Everyone with a website or social media profile dreams of going viral and becoming famous, but most people don’t have a strategy to make it happen, nor do they know what to expect, or what to do if it does happen.
If it makes you feel any better, I was in that position before. I’ve had some pretty impressive successes online over the years, but last summer was my first real viral post. I learned a lot from that experience and now I’m going to share it with you.
Let’s start with a short recap of what happened…
I was driving home after dropping my son off at daycare on the morning of July 17, 2015. This was the day after Islamic terrorists murdered four United States Marines and one sailor at two military installations on U.S. soil. For those who don’t know, I served in the Marine Corps, so this struck a nerve for me.
Thoughts swirled furiously around in my head on the drive home and when I sat back down at my desk, I dumped those thoughts into a quick Facebook post, tagged a few of the guys I served with, and hit the post button.
When I logged back into Facebook right before lunch, my post had a few thousand shares. That afternoon, tens of thousands. Near the end of the day, my post had over 40,000 shares, others had copied and posted it, and when I gave up counting, I had a rough tally of over 500,000 shares.
It was also covered by several YouTube personalities and written about on dozens of websites. I was interviewed on a few radio programs and was even scheduled to be interviewed live on CNN. (Unfortunately, the CNN interview fell through at the last minute.) Many of these also went viral, though not on quite the same scale as my original post.
It resonated with a force and scale that I didn’t expect.
I knew that some of the Marines I served with would share it, but I didn’t expect much more than that. I never expected hundreds of thousands of shares reaching into other countries. I received thousands of friend requests and messages on Facebook, my voicemail blew up, and that exposure bled over to my business as well.
It was crazy because it wan’t trying to go viral. I was just letting people know what was on my mind.
I was letting my fellow Marines, past and present, know that the brotherhood we shared while in uniform is still as powerful as it had ever been. I was letting my fellow citizens know that everyone who had ever worn the coveted Eagle, Globe, and Anchor was still willing to stand between them and danger. And I was letting our enemies know that we would fight them just as fiercely here at home as we would on any battlefield.
I have no way to track the total reach, but even just counting several hundred thousand shares on Facebook would mean exposure well into the millions—and this all happened in the first 3 days! Add in the exposure from Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and radio programs, and you end up reaching an astronomical number of people.
If you missed it, here was my post from July 17, 2015:
I learned a lot from this post going viral, so now I’m going to share that with you.
Going viral is a combination of hard work and luck
It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a social post, a blog post, a video, or something else—going viral requires content that resonates with your intended audience. This is hard work because producing high-quality content that people want to share is difficult.
It also requires that enough people create momentum by sharing it, because even the best content can’t go viral if people don’t see it. This part is largely dependent on luck, but you can shift the odds by using paid ads.
As you build a larger audience by consistently producing high-quality content, it will become a lot easier to go viral because the luck aspect will become a smaller factor, but you’ll always have to put in hard work.
It’s only an opportunity
When a post goes viral, it doesn’t magically bestow the author with instant authority status. It only provides an opportunity to share your message with a larger audience.
If your new audience doesn’t find in your previous posts whatever got them engaged with this post, they won’t stick around to see if you pull off another one. Your one-hit wonder status will be on par with Chumbawamba. Remember them? Probably not.
Remember how earlier I was talking about hard work being a critical part of viral success? It ties directly in with opportunity—you need to consistently produce killer content so that when a post does go viral, your audience can find more of the same. That is how you turn the opportunity created by going viral into results.
Leverage viral exposure when it strikes
You can expect a huge wave of activity during the first few days, mostly on which ever channel your post goes viral. In my case, it was a Facebook post on my personal profile, so I was swamped with friend requests, messages, comments, tags, shares, and likes, but that activity also bled over into Spartan Media’s website and Facebook page too.
Anything I posted during the next few weeks got tons of likes, shares, and comments, but most importantly, massive exposure to an engaged audience. I leveraged that exposure to raise awareness for a relevant cause that means a lot to me—fighting the epidemic of veteran suicide. This enabled me to connect more struggling veterans with the help they needed on a larger scale.
You need to leverage your post in a way that enables you to continue marketing to your new audience after the initial wave of exposure dies off.
While you should definitely encourage them to follow you on social media, you really need to get them to subscribe to your email list. You should also create another piece of killer content to share with them as soon as possible to build on your momentum.
People loved that post—not every post
When your post goes viral, it’s because something about it resonated with people, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel the same about your previous or future posts. In fact, it’s more likely that they won’t.
I’m not quiet about my opinions. Unsurprisingly, some of the people who had been most vocal in singing my praises a week earlier were just as vocal in criticizing some of my other posts.
People may agree wholeheartedly with one post, but think you are completely wrong on another. They might disagree with a lot of your other posts. Hell, they might even think you’re a complete idiot who just happened to say one thing that they agree with.
Don’t place too much value on the praise or the criticism, but expect to hear plenty of both. That being said, while it’s easy to let the praise go to your head, it’s even easier to dwell on a few negative comments.
It doesn’t mean very much
A viral post only means that something you said resonated with people.
You’re still just a normal person who struggles through life, just like everyone else. You have good days and bad days, make good and poor choices, experience confidence and insecurity, and make intelligent and stupid comments.
It’s not a measure of your importance, character, or intellect.
Be grateful for it, maybe even pat yourself on the back a little, but then get back to the grind because success isn’t one event, it’s a culmination of all of the small things you do over a long period of time.