Creating A Viral Slideshare: What I Learned

by Scott - 11 Comments

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I created a slideshare presentation on sleep hacking a few months ago that has been viewed by over 110,000 people, shared publicly by the Founder and CEO of LinkedIn, and downloaded by over 450 people.

While a did a few things right, I also totally botched a ton of stuff.  I thought I’d share what I learned creating a viral slideshare.

But First Some Context

I created this slideshare to promote an online Skillshare class on Sleep Hacking. My goal was to use this piece of content to drive sign ups. The presentation was a synthesis of a ton of learning and self-experimentation that I’ve done on myself over the past year in my pursuit to get more waking hours while maintaining a high energy level.

Sleep Hacking

I recently refined an expanded premium version of the course on Udemy if you want to check it out. Anyways…

Things I did Right.

Hire A Designer

I have the aesthetic ability of a sloppy 3rd grader. People use design as a proxy for quality and credibility on the internet; I knew I had to hire a designer if I wanted to maximize the impact of this asset. So I reached out to my designer friend Ricardo Medina who I met through a Skillshare class. I sent him a black 70 slide powerpoint only containing words and told him to make it look cool. We settled on a rate which I’m not going to disclose, but it was less than $500.

A week late Ricardo got back to me with an amazing version of the original presentation : )

Give Credit to Other People

The 3rd slide of the presentation gave credit to people whose content helped me in my sleep hacking journey. I included this not only to give proper attribution, but also because I knew that including them would likely prompt those people to share my presentation.

Sleep Better

Fact: Most people love to humble brag. Anytime you feature someone in something, they’re going to reshare it. Hence, it’s imperative to make it known that you featured them. Once I published the presentation, I emailed each person featured on this page the following:

Hey x

I just wanted to let you know that I included you in a slideshare presentation I created on Sleep Hacking. I’m not sure how I stumbled across [link to their relevant article], but I really enjoyed it and it helped me create this presentation.

No need to respond to this, just thought you’d want to know. Keep up the great work.


Notice how I didn’t ask them to share it.

When you ask people you don’t know to share a personal creation it comes off as overly self-promotional. What I’ve found is that if you simply let people know that you’ve featured them, they’re more likely to share it than if you asked them. Why? Because they feel like they’re sharing it voluntarily instead of following some random person’s prescription. People like to feel ownership over their actions. That’s why one of marketers jobs to “plant the seeds” for their desired actions in a way that makes others perceive they occurred naturally ; )

Capture Testimonial Assets

When I decided to teach a class on sleep hacking, the goal was to first teach it on Skillshare then eventually put a revised, premium version on Udemy. I think this is great framework because the interactivity of a Skillshare online class provides an excellent venue for feedback. You can use this to optimize the content.

After deriving the feedback necessary to enhance your course, it makes sense to put it on Udemy because you can reach a new audience and passively collect income without doing much additional work beyond the initial promotion.

With this in mind, I knew that any positive testimonial on social media could serve as ammunition to market the class in the future. After releasing the class, I made sure to take screenshots of all the best testimonials I could use down the road.

JeffWeiner copy



Turns out some pretty legit people ended up sharing it.

Reaching A Minimum Threshold for Virality

I’ve been a fan of the slideshare community for awhile. One of the things I’ve noticed is that they feature the most popular content each day/week not only on their homepage, but also in a weekly email to their mailing list. Reaching the tipping point to get on that front page could literally mean the difference between 5,000 views and 500,000 views.

I hypothesized that the presentations they decided to feature were likely the most popular, new content with views and shares being the proxy for popularity. Given my perceived importance of “recency” required to get on that front page, I knew I’d need to get a lot of shares within a short period of time after uploading.

I decided to do some paid advertising on top of blasting my social networks. I threw $5 of paid stream promotion on Facebook and $20 at my first ever stumbleupon campaign. Huge spender, I know.


Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 4.12.15 PM



Facebook AD

StumbleUpon by far and away ended up exceeding expectations in terms of driving traffic. All I know from the promoted stream post on Facebook is that 34 people saw the post…I definitely got more value from StumbleUpon.

Anywho, my strategy ended up working! After the first day of posting, I ended up being selected as the Slideshare presentation of the day and getting featured on their homepage.

slideshare presentation



Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 4.19.33 PM

This drove 10’s of thousands of views to the presentation. The presentation ended up being on the front page of Slideshare in Germany, France and Spain(above), in addition to the U.S. Saweet!

This reinforced a valuable lesson that I first realized after learning how to game hackernews – on many sites there is a threshold of virality. If you can breach an initial level of popularity, the site will start to promote you via prominent placement which allows you to take advantage of the entire ecosystem. Understanding where this point is and how to reach it can be the difference between hundreds of thousands of views for any piece of content.

Watch out “Udemy Popular Classes,” I’m coming.

Things I Botched

Despite getting some pretty great results promoting the slideshare presentation, the number of conversions I got to the class sucked. Most of the things I’d change if given a mulligan relate to conversion optimization.

Cover Design

The presentation’s simple black and white design  was beautiful, but I think there would have been a much higher click-through if there was a more provocative cover image. Considering the front page of Slideshare receives millions of impressions, even a 5% lift would have resulted in a 10’s of thousands of additional views. Here is an example of a cover image that caught my attention.

Slideshare cover


I’ll definitely aim for something like this next time.

Link to the Class Earlier in the Presentation

The original version didn’t link to the class until the very end of the presentation. This was suboptimal because it eliminated opportunities to convert viewers who didn’t finish the presentation. I eventually adjusted this by adding an additional CTA on the first few slides in addition to the end.

More Explicit CTA to Click Through on the Class Page

The initial class advertisement page had no clear calls to action.

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 11.19.45 AM

People would have no idea to click the image unless they just happened to hover over it. I eventually sacrificed design aesthetic to make the CTA much more explicit.

Sleep Optimization

Again, aesthetic ability of a sloppy 3rd grader.

Too Many Calls to Action

One mistake I made was including too many calls to action in the first few slides. Again, my goal was to convert people to the Skillshare class. This should have been the only link I was prompting people to click. When I originally put this out, I was linking to my twitter account and blog within the first few pages.

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 5.36.23 PM

Though it’s impossible to know the degree, I believe that this likely distracted people from going to the class.

Consistency On Blog

When I initially posted this, I had just started to use the HelloBar on the top of my site. Naturally, a few hundred people who saw the presentation lingered over to my blog. Originally, my HelloBar was prompting people to sign up for my Business Development newsletter.

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 5.55.23 PM

A better approach would have been to maintain consistent CTA’s by driving them to sign up for my class here instead of something completely unrelated unless. Sigh.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, I ended up having 88 students take the class. I definitely came out on top in terms of my monetary investment in optimizing the Slideshare, but knowing what I know now, I think I left a lot of dinero on the table.

The good news is I learned some valuable marketing lessons and came away with a bunch of feedback to optimize the content and promotion for my expanded, premium class on Sleep Hacking now on Udemy.

You can read every marketing book in the world, but the only way you’re going to get good at digital marketing is through scraping your knees by actually doing stuff. This is why I recommend every single person who wants to get good online marketing start a blog and begin creating assets (classes, newsletters, podcasts) that you intentionally try to grow. JFDI!


What lessons have you learned about creating content for Slideshare or marketing online courses? Please share in the comments

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