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Over the last two years, clinical psychologist, University of Toronto professor and lecturer Dr. Jordan B (B for Bernt) Peterson gathered a rapid recognition by the media and amassed tens of thousands of supporters worldwide. Well not a thousand, a million of them.
In mere 18 months, he was able to:
- put his book on the Amazon bestselling list overnight (and sold 1.1M copies in 5 months)
- generate $100,000+ recurring revenue per month
- sell out speaking shows at almost every venue he appeared in
In this article, I will be focusing on the levers of his rapid success. Dr. Jordan Peterson was a relatively insignificant public figure until the mid-2016. But in the last couple of years he made smart moves and struck gold on certain events which propelled him into a cultural superstar.
Let’s check his metrics:
- His Youtube account surpassed one million subscribers (1,096,329).
- His website traffic is estimated at 1.7M views.
- He has been among Top 10 Patreon creators 8 months in a row.
- A subreddit in his name has more than 50,000 subscribers.
- His twitter account has more than 650,000 followers.
- His Instagram has 137,000 subscribers
How did he manage to get in this position so fast?
Those numbers have grown from almost barren social media accounts. In October 2016 Jordan Peterson’s YouTube account only had a couple of thousands of subscribers and his twitter follower count was at 24,000 (now 690,000+).
Jordan Peterson Facts and Background
Peterson studied clinical psychology at the University of Alberta and McGill University where he completed his Ph. D in clinical psychology. He remained at McGill as a post-doctoral fellow from 1991 to 1993 before moving to Harvard University, where he took the role of assistant and then associate professor in the psychology department.
According to his students and colleagues at Harvard, his lectures were already admired. During the studies, he wrote his first book, Maps of Meaning – a book about the structure of beliefs and systems. By his account, the writing took 15 years.
In 1998, he moved back to Canada and started work at University of Toronto as a full-time professor. During those years Peterson authored or co-authored more than a hundred academic papers, all while running a clinical practice, seeing 20 people a week. In 2004, a 13-part TV series based on Peterson’s book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief aired on TV Ontario, which was his first publicly held lecture.
During his lectures at Harvard and later on at the University of Toronto, Peterson made a conscious decision to film his lectures with an intention to give them out to the public for free. His first YouTube video was published on March 30, 2013.
In 2004, a 13-part TV series based on Peterson’s book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief aired on TV Ontario, which was his first publicly held lecture. Four years later, he has also appeared on the network show Big Ideas, and as a frequent guest and essayist on The Agenda with Steve Paikin.
Jordan Peterson dished out commentary on the various subjects including depression, personality traits and values, intelligence, religion and other relevant topics.
KEY STRATEGY 1: Build the Treasure Vault
From Harvard years, professor Peterson recorded his lectures with a video camera. The same recording was happening later at the University of Toronto. His classes were popular since as a lecturer, Dr Peterson was very enigmatic and he had a lot of interesting things to say. His students and everyone else were able to access the material on his public YouTube channel.
It all went relatively well until the Canadian government under prime minister Justin Trudeau introduced a new law – the bill C-16. This was the ignition spark needed to start the JBP hydrogen bomb. Jordan Peterson rebelled with a series of videos on YouTube titled “Professor against political correctness.”
Bill C-16 enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. The bill was instituted under Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau government on June 15th, 2017. One of the bill’s rules is mandatory use of transgender pronouns (zie, zher, hir, ay, per and others). Cases of repercussions breaking the law were already recorded.
“He resisted on the grounds that the bill risked curtailing free speech by compelling people to use alternative gender pronouns. He made YouTube videos about it. He went on news shows to protest it. He confronted protesters calling him a bigot. When the university asked him to stop talking about it, including sending two warning letters, he refused.” – Bari Weiss, Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web
By Dr. Peterson believes the Bill C-16 infringes the freedom of speech and replaces it with compelled speech. That’s a red flag since free speech represents a cornerstone of western civilization and is something he holds dear. In his video on YouTube, he expressed his stance against political correctness which Bill C-16 also implies.
By publicly stating and warning about the dangers of the bill’s legislation, he created a resistance among the students (and educational colleagues) of UofT who organized a rally titled: “U of T Rally for Free Speech”.
Some of the students responded with outcries, loud protests and disrupting chants. Sometimes these protests resulted in vandalism and often at least verbal insults.
This was the tipping point. In Dr. Peterson’s opinion, universities were already systematically changed into so-called postmodern institutions where professors are poisoning the minds of students with post -modernistic doctrines under the guise of ethnic studies and various social sciences.
