Last year, one of my tweets went viral. Read on if you’d like to know how this felt (and, if you’re trying to go viral, how you can do the same).
I write twitter threads all the time as part of our organic social media strategy to gradually grow Propane’s following. One that I wrote wasn’t particularly relevant to our Propane followers, but might be interesting if you’d like to read a few reflections on what it was like to be a Junior Doctor over the last three years or so. I thought I was just writing obvious stuff, but in hindsight I’d clearly hit a live wire. So, here’s what happened.
What to do when your inbox blows up
My tweet got 4 million impressions, 27, 000 likes and 7,000 retweets.
Suddenly, my inbox blew up and my whatsapp chat was going crazy. Loads of people suddenly wanted a piece of my time, and I was receiving media inquiries, podcast invites and even marriage proposals.
It’s a strange feeling to finish a tweet, close your laptop and then come back to that. And once that tweet goes out, you can’t go back and edit it.
Normally, our social media following is small enough to just about reply to those who comment on our posts or message us, but I was getting hundreds of comments per hour.
At Propane, social media is a strategic thing for us, so it’s not something that Johnny or I draw personal validation from. On social media, you project this certain image of yourself, and when you go viral you know that even thought nothing about you has changed, you’ll get attention from so many people who won’t have noticed you before. And lots of them will have misconceptions about you.
Even though you can’t take this sort of thing personally, we were trying our best to keep up with the messages and respond to people as best as we could. Of course, this wasn’t possible and we’d sometimes get follow-up messages from people who’d call us rude for not replying within a couple of hours.
Coping with the attention
In reality, what should have done – and what I would have advised a business client to do – is to mute notifications for that post and move on. But this was my experience of this sort of attention, so I felt like I had to engage with everything I read.
Fortunately, the response was overwhelmingly positive and supportive, and it was something that I wrote within my control, but I can’t imagine how awful it must be for people who go viral for something that’s outside of their control. A friend of mine was on a train when they had a trouser accident, and had to wear his girlfriend’s jeans. Someone snapped a photo of him coming out of the toilet saying, “Look at these hipsters, can’t believe what the world’s coming to.” He got rinsed online for that, and didn’t have the chance to go back and explain. So, the internet can be pretty unforgiving.
When you’re growing a social media following or a brand, remember that there will always be a high ratio of positive to negative comments – unless you’re doing something really wrong – but we’re wired to magnify the the weight of the negative comments. This brings me onto the trolls.
Dealing with the trolls
The thing about trolls is that they are never talking about you; they are arguing with the inside of their own minds and their own projections, and you’re just a symbol of that. Trolls will mostly tell you that you’re supposed to look a certain way or live your life a certain way, and try to police your life choices. We see this a lot with the body shaming that women are exposed to online.
What they’re actually saying isn’t particularly accurate, they’re just battling with something that doesn’t line up with their own world view and they have to reconcile this somehow.
When I posted about my pay as a doctor, I had people replying to say that I was lying. When I posted a screenshot of my pay slip, I still had some responses from people who didn’t believe me. The fact is that in the face of evidence, some people will still dig their heels in.
If you’re building an online presence, you will experience trolling in some form.
To help you handle this, you need to realise that the person doing the trolling won’t be the happiest, or most well-adjusted, person to be sucker-punching random people online.
Ask yourself what someone’s behaviour is actually saying about them. What they’re saying to people online probably reflects their internal state more than what’s going on in the world.
Imagine a day that would end in you going online and saying something really venomous to somebody you don’t know. This isn’t the sign of a person who’s experiencing success or happiness.
So, if you’ve read all of this and you’re still keen to go viral, and want to increase the likelihood of this happening, the first thing I’d ask is: “Why?”.
Most people want to grow on social media because they have something of value that they want to offer the world. If you take the maxim of leaving the world in a better place than how you found it, you’re always going to do well.
The other thing I’d ask is whether you really want to go viral, or if you want to grow systematically with a relevant audience – because these are two very different things.
Make sure you’re not typecast for the wrong thing.
With that caveat in mind, how do you do it?
In his book, Viralnomics, Jonathan Goodman covers a framework for why people share things on social media. People might share things because they’re funny or nice to watch, or they might be sharing something because they want to be seen as part of a group. They might also be sharing because it allows them to self-represent, and paint themselves in a particular light.
What we can learn from the trolls is that people don’t go on social media to seek truth. They use it to confirm their existing views.
When my post went viral, people obviously shared it because it spoke to them. People saw the information from the post as a mouthpiece for them. Lots of doctors and healthcare staff, as well as people who were pro-NHS, shared it because it represented their views. Some people shared it to demonstrate their support for the NHS, while for those who don’t like the Conservative party it might have been an opportunity for them to publicly throw rocks at their enemy.
The key principles of clickbait
There are a few reasons that companies like Buzzfeed have done so well. Firstly, they open loops.
Netflix is great at this, because people will binge a series because something is left unresolved in the previous episode that encourages you to keep watching.
Clickbait works in the same way, because they create intrigue by grabbing your attention.
You’ll often see companies using negatives to encourage you to find out more. We’ve all seen those articles with headings that start with, “You’ll never believe what happened when…” or, “Stop doing these five things if you want…” This makes people want to read on to find out more, or to see whether they’re making the same mistakes themselves.
Delivering on clickbait
You might see clickbait as a bit morally questionable, which it is if you don’t deliver on it. But what if you do? There are times when clickbait is a force that can be used for good.
Mr Beast is the biggest YouTuber in the world, and delivering on clickbait is the whole basis of his channel. He’ll use clickbait-style titles like “I buried myself alive for 50 hours” that make people feel like they need to see the video, but makes sure that he actually delivers something that people will want to watch. This explains the growth of his channel.
A word of warning about the media
If you do find that your post goes viral, you might find that you get attention from the media, but I would advise you to consider whether to go down this route. I did get approached by the press for one article, but this ended up being heavily edited, and woefully inaccurate in parts.
The issue with the media is that you can’t expect them be accurate, because it’s volume that is their main focus. As proof of this, if you look at a topic you have expert knowledge on, such as nutritional training, you’ll probably notice quite a few inaccuracies, which makes you question the accuracy of topics you have less understanding of.
If you’re looking to leverage the media to help you go viral, you’re probably better off just paying for a sponsored post. Just bear in mind that with fewer people having faith in the press nowadays, it doesn’t give you the same level of clout that it used to. You might be better off making appearances in podcasts for audiences that are relevant to what you can offer.
Converting leads into consistent paying customers
So, how does all of this fit together?
There’s no point in having a viral post or a successful organic social media strategy, without a way to convert those leads into consistent paying customers. There are some exceptions, like if you’re an absolute wizard at marketing and you have a physical product that you’re able to make go viral on its own legs. A great example of this is the ‘Will it blend?’ commercials. These went viral due to delivering on clickbait by testing out objects like Ipads and golf balls in a blender. When the videos went viral, they were also a great advert for the fact that the product really works.
But unless you’re selling blenders, you’re better off with a systematic strategy that mixes organic and paid advertising into a process that gets you consistent profits over time. That’s the number that we’re optimising for, rather than the number of likes. Remember that followers don’t pay the bills.
If you want to see how all this fits together, and how you can build your business without having to go viral, you can watch our video guide. This covers the full model of how we built our online coaching business at Propane, and how you can replicate this in your own business. You can also find out more in the video below, or set up a time to have an informal chat with us about your own business.