Perspectives on Going Viral

Four bloggers share their thoughts on publishing a post that’s read by millions of people around the world.

You wake up one morning, check your phone, and spit out your coffee. You have thousands of likes on Facebook, hundreds of retweets, and an inbox that has exploded. Your little blog — which normally gets a dozen views per day and has an audience of exactly two, your spouse and mother — has been shared all over the internet, and that post you wrote last night, in your pajamas, has gone viral.

Going viral is different for everyone, but it can be a strange blend of exciting and terrifying — and very emotional, as writer Sam Dylan Finch described in his recent interview. Here, four bloggers on WordPress.com share their experiences.

Gretchen Kelly, Drifting Through My Open Mind

Gretchen KellyLast November, Gretchen Kelly published “The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About,” in which she described all the tactics women employ to move safely through a world of sexism and harassment. Nearly two thousand comments and more than two million views later, the post continues to generate a lot of activity.

Can you pinpoint the spark that set it all off?

Twitter is where my post first started to get some traction. I knew something was going on when I started seeing retweets and comments from non-bloggers. Soon, my Twitter notifications were going crazy. People started asking to publish it in different languages, and the Huffington Post and Upworthy contacted me. It was circulating on Facebook, too, but I wasn’t as aware of that. I think it was shared initially because it resonated with so many women. Then, it was shared by people who were angered by it. There’s definitely a sweet and salty feel to going viral.

What is one thing you learned from the experience?

I don’t know if anything can prepare you for the turbulence of going viral. I learned that I’m not as thick-skinned as I’d like to think. I received so many positive, touching messages from both men and women. But the negative, hateful comments? Those were tough to take. At times I let them get to me and affect my mood. Eventually, I had to turn off notifications on my phone and take a break from it all.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I don’t think I would do anything differently. I almost scrapped the post right before publishing it. I was filled with doubt, worried that no one would get what I was trying to say. But I published it and hoped for the best. I try not to question or overanalyze anything when it comes to my writing or blogging. It’s a struggle because I think generally, writers are an over thinking, self-doubting bunch. But I also know that overthinking can be the death of creativity. I try hard to just go with it and let things happen. So, no. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Has blogging been a challenge since this viral post?

My desire to blog hasn’t waned. What was a challenge was deciding what to write next. I am not a niche blogger, and I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I sometimes write about feminism, but I also write about grief, about my life, about love. Would I lose new followers or let them down? Would people pick it apart like some did with the viral post? Eventually, I just wrote what was on my mind at the time. I’m still working on that not-overthinking thing!

Matthew Fray, Must Be This Tall to Ride

Matthew FrayLast month, Matthew published “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink.” Before he knew it, the post had gone viral — no promotion needed on his part. Since then, he’s been experiencing the aftermath of the experience, which he reflected on in “Of Course It Was About More Than Dirty Dishes.”

Can you pinpoint the spark that set it all off?

Kind of. I work in digital marketing, so checking web traffic and content performance is part of what I do. I published the post on January 14th. It was viewed 263 times that day.

This is how the post performed afterward:

Matthew-Fray-Stats-Chart

Matthew’s post views from January 15-28, 2016.

Views are slowly returning to whatever my blog’s new normal will be.

It was nothing more than some readers sharing it on Facebook, then their friends sharing it on Facebook, and then their friends doing the same.

What is one thing you learned from the experience?

I learned that blogging CAN make a tangible difference in people’s lives. A silly post about a dish by the sink — the deeper meaning was sadly lost on many readers — sparked countless conversations about marriage online and among couples. Some people said their relationships will never be the same. In a good way.

One thing I learned about myself is that everyone will not like or agree with me, and I need to be able to live with that. I didn’t like having so many people who didn’t know me make judgments about my marriage and my beliefs based on one post that most didn’t seem to read all the way nor understand. Moving forward, thicker skin will be required.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

There are sentences in the post which made sense to me and regular readers because we have context, but to millions of strangers, some thoughts were understandably misinterpreted. Had I known so many strangers would read it, I’d have exercised more thoughtful and prudent word choices. But, big picture? This got people talking about marriage in meaningful ways. I’m proud of that. In that respect, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Has blogging been a challenge since this viral post?

