Do You Really Want that Post to go Viral?

Fame and fortune can be yours!

People will stop you on the street for your autograph! Store clerks will covertly point at you, asking each other, “Is that really her, the brilliant mind behind that brilliant blog?” Your bank account will grow as more and more people hang on every word you write! You’ll soon be chatting on air with Matt Lauer and Ellen! Advertisers and brands will flock to you, begging you to wear their clothes, drink their drinks, maybe even drive their cars!

You. Will. Have. Arrived!

All you need is one thing: A viral post.

You just need to write that one post that has that special magic to go viral. Or luck into that one reader with the influence to spread your words, your post, your link farther and wider than you could ever imagine. Then you’ll be on the map. You’ll get what’s most important to you — gobs of comments, tons of accolades, visitors and pageviews and new subscribers, klout (yes, with a “k”) and respect and freebies — even a book deal with movie rights.

Or maybe not. Perhaps this is the fantasy some of us carry: if we could just find the right key to embiggen our little stage and get our words in front of more eyeballs, We. Will. Have. Arrived.

But is that really what happens? Surely there are instances in which a previously obscure blog has been catapulted to fame and fortune via one springy diving-board of a post that went viral, enabling the blogger to hit the Big Time in a sustained way.

Is a viral post always a gateway to greatness?

I’ve recently had a post or two go viral, one on kids and marijuana and the other on a jewelry commercial, and the results were nothing like what I thought they’d be. In spite of a couple of weeks of high pageviews, feel-good attagirls and (in the case of the jewelry ad critique) supporters kindly defending me, I’m still here slogging at my blog with nothing much changed. My stats have returned to my normal, no fans are pointing at me surreptitiously in the grocery store line, I’m still driving my own car, my bank account balances remain the same, and if Ellen did call (Are you the curmudgeon who didn’t like that lovely ad?), she didn’t leave a message. Fame and fortune remain just as far off in the horizon as they were before the virus.

Downsides to post virality

Virus rezonWe tend to forget that a virus is a nasty thing. This online phenomenon is named for a destructive microscopic life form that has the capability to destroy life, human and otherwise.

Here are a few downsides to a post going viral.

1. New readers don’t know you or your rules of engagement. When readers visit me from my usual bloggerhood (and even neighborhoods one or two circles out from that ‘hood), they bring wise words, supportive sentiments, relevant questions and considered assessments of the topic. When readers come from farther outside my sphere — people who don’t know me or know anything about me — the rules of engagement seem to no longer exist. In the case of the post critical of Kay Jewelers, it was picked up by The Huffington Post, and addressed by Mommyish (<== don’t hover over that link if you have a school-age child looking on) and The DailyMail. I’m pleased to say that my usual commenters do not treat people the way commenters on those mega-sites sometimes do.

2. You become an object first, a person second (if at all). With a viral post that reaches people who haven’t interacted with you before, some people may talk about you as if you aren’t there listening, reading, dealing with the impact of their words. In my case, people made hugely erroneous assumptions about me and felt no compunction about calling me and others horrid names, words that no one has ever said to my face. There were pages and pages of what I call the comment pile-on, people whose vileness feeds off each other. Here is how I handled that in the case of the jewelry ad.

3. There are also technical aspects, such as the fact that your host’s server may not be equipped to handle a high multiple of your regular traffic. You could find your whole site down at the worst possible time — precisely when people are landing there by the hundreds, thousands, maybe millions. And if you typically are attentive to your commenters, it may become very challenging to keep up with so many of them — especially the nasty ones, ones that miss the point, ones who react only to the headline (who needs to actually read the post?), ones who come to your space with their agenda, or ones that are just plain wackadoodle.

4. The virality effect tends to afford just a blip and not a sustained upward trajectory. Jeff Goins says in his post The Truth About Going Viral:

Should I change what I write about, focusing more on this topic? Should I try to keep as many of those visitors as possible? And what would I do when Monday rolled around, and I had to start blogging again?

The next week, I hit the old grindstone again, and the Internet had already forgotten about me. My traffic spike had mellowed out, and I was back to zero, forced to earn people’s attention all over again.

what does a viral post look like?
Site stats

But still, going viral can be a thrill.

I’m not gonna lie. Even with the insults and meanness, the misunderstood-ness and the return to pre-virus activity levels, I’m grateful I had these viral experiences and I would welcome them again (so share this post, whydoncha?). It’s a thrill to generate thought and passion in others and to be the provoker of that.

So if you want to give it a shot yourself and report back your results with virality, here’s an infographic to guide your efforts.

What are your hopes and fears about a post going viral?

Hopeful image by
Virus image by DROUET (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.
Stats image by Lori Lavender Luz.

24 thoughts on “Do You Really Want that Post to go Viral?”