To say that the event raised a lot of dust would be an understatement.
CBC News covered the incident in the night time news. This was just the beginning. The Rebel Media, a far-right online political and social commentary with Gavin McKinnes (at the time) and Lauren Southern grabbed the story and ran with it. Other bigger Canadian online and traditional media followed.
1.5 million YouTube hits later of the original video, Dr. Peterson became the hottest topic in Canadian political and cultural circle.
The First Buildup
The news about this mad professor spread fast. Most of the viewers have heard negative statements about the professor who was using “hate speech” against transgender people. Sheer curiosity compelled viewers to check what was going on.
In a matter of few clicks on YouTube, the viewers of recorded protest found themselves on Peterson’s youtube channel with over 150 videos which offered more than 500 hours of content. These videos contain lectures about religion, mythology, personality, political ideas explained in easy to understand mythological stories, historical examples and even popular Disney cartoons.
One of the most occurring themes is “rescuing the father from the belly of the whale” which is taken from Disney’s representation of Carlo Collodi’s The Adventure of Pinocchio. To rescue Geppetto (Pinocchio’s father) and become a real boy, the wooden puppet must sacrifice himself, face the truth and grow up. He has to leave the pleasure island, face the reality and take action towards the highest purpose.
Jordan Peterson draws similar meaningful theories from Lion King, Ariel the Little Mermaid, the Beauty and the Beast and Peter Pan. Apart from pop culture cartoons, Jordan tackled religious material from the Old Testament of the Holy Bible.
By explaining the ideas and psychological significance of mythological and religious stories applied to today’s meaning, he found a way to translate the importance of traditional virtues to the millennial audience. He expressed in the number of occasions that men are looking for a reason and responsibility. Deconstructing the most traditional reading material of values in a secular way would be a tough sell for a lot of authors, but he did it.
Key Takeaway #1: Front-load enough quality content to capture and captivate your audience.
The people who’ve first heard about Peterson either by word-of-mouth checked up what the hell was going on with this “activist of hate speech”. What they found instead was hours of valuable and actionable lectures which communicated a lot of sense. Once they saw the big picture and a stockpile of intellectual content on a level they could understand, they stayed to learn more.
KEY STRATEGY #2: Use the Influencers to Accelerate Your Message
The Audience Overlap Effect
Pareto’s law tells us that 20% of all sources is doing to bring 80% of results. In Dr. Peterson case that was YouTube channel with big influencers. And that makes a lot of sense. Peterson’s rhetoric, command of the English language, passionate performance, and bold appearance was perfect for video format. In the tech-savvy, entrepreneurial world, there’s an occurrence called Tim’s Ferriss’ effect. Tim Ferriss has been most known by the best-selling books 4-hour trilogy and his own podcast The Tim Ferriss Show.
Evergreen content that he produced to his target audience – mostly young men aged between 25 – 45 (which is the majority of Jordan’s audience) has attracted millions of followers and episode downloads. At one stage, Tim Ferris started to introduce sponsored messages at the start (and lately at the end) of every new podcast episode. The recommendations and messages were so successful that advertisers ran out of the stock day after, the promotional message went on air. One appearance on a podcast like that would go a long way for Dr. Peterson’s message.
In podcast world, there’s a man even more successful and has been doing it for 9 years already – Joe Rogan. Joe Rogan has had one of the most successful podcasts years – the Joe Rogan Experiment. Started in 2009 by just having a conversion with his fellow colleagues in the stand-up comedy community, UFC and plethora of other subjects. His audience continues to grow. By some estimation, he gets over 30 millions of downloads per episode per month ( Joe releases between 3 – 6 episodes per week!).
The first appearance on the show in November 2016 shot Dr. Peterson in the North American stratosphere. It stoked the fire the University of Toronto protest started. Joe Rogan’s audience was also perfect for Jordan Peterson – mostly young men interested in personal development, discipline and critical thinking. The subscribers started mounting in. Jordan Peterson appeared three times more as a Joe Rogan’s guest each time getting a surge of new subscribers on his own channel. He also appeared on other podcasts with a huge audience with similar demographics but different interest.
Big podcast appearances:
The Joe Rogan Experience: (All four appearances are among the top 10 most viewed videos on JRE ) One of the world’s most popular podcasts, spawning a community of listeners around the globe.
- #1006 (w/ Bret Weinstein) – 3.3M views
- #958 – 3.3M views
- #1070 – 3.2M views
- #877 – 3M views
- Themes: Martial Arts, Comedy, Music, Health and Fitness, Misc
The H3 podcast: An Israeli-American comedy YouTube channel produced by husband and wife team Ethan and Hila Klein. The H3 Podcast channel features live-streams that were originally live on their Twitch.tv channel.