In my two-and-a-half years of blogging on WordPress.com, people have mostly been exceedingly kind when leaving comments. Opening the floodgates to a larger cross-section of humanity introduced me to criticism and some less-than-pleasant insults in a way I had never experienced.

Sometimes people (or maybe it’s just me) have a unique capacity to ignore the ninety percent saying nice things, and hone in on the ten percent who aren’t. I didn’t always handle that with grace and professionalism. Learning to accept that not everyone will agree with me, like me, or understand me will be my biggest challenge moving forward.

Lisa Durant, Can Anybody Hear Me?

Lisa DurantIn April 2015, Lisa wrote “The ‘After’ Myth,” a post about losing weight, yet failing to discover and truly love herself. A year on, the piece continues to resonate with readers.

Can you pinpoint the spark that set it all off?

Although I can’t be entirely sure, I think a photo made my post go viral. Since my post was about my weight loss journey (or, as I prefer to put it, my life gain journey), it included a before and after photo of my physical transformation. While I understand that a dramatic high-impact photo makes for good clickbait, in this scenario, it’s kind of ironic. That post (and my entire blog, really) are meant to take attention away from the physical and focus more on the mental and emotional challenges of major weight loss.

What is one thing you learned from the experience?

I was surprised at how many people were surprised by my willingness to talk openly about personal topics. I also felt a bit of fear over being so visible. I’ve always been an open book, but I’ve never had so many readers paging through. I learned that people are a lot kinder than I ever knew. I was shocked at how few negative and critical responses I received and overwhelmed by the support I found.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I could have capitalized on it. I could have ridden the wave of being visible and used it to gain even more exposure. I could have grown my blog, sold ads, and tried to turn it into a career as many others have. But I purposely chose not to, and I don’t regret that choice. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed briefly writing for other publications as a result, but I also chose to retreat and let the viral post run its course. I suppose that’s one other thing I learned about myself: I don’t want to be famous; I just want to write.

Has blogging been a challenge since this viral post?

At first, going viral made me second guess everything I sat down to write. I worried that whatever I posted next would never be as good. I also became much more aware of how many people could potentially see the sometimes very personal things that I tend to bring up in my posts. But then, I realized that these fears were exactly the right thing to write about next, and so I did. And, I made a decision and a statement: I couldn’t promise that every post would be viral-worthy or even interesting to anyone else, but I could promise to be honest. I decided that I would continue to do what I’d been doing for years: write for me, not for an audience.

Corinne Rogero, Duly Noted

Corinne Rogero“I Should Be Engaged,” Corinne Rogero’s quiet musings on being more mindful in the moment and creating meaningful connections, made lots of noise in January as well. Ten days after, she beautifully reflected on the experience that turned her world upside down.

Can you pinpoint the spark that set it all off?

I think a lot of millennials are bombarded with the notion that engagement and marriage are the keys to happiness. So the word “engaged” in my post’s title perhaps drew people’s attention, and I’m sure some readers hoped to hear a valid reason for why they deserved to be engaged in the marital sense as well.

What is one thing you learned from the experience?

There is greater power in sharing stories and exchanging words than perhaps we’ll ever fully realize. And I think because our words hold such weight — whether we realize it or not — they deserve to be shared in ways that connect with other souls and land somewhere deeper than mere surface level.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I don’t think many people expect their post to go viral when their cursor hovers over the “Publish” button, and because my experience was just as unexpected, I don’t think it could have taken place any other way. I was writing just to write, and it just so happened to be read around the world.

Has blogging been a challenge since this viral post?

