What is it like to go viral?

what is it like to go viral

Some of the details are a bit hazy, since it was about three months ago. But, there was this one time that my blog went viral.

I noticed a bump in visits one day. I thought it had something to do with a very serious post I’d written about mental health or a how-to about cooking chicken. It didn’t. The post generating all the views was 3 years old. It was a post I wrote when I was still in college, in defense of 4-H.

I hear ya, Nic. Totally weird.

I hear ya, Nic. Totally weird.

I didn’t pay much mind, until it starting spiking. Hard.

If you’re curious just what that looks like, here’s a glimpse:

what is it like to go viral

A casually-maintained blog that usually averages 1,300 unique visitors and 1,800 views a month looks pretty piddly compared to almost 300,000 views.

When a few dozen extra daily views turned into a few thousand extra daily views, I realized I was going viral.

excited emma stone gif

This is how I felt.

At first, I tried to follow all the comments. I had to stop, because it was too hard to focus on life if I stopped for WordPress notification.

When I set aside time to read the comments, it was overwhelming. I’d say 95% were a show of support. People shared all the ways that 4-H changed their lives. The other 5% didn’t read the post all the way and some never even read past the title (the post was satirical, so the title was misleading). There were even a few odd death threats. I mean, I should have known to get some push-back when I wrote a post entitled “4-H is Evil and Bad For Kids.” And amidst the hundreds of other comments, there was one gentleman who scolded me for using a misleading title that could have hurt my efforts to correct misconceptions* about 4-H.

After the first day, I started getting messages from friends and acquaintances saying they’d seen my post all over Facebook and Twitter. I even told my boss that I was going viral, and he told me that he had Facebook friends from back home (where he had been in 4-H) sharing it.

Over the next few weeks, the traffic and comments tapered off but still aren’t back to normal. I’m not sure when I can expect the stats on that to drop back down to pre-viral numbers. I actually think I could have ridden the wave a little longer, but I was so overwhelmed that I took a pretty lengthy break from blogging.

tired bunny gif

I find it fitting that this bunny sums up how I felt by the time the viral spike ended, since I showed rabbits as a 4-H project.

So, if you’re asking yourself the question, “What can I expect if my blog goes viral?” then here are some thoughts:

  • There’s no way to anticipate it, guess at it, or plan for it until it happens for the first time. That post was the last thing I expected to go viral with. Sometimes old content just catches a (very, very large) second wind. If it ever happens again, though, I’ll be better-equipped to handle it.
  • Decide how you’re going to manage the influx of notifications. You likely won’t have time to respond to every single comment, and you probably won’t be available to check in every time a notification comes through.
  • Try not to take it too seriously. Going viral is FUN but it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and the rush. Unless you’re making a living off of your blog, it’s still a hobby and should never be a larger source of stress than enjoyment.
  • People will disagree with you. Decide your tactic for engaging them (if you decide to) and stick to it. I’m a big fan of agreeing to disagree, or disagreeing respectfully. If people get out of hand (excessive swearing, threats, etc.) I delete the comment and consider banning them from commenting.
  • You’re going to learn. You’ll learn about your patience, your time management, your attention span, and just how serious you are about blogging. Have an open mind.
  • No matter how strongly someone disagrees with you, death threats are never okay. I was able to report commenters for abuse (due to threatening language) but different blogging platforms offer different paths to handle these situations. I think every blogger should know what to do if someone threatens them on their blog, even if you never intend to go viral.
  • The content of the viral post may be challenged, and you may actually learn something because of it. No one likes being disagreed with, but sometimes you have to admit the person has a point. For me, the gentleman who suggested that I was actually hurting my cause by being satirical actually caused me to sit back and think about the ramifications. I don’t regret my original post or the approach I took, but I learned.
  • If you want to maintain momentum, be consistent. Post good quality content on a regular schedule, otherwise your spike will die just as fast as it rose. That’s one area where I went wrong, although the break was nice.

There’s plenty more I could write, but if I told you everything, it would take all the fun out of the adventure! I wish every blogger could experience the rush of going viral.

If you have any questions about the experience, feel free to ask them in the comments section. And if you have any advice for bloggers about going viral, please share it in the comments as well!

Thanks so much for reading, and for giving me this great experience!

*The Eatocracy article I wrote that in response to actually features multiple viewpoints about 4-H, one of which is highly negative. I don’t remember ALL of the context from the time of original writing, and I believe the Eatocracy article changed over time as well.

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