Going viral is social media’s version of the 15 minutes of fame. Content creators work very hard to have their content picked up by influencers, widely shared and widely viewed. Writers, photographers and videographers work for hours on end to attract, retain and influence visitors. It doesn’t have to be for money either; sometimes it’s about issue awareness, or simply retaining a loyal readership.
While a lot of people work their butt off to produce viral content, it doesn’t always happen when and how you expect it, and unless you’ve lived through it once, you’re never really ready for it. In preparation for your own viral content, here are five lessons I learned from a post of mine that went viral.
1. Going viral happens mostly by chance
No matter how much excellent content you put out, none of it will go viral without the right mix of mostly chance elements. You need to post your content at the right time, and have the right people pick it up. By the “right people”, I mean of course important infuencers in your field.
You can increase your chances by carefully watching the habits of your field’s influencers and your target audience and by identifying the best time to post or share your content. But in the end, you can’t control whether or not your inflencers will pick it up and share it.
2. Once viral, you cannot control the conversation
One basic lesson of social media is that content creators no longer have control over the conversation that their content will produce. Sure, you can moderate the comments within your own channel, but whatever is said on other channels–Facebook users sharing, Tweeters tweeting, or comments on blog posts that refer back to you–is out of your direct control. You need to let go of the idea that can control everything that is said about you.
You can do one of two things: worry about what people are saying everywhere and try to control the conversation on every channel, or you can let go of it and let it run its course, focusing on what you can control. In any case, trying to control a conversation by either shutting up or over-moderating is always a bad PR strategy because it suggests fear, guilt or a skeleton in your closet.
3. Be gracious and admit faults
People will disagree with you. Some will find cracks in your content, criticize faults and mistakes. That’s fine. Admit them and move on. Desperately trying to hold your ground will only make you look desperate to, again, control what others are saying about you.
Don’t over-moderate by erasing every negative comment. I personally delete mean-spirited comments or those that personally attack the writer or other commenters, but well thought-out, constructive criticism stays. It’s the only way that the conversation can move forward. It’s also a great way to appear gracious and, most of all, open to new or different ideas.
4. It’s not about you anymore
In the end, a post going viral is so for two reasons: it’s controversial or it’s entertaining. If your content is merely entertaining, you don’t have much to worry about; a controversial post, however, may become bigger than your original intent. The story may reflect others’, or call up emotions that have nothing to do with you as the writer.
When this happens, you need to realize that the post is not so much about you anymore. A viral piece of content is often one that reflects other people’s experiences (or opinions that others may violently disagree with), and as such becomes a kind of torch-bearer for many who have not told their stories. As the content producer, you should respect those stories, if they are shared with you. Such a reputation is a great asset in the online world.
5. Grab the opportunity
A viral post from an otherwise unknown site is a great opportunity to bring attention to other pieces of content. While a lot of people will only come to see you out of curiosity, genuinely interested readers are likely to click on your links, home page and other pieces of content. Make it a point to use this door to lead new readers into the heart of your content.
Having a viral piece of content can also bring you opportunities to produce guest content on new channels. If the channel is right and fits your overall content and goals, go ahead. Always request full attribution and links back to your own site, but most ethical channels will offer those to you by default.
Have you ever produced viral content? How did you manage it? Please share your viral lessons in the comments!