The Rubin Report: A political news talk show currently airing on YouTube, hosted by Dave Rubin.
- Frontline of Speech(w/ Ben Shapiro) – 2.5M views
- 12 Rules For Life – 1,2M views
- Themes: Politics, Social Culture, Author Interviews
Jocko Willink: (#2 and #8 most popular videos on the channel) Retired Navy Seal commander, Book Author, Business Owner
- #98 Breaking Your Wretched Loop Dangerous and Disciplined – 633k views
- #112 Life is Hard. 12 Rules for Life. – 227k views
- Themes: Military themes, Self-Improvement through Discipline, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Louder with Crowder: A podcast covering news, pop culture, and politics, streamed on YouTube hosted by Steven Crowder.
- #278 Most Men are Wimps! – 469k views
- #267 Did Jesus Exist (w/ Lindsay Shephard) – 516k viewsThemes: Pop Culture and politics
Under The Skin with Russel Brand: Russel Brand’s podcast exploring ideas after his addiction therapy.
- #46 Kindness VS Power – 914k views
- Themes: Author interviews, pop politics, broad ideas
This is a great example of audience overlap effect – marketing to an audience with the same general interests or sources but also stepping into other similar audiences. Andrew Rea from Binging with Babish is a master of this.
It’s important to state all those YouTube appearances have an audio proponent in a podcast form, where there’s at least as much downloads (how many times a podcast has been streamed fully) as there are YouTube views.
KEY STRATEGY #3: Ride The Viral Wave
The Gotcha Moment
When fans of Rogan, Jocko and other spread the word about JBP the professor enjoyed more and more support. By being active on Twitter those numbers skyrocketed as well. JBP’s audience, as well as the show-hosts Jordan appeared on, use Twitter channel as well.
These podcast/YouTube appearances were quite rapid, especially by the end of 2017 when he announced the upcoming book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. No doubt, the publishers pushed him to have university tours and podcast/youtube appearances to get as much media coverage as possible. They got more than they could wish for – another viral moment. And this one was even more powerful than Bill C-16 and Joe Rogan combined. In January 2018, Jordan Peterson gets invited to the interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4.
The interview covered topics such as gender equality, including the gender pay gap, freedom of speech, and transgender rights. However, Cathy Newman tried to strongarm and confuse Dr. Peterson by jumping to conclusions. Jordan stayed calm and collected and defended his stance with poise. At one point of the interview, Jordan retaliates and presses the host about the way the interview is progressing. Cathy Newman tries to respond but at one point reels in thought and fails to come back with another attack. At that moment Jordan says “Gotcha!” which came out as a minor victory and proof of the interviewers malicious intent.
Similar to Bill C-16 and transgender protesters, Cathy Newman couldn’t prepare an objective and clear argument to overthrow professors value. By attacking and putting Dr. Peterson to defend the pay gap problem, gender inequality, she tried to corner him to make a mistake. Unfortunately to her, Dr. Peterson was prepared and the strategy backfired tremendously.
Notice the giant spike of interest in January 2018.
Post-Cathy Newman Effect
There was a clear moral winner. Channel 4 News had the audacity to publish and leave the YouTube video on their channel. It went viral in hours (it was #7 trending video on YouTube the next day). In two days the clip received over 3 million views. At the moment it stands close to 10-million mark.
The incident has been covered in big media outlets. In a couple of days, Jordan was the main topic in The Guardian, NYTimes, Chronicle and many others. In most cases, those articles were reprehensible against Jordan Peterson. But the community of supporters gathered around Dr. Peterson and defended his stance in comments in articles, YouTube comments, and video testimonials. As you can read from the graph, Cathy Newman event drove the biggest spike in subscribers and caused all sorts of avalanches in media.
We need to talk about Virality
A common misconception is that virality start by systematical sharing of lower-influencers (a bottom-up approach). Some of the people on their social circle share it forward to their own social circles. And those people share it forward again, thus causing a snowball effect (just like MLM schemes). That’s how the article gets spread forward creating a viral effect. Right? Think again sunshine! Research by Pulsarplatform proved there is no such thing as the snowball effect.
The virality isn’t caused accruing more and more shares but the opposite – Viral content spreads in a decay.
Someone who already has the huge followers has to start the process so the thousands of his followers continue the “sharestorm”.
