Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Story of a Self-Replicating Post

We need to do away with the term "go viral" and replace it with something else. I want to encourage people, not give them a cold.

If you're into social media, you've probably read a bunch of blogs about how to write something that "goes viral" and you may have actually tried it. Did it work? Chances are, it didn't. I've often thought if I could just craft the perfect Tweet, I'd get hundreds of RTs and everyone would think I was... significant? I think that's what I was going for, but that's a different post for another time.

I realized this week, there is a lot more that goes into it than just the content. Take Sunday's post on Klout, for example. I thought it was a good post but I didn't get any retweets about it when I published it. Afterwards, I tried an experiment to inject myself into some relevant conversations by searching for Klout on Google+ and contributing some comments. Two of the posts I found were on a site called In order to comment, I had to make an account. Later I noticed you could add your blog RSS feed so I did that, updated my profile and went to bed.

Monday morning I started seeing some tweets about my post... but they weren't going to my blog, they were pointing to my article on Social Media Today! I was so stoked! I had been published. Monday and Tuesday of this week were so much fun. As of this writing, there are over 1,360 views and 360+ tweets on the article in less than three days! That may not be "self-replicating" to you, but for me that's the closest thing I've ever done.

How did it happen?

We've already established it wasn't just the content. Few people know about my blog, so positioning is important. Social Media Today (I've discovered) has a pretty loyal following of people that trust their content and want to share it. Granted, the content was relevant and did tie into some important emotions around trust, self-worth and a sense of identity... but remember, the content itself didn't cause it to spread. It was more than that. It was also timing and luck.

There's a lot of buzz about Klout right now. Did I try to "jump on that bandwagon" like many of the "go viral" posts suggest? Honestly, I didn't. I had once tweeted a picture of my Klout score dropping and when I noticed it jump up again I snapped another shot and thought, huh, that would be interesting to blog about.

That was it: positioning, timing and dumb luck.

Are there professionals who can bust out incredible content everyone needs to share every time? Maybe. Seth and Simon come to mind, but they have an established brand to lean on. There may be some tricks to it, but I honestly don't think anyone has it fully figured out. Who can say for sure what's going to get shared?

So moving along with our story, I asked a friend if I should reply to everyone who shared my post and thank them (which I try to always do for this blog). She told me how when her guest post went huge, she did thank as many people as possible. I work for myself and I can make the time, so I thought... what the heck. How long could it take?

Today I spent hours individually thanking over 200 people on Twitter.

Was it a good use of my time? Maybe not. I've got a company to help run, a team to lead and customers to serve. But I also thought, how many other opportunities will I have to reach out to hundreds of people on Twitter and thank them? I used a search tool, organized all the names in a spreadsheet (because I'm a nerd), and started thanking them one at a time.

It was time consuming but I think it was valuable because I learned more about Twitter. I've been learning a lot about Twitter lately because I want to better understand social media and how more people can be served by my business through it.

You may find some of my observations today amusing:
  • Some people tweet way too much without saying anything.
  • Resharing Mashable is not a social activity.
  • Your Twitter feed should be more than an RSS feed. Tell me what you think.
  • If you call yourself a social media coach and you're not "social" online, you're doing it wrong, and you're leading people nowhere.

Beyond what I learned, I also grew and stretched. I had some great conversations via Twitter extending the ideas already discussed. I also got some new followers. Most importantly, people encouraged me to keep writing. I got a sense that my ideas mattered to real people and they thanked me for writing them.

At the end of the day, that's what causes something to get shared. Someone has to care about it.

Some comments I'd love to see below:

What's a better term than "go viral"?
Have you ever had a post self-replicate? What was it like for you (and can you share the post with us)?
Do you feel some people are missing the "social" part of social media and just using it as an RSS feed?


Jon Wolski said...

I prefer Jon Acuff's "Go Vital"

Luke Stokes said...

I like it!

The trick is getting the vital messages out there without having the position or platform first. As Jon says, focusing on the message first may take longer to build a following, but in the long run it's more effective. I like that strategy.

On the flip side, there are still a lot of vital messages on obscure blogs no one knows about. What do we call it when one of those gets recognized for what it is and massively shared? Maybe "confirmed vital"?

Thanks for posting, Wolski. It was great seeing you at breakfast the other day.

Laura Click said...

Great post, Luke! Thanks for sharing your experience.

I think there's one more important thing that you missed about why you got some attention - you were willing to put yourself out there.

So many bloggers take the "build it and they will come" approach. Unfortunately, that's not how it works. You have to promote your posts. You have to get out there and let people know that you exist.

Yes, that means tweeting your post out (and more than one time). It means shooting an email or direct message to an influencer or someone that you think might benefit from it. And, it means doing what you did in getting your blog syndicated on another site. All of these things help create a snowball effect that will help you grow your attention.

Sure there's some positioning and luck thrown in, but I would argue that your hustle and desire to connect and get the message out to the right people is what really did the trick.

I'm excited for you, friend!

Luke Stokes said...

Thanks Laura!

You have a point there... the luck part comes into play in that we don't know which "thing" will be the one that works. We always have to be hustling.

When I first started blogging again, I subscribed to all kinds of different sites, many of which wanted me to add a stupid banner or some such crap linking back to them in order to get listed. Nothing I did worked, but I was constantly doing stuff, constantly learning (thanks to people like you).

There's this fine line between putting yourself out there and trying to push your stuff to people who aren't interested. It's such a fine line that I think we have to constantly re-evaluate where it is so that we're helping enough people while not alienating those who would otherwise listen to what we have to say.

Thanks for commenting, Laura. You always have some great encouragement that gets me thinking.