The great viral mystery of the 2-month-old blog post

Back in February 2015 I decided to blog about a topic very close to my heart – environmental conservation. My childhood in Hawaii has instilled in me a deep passion and advocacy for nature, and in particular, the health of the oceans. In my blog, I outlined the positive and negative effects of social media on endangered animal species.

Up until April 25, (two months after publishing) the post hovered around 20 total views, which honestly, was about the amount of views I expected for a blog post that was not promoted, nor shared on social, and definitely not a common topic. After I wrote it, I really kind of forgot about it and we just moved on in the class.

But then completely out of the blue this happened.

And that was just the beginning.

In just 6 short days, the blog surpassed 17.5K views, and had over 4K shares on Facebook.

You can imagine my surprise. And excitement! (I must have checked the ISYS stats page hourly)

While the huge growth in viewership was rewarding, the true confirmation that this was real, came when I stumbled upon my own article (posted by a stranger) on my Facebook timeline!

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Somehow it made its way onto the very FB page I mentioned in the article. Even better, it simulated some serious debate between the page members (89 comments) and has lead to some very interesting conversations.

For the most part, the article was pretty well received and it ultimately accomplished its goal – to spread awareness of environmental protection and conservation.

Here are a couple of my favorite comments:

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** I would post some of the negative ones but they involve obscenities.

It was almost surreal to follow an online debate essentially about myself and my beliefs. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t really know what to make of it.

This brings me to my first question:

Why did a post over two months old suddenly get so much attention?

Based off of the stats from the ISYS website, it was clear that an overwhelming majority of the traffic was generated from Facebook (4K+ shares). But this fact alone doesn’t answer the questions: why this article and why now?

While I’m dying to know who “patient X” is and how this all started, I realize I will probably never know. I can only make assumptions as to why it became the mini sensation that it did. So here are my top three possible explanations – it’s probably a combination of the following.

  1. Relevant timing: There has been a recent increase in press regarding global climate change. For instance, one-week prior to the post’s spike in views, the terrible news was released that there is just one male white rhino left on earth! I mentioned the critical situation rhinos face in the blog, so it’s possible it got some readers as a result of that.
  1. Controversial and attention grabbing: My prediction is that the provocative image and topic contributed to a majority of the Facebook shares. The blog unintentionally highlighted buzzwords like “extinction” and also featured a disturbing photo of overfishing. Any true conservationist would have found some curiosity in that photo/topic combo.
  1. Niche markets: In his book, the Purple Cow, Seth Godin emphasizes the power of niche markets in propelling ideas and products. The fact that the article arrived on a page directly related to the topic confirms that the niche market found and passed on the blog to their friends.

This online incident was actually quite instructive for me since, I had always seen and even contributed to posts that had gone viral but I had never actually been the one to initiate them.

In the grand scheme of the Internet, this was simply a drop in the bucket in comparison to viral sensations like the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, the #BostonStrong campaign or even the BC’s own “Happy” video. Nevertheless this experience completely solidified my belief in social media’s ability to disperse ideas and foster conversation.

After some reflection, here are a few of my main takeaways:

  • Write about what you are passionate about! With the connectivity of the world, there are undoubtedly people out there just as zealous as you are. Find them, speak to them and connect with them. Target your niche!
  • Some people will always disagree with you. This became especially apparent when multiple commenters found the need to voice their own opinions (some quite aggressively). This is a good thing. It encourages debate, sparks controversy, and provides various perspectives. I’ll even admit these commenters brought up some very valid points, but we’ve agreed to disagree.
  • Viral is nearly impossible to predict. At least until mankind can crack the outrageously complex “equation of virality” (explained excellently in this blog by fellow IS6621er @tcbcmba2015). Until that day, we’ll just have to settle with the fact we can’t truly and accurately predict what goes viral and what doesn’t.

While the blog’s traction has slowed down to a grinding halt, it was certainly fun to follow the stats and conversations the readers were generating. Just to know all these people were engaging and talking about my article was a humbling experience and a great way to close the year.

Just as I discussed in my “viral” blog, social media inherently has both positive and negative dimensions. Virality is unquestionably a positive. Its capacity to quickly spread beliefs toward social change will forever influence the way we consume information and interact with others. As more and more people log onto the digital world, it is my hope that this feature continues to grow and improve our online experience.

