pages.

Spread to other platforms

As Dein continued building his Facebook audience, he’d ensure that each of his videos included a watermark in the top corner that gave his Snapchat and Instagram details. Though the numbers stagnated for a while, they exploded one day when one of his Facebook videos went viral.

“That video got 80 million views in two days (and) my page went from 10,000 followers to half a million, like overnight,” he said. “Having my Snapchat and Instagram in the top corner got me up to 50,000 Snapchat and Instagram followers overnight, and all of a sudden I went from some kid who just finished university trying to make some content to someone with a pretty reasonable audience.”

 

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Jared Lindzon

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist based in Toronto, covering a variety of topics, including technology, careers, entrepreneurship, politics and music. His work regularly appears in major publications in Canada, the United States and around the world, including the Globe and Mail, Fast Company, Fortune Magazine, Rolling Stone, Politico, the Guardian and more.

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