Immediately after my post crossed the 1,000,000 mark, I felt pressure to publish posts of the same caliber — that anything under a million views meant it wasn’t a good post. And the same expectation carried over into other social media platforms where I’d gained hundreds of followers because of my post. Suddenly, each Instagram photo or tweet had to be perfectly clever and professionally delivered. But I’m reminded that whether a post receives one or one million views, those one or one million people are exactly those who need to read it. Playing the comparison game in writing will only stifle your voice and suffocate your story.

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68 Comments

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  1. Nícia

    This is inspiring. I liked the reaction of the weight loss blog, she stayed true to herself and I admire that!

    Liked by 10 people

  2. Jarrod Brown

    Very interesting perspectives. They each touched on feelings I’ve had and I haven’t gone viral. I think the number one thing is to have thick skin. The internet can be a cruel place. However, as long as the topic generated positive conversation, then the cruel will be outweighed.

    Liked by 10 people

  3. intuitiveme92

    Inspiring article ! Thanks for sharing🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Joyce

    Great post on the four ‘viral’ bloggers. I’m sure there are maybe as many out there who viewed the posts that are thinking or wondering just what they could say, or do that might give them an edge on going viral, too. No blogger lives in a dirty fish bowl where it is so muddied that one cannot see what that blogger is getting at with his post, whether they agree, or disagree. But, there will always be different perspectives and interpretations to everything. A blogger should feel they can write and say what they want, whether it goes viral or not. Another blogger or reader can choose to like it or not, comment on it, or not. One should just write for themselves, after all, and let the dice rolled, land wherever.

    Liked by 8 people

  5. empathy75

    This post is precious. I think all authors have similar thought ” would I produce the post which is as popular as the previous one?” and it will really deter them to have the natural flow of thoughts. I like the quote from Gretchen Kelly that ” overthinking is the death of creativity ” and I like what Lisa Durant said ” I don’t’ want to be famous. I just want to write” because these thoughts are exactly what I think. Thank you so much for sharing this. Now I have a few wonderful posts I can read for next few days.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. Kgothatjo Magolego

    I often wonder what I would do if a post of mine went viral. I write because I love film and talking about it but I can’t deny that there’s a narcissistic element in me that wants my blog to be hugely popular. It sounds like going viral is as taxing as it is exciting. Where do you go from there? How do you handle the disappointment of not being able to recreate that ‘magic’ again. It sounds like all these bloggers stayed level-headed and didn’t let going viral ruin their process. I hope I have to deal with this problem one day🙂.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. Teherah

    A great read and very encouraging, thanks

    Liked by 3 people

  8. gdhayes2014

    Gee, and here I got excited when I actually had more than a dozen people read my blog. ah well… to say the least, it’s validating when someone actually stops by to read.

    Liked by 11 people

  9. hasan

    Going viral is bad in all cases. If a thousand agree to your viral post, one will comment and disagree to prove we are the humans.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Chris White

    This going viral thing is just pure luck.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. ashokbhatia

    The common thread appears to be the need to be thick-skinned. This is a property I do not possess. Feels good not to have gone viral!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Mitchell Lorens

    Woe, I never really thought of anything that I would ever post might go viral, nope not ever. But, hey.. Guess it happens and what a surprise! I suppose one should be ready in the back of our minds. Interesting for sure

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Paul Bowler

    Very inspiring post, I like how these experiences were shown from the different perspectives of the individual bloggers, and how each reacted to their posts going viral.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. S U G A R C U B E ®

    The internet can be hungry at times and then suddenly found fasting. Content presented at a moment in the feed cycle can be a great meal if there is a particular craving. But there is no need to prepare a specific meal when the hunger is unknown. No need to be the farmer. Just grow your thoughts and present…, or not. Enjoyable read, both informative and humanizing. Thanks.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. gospelisosceles

    What Matthew Fray said about the criticisms he received from the largely non-blogging “cross-section of humanity” is interesting because it shows that blogging, putting our thoughts and often very personal life reflections and sometimes less-than-graceful frustrations, makes us more compassionate. That larger cross-section often can be more critical and downright mean because they don’t know what it’s like to be so vulnerable to one or tens or thousands or millions of strangers.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. MotherMaryJaneblog