8 comments

  1. Alyssa Frey · ·

    I am still amazed that this blog post hit viral status two months after being posted. This definitely shows what we talked about earlier in the semester — you cannot create viral content solely for the purpose of it going viral. Virality requires GOOD content, and that post was fabulously written! I remember reading it back when it was first posted. All in all, I think you’ve gained some huge takeaways for what’s next in your life and how social can improve your online experience. Congrats, Jack! Best of luck!

  2. Congrats on the success of that blog post! It makes me happy that the post was on such an important topic. I love your point about writing about what you are passionate about. First, it usually makes for a better blog because you actually like the topic. Second, it can connect you with that niche market that you mentioned. It reminds me a little bit of my communication and promotion class. My professor would stress the importance of finding the write “gap” in the market to target. Companies that meet the needs of the consumers in the gap succeed; bloggers who find their niche are likely to have a lot of shares and views. Well done!

  3. Really glad you did a follow up on this @jackuesugi! I was also hoping to know what exactly made the blog take off all of a sudden, and I think you mentioned several good points. I think the fact our class blogs are publicly viewable is great, and hopefully more future blogs will catch the right readers at just the right time. I read the blog before it went viral as well and agree with @raineykelly16 that I’m happy this one in particular got so much attention (I also grew up around a lot of animals and am passionate about conservation of endangered species & the environment as a whole). I really think another key to your blog’s success is the fact it is not only your opinion, but your first hand experience in Hawaii. Hawaii is such a unique and diverse place, and I am sure many readers (including myself) have never had the opportunity experience its wildlife. I am also interested to look into what some of the negative, but valid, comments were that you mentioned. I like the fact you acknowledged that there is no way everyone will agree with your perspective, and I think that is a really important takeaway for any person or firm getting involved with social media – you can’t satisfy everyone, but engaging in constructive conversation with everyone can certainly be mutually beneficial. All in all, great post. Exciting to see the previous class blog view record shattered – not sure this one will be surpassed any time soon!

  4. Really awesome post. I did not read your original so I had to go back and do that, and it is a great piece. It is crazy how viral it went so suddenly. Especially two months after the original posting date. I think that the biggest take away that I have from this post is that although the topic is controversial you stuck to your side and beliefs. This is especially important for social media, be yourself. This is similar to the celebrity social media strategies of Taylor Swift and Beyonce seen in class. I am stoked that this went viral and very cool post!

  5. The fact that your blog went viral is awesome. I wrote earlier in the year about the black and blue dress and what makes something go viral. There is clearly no exact science to creating viral content. I think the fact that the blog was about such a niche topic that people have strong feelings about helped make the blog post so popular. Also, if one person who is very influential shares something like your article, I feel like it can become popular quickly. It’s pretty cool that something you wrote for this class has been shared so much. Congratulations on the accomplishment.

  6. I really appreciate the risk you took using social media to take a stance; the combination of your genuine passion and firsthand experience clearly resonated well with readers! As you said, the provocative photos successfully captured readers attention and triggered high emotions. The disturbing photos instilled fear into readers, influencing them to share the content as people cannot resist taking action when evoked by such high arousal emotions. Congratulations on your accomplishment – what a special reflection.

  7. Great recap of what happened! I definitely felt like I was apart of it since I was with you when you would keep getting updates on the view count or share number haha. The 3 possibilities for how it was found are all insightful possibilities. It had to have been someone googling different questions raised related to the white rhino, but like you said, we’ll never know. Your takeaways are spot on. Being from Hawaii you are apart of a very unique and passionate culture and community. You have so many unique interests and hobbies that differ greatly from those of people on the “mainland”. You took that disparity and utilized it to share write a about a topic that was close to your heart but would also be really intriguing to the IS6621 class. It only makes sense that because you wrote your blog on something that was powerful to you and so important to the community you’re from that if they were to get their hands on it it would spread. It’s absolutely a hot button topic as well with big game hunters or other similar minded people who really didn’t take well to your blog (I don’t think many of them necessarily understood that the purpose of the blog was related to social media…) which I thought was great to see. It was a topic where there is a group of people who feel very very strongly about it, and the conversations it sparked were constructive and useful. Such a fun way to end the semester.

  8. I think trying to understand the viral nature of things is so fascinating. Its crazy how hard it is to pinpoint just what caused your post to take off. It reminds me of the wedding video case we did and how easy it was to realize that there was something “off” about how it achieved its viral status. I think that understanding what makes things go viral will be one of the last things that people studying social media will understand. There are just so many different things at play.

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