  1. You can never know what will go viral. You may not intend for your little post to be seen around the world, but once you post it publicly, it’s out of your hands. You hit it on the head with how the rules of engagement fly out the window.

  2. Hello, beautiful Lori, and goodness, the site traffic graph looks like a double handed single finger salute. Hmmm.

  3. A post going viral is my biggest fear blogging! I do not want the attention or negative comments. Though everyone would probably like a few more readers, myself included, I am pretty happy in my little bubble. The most “viral” I’ve ever gone was an open letter to Mike Huckabee which was shared 63 times on Facebook according to my wordpress widget – 63 times too many in my opinion, even though I was flattered 🙂 Your posts are great and deserve the attention and only accolades (from people who bother to read more than the headline)!

  4. I do not, under any circumstances want ANY of my posts to go viral. I’m happy in my quiet corner of the World Wide Web with my 5 commenters.

  5. Lori, this is a really good assessment, and you make some excellent points. The one that hit home hardest for me was that those who are drawn to a viral post aren’t your usual readers–and to them, you’re not really a person. This has happened to us on a couple of posts, and the results haven’t been universally pleasant. Thanks again!

  6. I don’t know why I am shocked to read the hatred words people commented, but yet I am. I am so sorry anyone was the cruel, completely unacceptable. I love your assessment though. I had a post go kinda viral (not picked up by the big leagues but still huge views from shares) and you are right after that it was back to the daily grind. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

  7. Hi Lori! I’ve never had a post go “viral” –yet at least 🙂 but I have published four books now and I think there are some similarities. Most people tend to do like you say, think that whenever “that” happens will make everything wonderful and be the answer to your dreams. Instead, while as you say there is a thrill to the process, there is also all sorts of unintended outcomes that ride along with the circumstances. I’ve found it best to just enjoy the process as it happens and let the destination take care of itself. Thanks for the reminder. ~Kathy

  8. Hi Lori!

    I popped over to your site from The Women of Midlife FB page. This is such a great post! I’m a baby blogger (only been at it since March), so the idea of one of my posts going viral is like trying to ponder what it would be like to be a guy–so outside the realm of reality. I don’t know how I feel about it. Your post has done a fabulous job outlining the cons of viral posts, but I have to admit it’s kind of exciting to think about it happening to me. However, I’m just going to write what I write and if gets a reaction, viral or not, I’ll be happy.

  9. It always worries me that what I DON’T want to go viral is the one thing that will. There seem to be so many surprising consequences that you don’t expect. I loved this article, insightful and refreshing.

  10. The closest I came to going viral was a silly post I wrote in a huff about being mad at Target. Seriously, it took me about 5 minutes to write. When Target’s PR left a comment at my blog, I knew I hit a nerve. But, I didn’t really know what to do with all the hits and new visitors, so I didn’t try to keep it going. I sat and watched my stats climb in real time, stunned. Who the heck were these people?

    Also, you have no idea what will hit a nerve when you write it. I’d rather NOT go viral because we self-host and there’s no way in heck we could support an avalanche of visits.

  11. I echo Carol. This is such a thoughtful and insightful post.

    I once had dreams of my posts going viral (moreso on a commercial blog I once wrote for – and got paid per click. can you imagine? Cha ching!) but then my husband got a very visible (at least in our little corner of the world) job in the media and I got to watch/read day after day people call him an idiot, a moron and on on – for summaries of other stories, articles and posts – not even his own words. Certainly not his own opinions. Talk about not reading the post. And then stretching beyond my own safe space didn’t sound so great anymore.

  12. Lori — Remember when my “Intuitive Tuesday: Today is 1/1/11” post went viral? It was SO thrilling to see the statistics sky rocket!

    For me, it was like a big, beautiful firework exploding in the sky so beautifully, and then fizzling out within moments. That’s OK because my usual readers were still with me…and for a moment I experienced the sensations of “what if…” like you described in your post.

    But as the clock on 1/1/11 went from 11:59 p.m. to midnight, I still had the memory of my blog’s “viral firework” to remember. And then it was 1/2/11 — another regular day of visits to my blog.

    Several people have told me recently that they really miss Intuitive Tuesday. I wonder if I started it up again…if it would go viral! 🙂

    Thanks…for being you and for sharing your beautiful writing and your heart through your blog. What a gift!

  13. Thank you so much for this insightful information. I’m a brand new blogger, so I hadn’t given this much thought. I have had two nasty comments on my blog, and I was so shocked, since the rest have been so kind and supportive. Definitely food for thought.

  14. I wish my 7 year old could comprehend this – I should have her read it anyway. She’s dying to make a video to get attention on YouTube or to submit to AFV or something else. I keep telling her we don’t want or need that kind of attention, but it’s hard to douse those stars in her eyes. At least I know what her intention is, so I can keep heading her off…

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