    Putting yourself out there is so hard going viral can be scary sometimes I like that no one reads my posts lol but not having the reads can be scary too

    Liked by 2 people

  17. LifeCoachRN, Naomi D. Jones, RN, MS, CRNI

    Great article! It gave good insight to how growing viral can affect your future writing (fear of not being able to top yourself) and being clear in your communication to your reader even if they are not in your niche.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Jean

    As Chris, said in this thread earlier, going viral is often pure luck. Some of us do have a set of regular readers/visitors. I always welcome them and others who may join in for friendly comment.

    While it’s great to have ie. several thousand different readers of 1 blog post, I’m just as content with fewer readers, who will actually say something useful or an indicator that they read a few sentences on the blog subject.

    Sure, the Internet can be unkind but better on the Internet, than in person.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. thefensk

    Very insightful. I’ve wondered how I might react if I were lucky or unlucky enough to go viral. Kudos to all.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Jenn Schleich

    I think the most interesting part is that they all felt pressure to produce content of a similar “calibre”in the aftermath. This is something I’ve heard of before, especially from Instagrammers who see a huge surge because they were included in one of Instagram’s favourite people feature. The audience you attract from a viral post doesn’t necessarily compute with the overall theme of your blog/etc. or the readers you acquire might be atypical. So problematic in one sense, but IMO its not worth worrying about at all. Easy come easy go right, if the new readers don’t stick around you really aren’t any worse for the wear. This was a great post, thanks for putting it together!

    Liked by 4 people

  21. followingmusesblog

    Very interesting and inspiring post! My favorite Quote from this whole post is from the last question: “But I’m reminded that whether a post receives one or one million views, those one or one million people are exactly those who need to read it. Playing the comparison game in writing will only stifle your voice and suffocate your story.”

    Liked by 4 people

  22. tominalbion

    Enjoyed reading this. My fear about going viral with a post would be that everything after would feel like an anti-climax! Really good insight into four bloggers.🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  23. Caitlin

    I really appreciated reading this post. I had one post go viral and it was both exciting and terrifying. I’m glad to see I wasn’t alone in having conflicted feelings about it.

    Liked by 4 people

  24. vercellonopace

    This is an excellent post. It certainly causes one to pause and think about the reader aspect and how that affects the blogger. I do believe the blogging experience is a daily challenge, whether you have one reader or more. I enjoyed the writers’ responses to receiving over one million views. Thank you for sharing, it was very enlightening.

    Liked by 4 people

  25. Jay E.

    Back in 2013, I had a post go semi-viral mere weeks after I began blogging, and I shut down from fear of posting something that wasn’t the same quality. These four did the right thing and kept going. I wrote stuff but just couldn’t hit publish. Now in theory, my blog has a couple thousand followers; in reality, it’s more like twenty – if that.

    Liked by 4 people

  26. encounters

    Reading the four perspectives on their reactions to their posts got me thinking, while most of us write for the love of writing we can not escape the need of other people approving what we do. The few likes and comments I have had on my posts have been kind yet deep inside me I wish I could get only ten likes on any of my posts I do not know how I would deal with a thousand likes and comments critiquing my work.
    I am grateful to the four fellow bloggers who have helped me to have a different view on likes and comments on my posts.

    Liked by 8 people

  27. jennabrownson

    I’m glad to see that these four have (little to) no regret about their experiences. That’s good to know.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Alex Squire

    Very interesting post! I want one of my posts to go viral sometime, probably just so I can experience my 15 minutes of fame.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. RR

    However it only becomes harder and harder to become “viral”, because more and more people want to become “viral”. But interesting article!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Bell

    This is definitely an interesting article and something to keep in mind when you are writing something you hope to get out to the masses. I k now on my page that I just started I am really writing to get my thoughts about movies out there and hopefully engage in conversation with other people who love movies. It is great to get the opinion and point of view from those who have had success in their craft.

