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.
— Jerry Kane (@profkane) April 29, 2015
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!
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:
** 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.