And this is exactly what happened with first appearances of Jordan Peterson on Joe Rogan Experience but even more so after Cathy Newman incident. Dozens of YouTube influencers with significant subscribers base responded with the commentary of the interview and their followers shared it further.
“My book went yo to number 2 on Amazon.com in the US the next day. It’s number 1 in Canada and number 3 in the UK, I couldn’t have ask for more publicity” – Jordan Peterson on Geenstijl Interview
Taking into the consideration of comments and likes, the support ratio between comments for Dr. Peterson and the ones against were approximately 80 to 1 – Overwhelmingly positive towards Dr. Peterson. With that much support, Jordan became one of those huge influencers in few days. This introduced him to even wider audience, who upon checking who Dr. Jordan Peterson is, found the same storage of saved lectures and live speaking engagements recorded on Dr. Peterson personal YouTube account. He couldn’t ask for more publicity.
Key Takeaway #3: Ride the viral wave by understanding how it works.
YouTube is one of the best channels to channels to go viral. It is replacing television (or has already done it) and the majority of audience fits right into the target persona who is susceptible to the message Jordan provides (18 – 35 years and male).
That wasn’t even the biggest driver. The internet culture awakens and posted or reposted the clips of the interviews in various forms – from educational short bits to internet memes, mockups. It spurred other YouTube creators who wanted a piece of the viewership on their own channels.
One video from Derrick Blackman got 750k views overnight.
His book, which just came out, jumped on the Amazon Book bestseller list overnight:
- #2 on Amazon USA (currently #4)
- #1 on Amazon Canada (still holding #1)
- #3 on Amazon UK (now #9)
- #1 on Amazon Australia (currently #2)
With increasing drama in the media world, Peterson supporters started forming communities. Subreddit (r/JordanPeterson) started growing rapidly with the community sharing the latest news in the media. Joakim Andrew, a YouTube artist who records his own transformation following the advice of Jordan Peterson at Sorting Myself Out, opened a Facebook group for finding accountability to well, sort themselves out:
The wave overflowed into completely other areas as well – for example, lo-fi mixtapes with Jordan Peterson soundbites.
Source: Akira the Don YouTube Channel
During all the media chaos Dr. Peterson still holds the University talks and consistent engagement with his supporters on various channels.
The worldwide book tour is taking Dr. Peterson to large events which are consistently sold out.
KEY STRATEGY #4: Take On the Responsibility for Bigger Roles
Reinvigorating the political scene and starring in founder communities
Conservatism among the millennials (along with religion) is as close to their hearts as arranged marriages, 9-5 jobs, and diner-quality coffee. Selling conservatism to young people would be a tough bargain.
Jordan’s theory on millennials is that they became weak due to victimization and self-entitlement.
He repeatedly said that young people want to change the world, but instead they are trying to change the people.
In one of his most powerful speeches, he addresses arguments on how to bring the traditional values.
Red-pilling the young population who are well-versed in sharing and repurposing new ideas has made another wildfire effect.
In the Founders’ Circle of the Dark Web Intellectuals
In the same time when Jordan Peterson was getting traction, other prominent individuals who engaged in controversial topics make the views. Ben Shapiro, a religious conservative commentator has been getting millions of views and downloads using the same strategy of the overlapping audience. Sam Harris, ironically a critic of religion and concerns himself on spirituality, morality, and neuroscience. Eric Weinstein, an economist and managing director of Thiel Capital, who coined the term Intellectual Dark Web by defending his brother Bret’s’ resignation at Evergreen State College.
Bret Weinstein, a professor of evolutionary biology objected to the Day of Absence — when white students and faculty were asked to voluntarily leave the campus. Bret branded the situation as a form of racial segregation. A group of student protestors called him a racist. Almost everyone ended up on Dave Rubin’s and Joe Rogan’s podcast, where the exposure reached new heights. The internet community started connecting the free thinkers. The I.D.W. became some sort of a club of, as Bari Weiss mentions:
a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.
A dedicated website popped up by an unknown author.
KEY STRATEGY #5: Meet the Demands and Monetize
With that amount of traffic and followers also comes a hefty sum of money. With the power of the Internet, those channels are recurring. Dr. Peterson did his homework with years of recorded lectures and still creates new content. While he is not necessarily doing his job because of the money, the opportunities are nevertheless connected with higher revenue. The bigger the platform the more “moolan” is there in the play. And money gives you more options later on.