    Liked by 3 people

  31. Aditi Pallod

    Interesting and inspiring article. I loved the read.🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  32. Micki Allen

    Some thought-provoking insights into the viral world.

    Liked by 3 people

  33. Christine

    Very interesting article! Putting yourself out there could be extremely hard.

    Liked by 4 people

  34. Sarah's Attic of Treasures

    Cheri,
    I really enjoyed your post. I also found a blogger who got my attention.
    No, it is never just about the dishes.
    Thank you. Sarah

    Like

  35. ragtimecyclist

    This is a fantastic post.

    No matter how much we bloggers insist that we do it for the love (and many of us do), I bet we all keep a close eye on the stats. Just the thought of what that jump from a couple of hundred views to a couple of hundred thousand might feel like actually makes me smile.

    I guess what I take from this is that, the people telling their ‘viral’ stories here are just like most of the rest of us – bumping along, with a readership, but nothing out of this world. And then they write something that really hits the spot.

    It’s reassuring to know that the cream can rise to the top, and the simple fact that you’ve written something good, or relevant, can catapult you into a whole new world of readership.

    It’s democracy, in a way. Or is it meritocracy…?

    Liked by 6 people

    • maliksaabsays

      Well nobody likes to keep putting time and effort into something thats not going to be useful to anyone. So I think we check the likes n all that jazz just to know if we’re making a difference.

      Like

  36. A Reading Traveller

    Very Interesting, some usual experience that sparked unusual reaction.

    Liked by 4 people

  37. kmalnati

    Great article! Thank you for sharing each blogger’s story🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  38. Aliya Jafery

    It was interesting to hear about the experiences – also that any post can go viral if it touches a chord in people

    Liked by 4 people

  39. tessbloggs

    This is so so so inspiring, thank you so much for posting this! I have just started my blog and I literally have no idea what to expect!🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  40. janerunswild

    Very inspiring post, thank you for sharing! Lots of things to think about!

    Liked by 5 people

  41. jeffreybotah

    It’s always good to see blog posts going viral because there are definitely a lot of bloggers who really deserve to have their writing read (well all bloggers do). It’s even more amazing to see that, they just have a love of writing because that’s what matters most!

    Liked by 4 people

  42. aitengri2014

    Viral spiral, who’s afraid of “what”? Go for it, as I (unfortunately) don’t, but for the reason that I’ve allowed “technology” to inhibit my original posting. I write all the time, for my hard disk .

    Liked by 1 person

  43. thefeminineprincess

    Wow!! I think everyone may dream or or play with the idea of going viral, (the world can see, relate to, & understand my soul!) but once it happens, I think no amount of thought can prepare you for it!

    Liked by 3 people

  44. Dena Gershkovich

    Very interesting read and so true! I went back and forth for awhile before deciding to blog since I used to have a fear of people reading my writing. I’ve always been the shy girl; the one who writes everything down rather than speak her mind. Now I’ve learned to embrace these insecurities and blogging has been the best thing to help me do just that.
    In terms of the ‘is this good enough?’ paranoia, I think it’s something most writers suffer from. The question then becomes if you’re going to let that effect your writing. Just remember that your blog is about what YOU want it to be about. Your writing will always be better if it’s about your passions. If people aren’t interested then they don’t have to read your blog. In a choice of more followers vs. better quality of writing, I would most definitely choose the latter.

    Liked by 1 person

  45. puremindset

    I can’t even imagine that feeling of adrenaline. But you never i know i guess. I just posted my first blog so who knows haha 8P

    Liked by 1 person

  46. Daniela Castro

    I had a similar experience with one of my posts. It was last year and I just went nuts. I couldn’t believe it. I reached about 1,000,000 views in, like, a week. I was new at blogging and I barely understood how it worked. That post helped me get some followers, but I feel like a I was a victim of the ‘one hit wonder’… It was an awesome experience though…

    Liked by 4 people

  47. Rambling Rose

    Light a spark in the right place …the fire will rage. Thats both good and bad. Great if you want to influence thought🙂 Not so great if you have to spend quite some time to respond and clarify the ‘why’s’ of your personal thinking process😦
    Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of going viral !!

    Liked by 2 people

  48. Michael Todd

    This is a fantastic blog. All those interviewed seemed like the nicest people, grounded and settled.
    I am going to save reading the comments until tomorrow. I bet they will be equally enlightening.

    Liked by 2 people

  49. Fiona McQuarrie (@all_about_work)

    Very interesting perspectives. Thanks for interviewing these bloggers!

    Liked by 2 people

  50. Andy

    What a great article, and a great angle too. As someone who has only ever had 10s of views for any post, I must admit to some jealousy at those who ‘break-through’, but then you read their inside story and realise it’s not always what you imagine. As with most things (everything?) in life, true happiness comes from within, not from the outside.

    Liked by 2 people

  51. The Anxious Anthropologist

    Wow, a million hits? I felt exposed at 3,000 hits in one day. I find that some posts really speak to a target audience. And if you’re writing from the heart they’ll find you and hear what you’re saying

    Liked by 2 people

  52. catchyblog

    Very very interesting post! I am new at blogging but really want to experience such fame at least for few minutes.

    Liked by 1 person

  53. marypamela

    The price of fame.🙂 Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  54. nandobase

    Write something controversial.
    Something that you think is right, but you know many people are against it.
    That should do it. 😉

    Like

  55. in30linesorless

    I thoroughly enjoyed this read.
    THANK YOU, FRIENDS.

    Like

  56. lifestylebrilliance

    As a blogger, these words were really helpful! You never know that one day you wake up and you could be viral.
    lifestylebrilliance.wordpress.con

    Like

  57. Kathryn Grace

    Thank you so much for sharing these stories and interviewing these people. One, Matthew Fray’s story, I had actually seen during all the hoopla, and was impressed then by his understanding.

    Each of the bloggers you interviewed touched me. But Corinne Rogero’s statement is most powerful: “There is greater power in sharing stories and exchanging words than perhaps we’ll ever fully realize.”

    Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  58. Indomoto

    “One thing I learned about myself is that everyone will not like or agree with me, and I need to be able to live with that”

    I like this Matthew’s words. Really inspiring me.

    Liked by 1 person

  59. thewhitetriangle

    These stories are really inspiring,
    Only reminds us that things happen bit by bit but if one is consistent enough , he/she will surely get the reward.

    Like

  60. Steph Tang

    Thanks for sharing — really good food for thought, and really reminds that behind every post you see on the internet, there is a person who’s made it a point to share a part of themselves with the world.

    Like

  61. nathanandmay

    Fascinating read! lots of think of for new bloggers like me.

    Like

  62. koubakml

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and readingds, prompts about fellows bloggers writings experiences, when your blog is going viral, it’s like in the last scene of the movie, The Pursuit of Happiness, when ( Will Smith) dances , and pats himself congratulation, in a crowded Street silently, after long awaiting for success, that’s damndood!

    Like

  63. jwgoodman

    The greatest writers in history knew exactly what to write at exactly the right time. It’s a gift and we can only hope to be bearers of the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  64. vaishnavi

    A very good article for amateur bloggers like me!

    Like

  65. Antonio Quicksilver

    Very inspiring post. I blog when I’m inspired so & I wouldn’t call mine a niche blog (Life, Love, Film, Politics) so I don’t get much traffic. But I have always wondered how one reacts when faced with the whole world descending on your blog. Nice to see no one was scared off & that they carried on blogging for themselves & didn’t change to try & please phantom expectations. Keep going from strength to strength everyone & come have a seat at The Table sometime. AQ

    Liked by 1 person

  66. Mishal

    I really enjoyed this post as the four stories are great way to show different perspectives to a new blogger like me.

    Liked by 4 people

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