The protests against Dr. Peterson reflected into even more supporters:
“I’ve figured out how to monetize social justice warriors. I’m driving the social justice activists in Canada mad because, if they let me speak, then I get to speak. And then more people support me on Patreon. It’s like, “god damn capitalist, he’s making more money off of this ideological warfare. Let’s go protest him.” So they protest me. And that goes up on YouTube. And my Patreon account goes WAY up.“
With the release of his book, he is focused on speaking tours promoting it. The YouTube had to take a side role while he is still active on Twitter.
- Patreon – a membership platform for creators to run a subscription content service. Jordan Peterson account has been on the Top 10 list for the last 8 months. With 9400 members Jordan is coming closer to the barrier of 10k subscribers. The Patreon supporters are paying between $5 to $200 per month. In the pessimistic evaluation he is earning around $70k/m but it as probably over $100k.
- BooksMaps Of Meaning (1999) – Currently best-seller in Behavioural Psychology, priced between $35 – $135 per copy. Amazon US estimates 500 copies being sold in April (a 235% increase from March).
12 Rules for Life (2018) – Just broke the 1 million sold copies at the end of April 2018.
3) The Digital Products These online courses have been promoted on podcasts with Joe Rogan, Jocko Willink, Dave Rubin and H3 reaching millions of listeners. It was also raved about on CBC Radio, in O: The Oprah Magazine (and online) and on NPR’s national website.
Self-Authoring Program – the online digital product where users take self-paced writing assignments to analyze their life and set goals for the future.
Revenue per order: $14.95 – $29.90
Understand Myself – a one-time quiz to determine which personalities traits are unique to you.
Revenue per order: $9.95
These programs are still on and accessible. (If you’re interested the coupon code “willink” still works.)
4) Speaking Fees
All those traveling and speaking has to be compensated as well. At the start, Dr. Peterson accepted relatively small donations – around $3000. He mentioned it in a podcast. One Reddit source claims the current speaking fees are between $35k – $50k excluding the travel and accommodation costs.
Speaking fees: $10,000 – $50,000
His racking up the events (which are normally sold out fast) as we speak. Take a look at his schedule on his events page.
The recently redesigned website estimates more than 1.5M visits in the last month. Mostly these are coming from YouTube and Twitter sources – the marketing channels Jordan has been using most efficiently.
The structure of the website is simple – navigation bar with links to products, events, contacts. Above the first fold you can quickly link to his programs and channels JP is most active on. Aside from signing up to his newsletter, there’s not much going on.
Key Strategy #6: Consistency and Personal Branding
1. Superb work capacity: JP did the front work – years lecturers and content recorded and offered for free convinced a majority of first-time viewers into people who were willing to give him a chance.
2. The timing: In a time where’s a lot of tension, the topics on equality, social justice and political, cultural commentary have a high chance to struck big. JBP launched into the ether with Bill C-16 commentary, but he also managed to stay relevant with appearing on large podcasts, commenting on Lindsay Shepherds, James Damore incident or latest mass shootings
3. Broad subjects and connection with the audiences From biblical old testament stories to gender pronouns, depression and general advice for living with meaning, the message struck a chord with most audiences. Evey podcast he appeared on pulled more diverse audiences. The milestones brought him TV appearance on Fox News and Real Time with Bill Maher.
4. Building the personal brand Just like a master marketer, Jordan Peterson researched who his audience is. When he appeared on the h3h3 podcast, the host Ethan Klein offered him a vape, which he took it. His lectures are dynamic with a lot of hand movements and sometimes passionate stresses on the certain subject. The examples he uses already made it into the internet community as memes: the lobster, cleaning up the room, slaying the dragon etc…
He’s also doesn’t take himself too seriously and finds a way to connect with even more obscure internet communities. In return communities spread even more word of mouth and internet equivalent (memes, posts, and links to professor’s material) which reaches even more members of those communities.
5. Consistency with the message and unique delivery The realization he is being viewed by millions, adapting to the communities while having a consistent message isn’t easy. Jordan handled the pressure and attention remarkably well. The supporters noticed physical transformation (like a proper lobster standing up straight with his shoulders back) From early perplexed beginnings with a physical transformation to an upstanding proud lobster. Whether the strategy was intentional or not, Jordan has emerged through the front ranks and probably the most known psychologist in his field.
The message and timing have hit the perfect storm and the message and readiness for the confused young men took it as passionately as a downpour rain on the desert floor.
Over the last couple of years, Dr. Peterson maintained composure and fend off attacks and accusations. While it must be incredibly difficult to handle that much stress it seems like he improves the more you throw at him.
Just as Nicholas Taleb in the book Antifragile, Jordan only gains from disorder.
“Cut off one head, and two will take place.”