The Anatomy of a Viral Post

WordPress recently shared a link to five posts that had gone viral. I was happy for these bloggers whose lives had been turned upside down with the push of the submit button. But it felt to me like a reminder of my own shortcomings. I’ve been blogging for 15 years, and guess how many of my posts have gone viral?

zero

Not that I’m jealous or anything.

And by “not jealous,” I mean, totally jealous. I have always aspired to have something of mine go viral. I came close once – there was that flu bug I’m pretty sure I passed on to a few unassuming coworkers – but it’s much easier to make germs go viral, it turns out, because…well…they already are. The only “work” I had to do was breathing in their faces. Easy-peasy.

What we need is a button. Like this. going-viral-online

For years, I hoped that one of my blog posts would catch the attention of the WP gatekeepers who choose the daily “Freshly Pressed” posts. I focused on clever titles and pretty pictures and content that I hoped was engaging, but it never worked. Meanwhile, I’d see other bloggers’ posts go viral all the freakin’ time. In an effort to emulate their success, I’d dissect those posts for clues as to what made them resonate with other people. I was looking for that one common denominator I could apply to my blog posts, but kept coming up short.

Story of my life. 5’8″, people. But I digress.

Those viral posts ran the gamut from serious to silly, from sad to salacious. They were all over the map, and therefore, of no help to me. The answer to my question, what does it take to have a blog post go viral? – aside from a few thousand shares, of course – remained unanswered.

So I turned to my research partner, Dr. Google, for assistance. He was kind enough to share a few tips on creating a viral post. It’s a multi-step process (great…sounds like work) that involves the following.

  1. Lists. “The internet loves lists,” I’m told. Hey, it worked for Letterman. I’m-a gonna give it a go.
  2. Tags. Add relevant tags to your post to group topics together and let potential readers know what you’re writing about. You’ve heard of hashtags, right? They draw people to your Instagram posts and Tweets. Blog tags work the same way, and you don’t have to use the annoying # symbol. Search engines index posts based on tags, so slap a few relevant tags on your post and you’ll go all L.A. freeway as you watch the traffic come rolling in.
  3. Be topical. Write about current events or the latest pop culture phenomenon. Today, that would be the violence at Donald Trump’s political rallies, or the tugboat crash on the Hudson River, or Iron Maiden’s 747 crashing into a tow truck, or Zootopia. Merely mentioning certain names should pay off. Kanye West. Bernie Sanders. Kardashian blah, blah, blah. We’ll see.
  4. Be knowledgable. Know your topic inside and out – you’re the expert, right? Well, shit. If I knew how to make a blog post go viral, I’d have a blog post that went viral and would never be writing a blog post on how to make blog posts go viral. Right?
  5. Be interactive. People love talking about themselves. Get the ball rolling by asking a question at the end of your post. Better yet, share a poll, quiz, or survey! Those always garner attention. How many times have you taken a stupid Facebook quiz to find out “What tattoo are you?” only to be dismayed by the result [“tramp stamp”]? They’re pointless and a huge time suck. But for some reason, we can’t resist ’em!

Or perhaps I just need to do as one guy says and write epic shit.

In any case, it’s time to test my own theory and see if this one takes off. How cool would it be if a blog post about going viral went viral? You’d have to love the irony.

Have you ever contributed to a blog post going viral? Wanna help a brother out?!

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17 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Viral Post

  1. I had a Freshly Pressed post in 2010. It was a true life travel story about “do you know my sisters brothers nephews daughters cousins neighbor?” Turned out I did. It was fun. Other people thought so too to the tune of 1500 readers an hour for 1 day. It didn’t change my life but it was fun. I gained a ton of subscribers and most of them still hang around and comment or message me with their tales of woe or life commentary because they feel like they know me. I sign 1 autograph because it and that was weird and surreal. Your day will come!

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    1. I’ve signed copies of my book before, which is kind of like signing autographs, I suppose. That’s great about your Freshly Pressed experience – I tried to crack that mysterious code for years before finally just giving up and writing. If it’s meant to be, it will be, I suppose.

      Obviously, this post is the exception. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark, I’ve been blogging since 2006, and I too have never had one of my posts go viral. I sometimes think that it’s random and it always seems to happen without a blogger even trying to go viral – it just happens. Almost like whatever the post topic was about, hit a Universal nerve on the Internet. It all comes down to timing, I guess.

    I’ve known several bloggers who’s post (s) were noticed on Freshly Pressed.

    And btw, I LOVE taking surveys/polls, so I took this one!

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    1. I’ve wondered whether humans are ever actually involved in the process of “choosing” viral posts (at least when it comes to Freshly Pressed). Sometimes I scratch my head and think, “Really? That one? What about my post about ghost dinosaurs?!” Obviously you can’t force the issue!

      Thanks for taking the poll, Ron! Hope you’re having a swell week.

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  3. Nice post, I hope it goes viral. You are definitely right about the fact that the easiest way how to get some attention is to blog about the current events in American (mainly) pop culture. Although you can be playful, it also represents a certain limit to your imagination and forces you to behave rather uniformly. On the other hand, it gives you a feeling that you belong to something bigger. You are a part of a community of people who know what it takes to be Kim Kardashian or how good new Star Wars movie is. Are you interested in that? Or is it a mere distraction from your own life?

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    1. I am interested in that, at least to an extent. I think some of my favorite posts here have been the pop culture/current events based ones. I definitely strive for being playful but aim for not falling into the uniformity trap when doing so. It’s walking a fine line, for sure.

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  4. I had one post go viral, which was cool and all, but coming up with something to write for next post suuuuuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkkkeeeed. Also, now all my stats are completely out of whack and no longer useful. The worst part though was a lack of conversion. People visited, read my piece, and then disappeared back the way they came instead of checking out other posts I had written.

    But you were wondering how I did it. I, unfortunately, had nothing to do with it. A couple of friends read it and shared it on Facebook, whose friends then shared it, and shared it, and shared it. So all I can say is make sure you have several forms of sharing enabled at the end of the post on the off chance a piece resonates.

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    1. I’ve heard other bloggers who have had posts that went viral say the same thing: the next post is super stressful for them. I suppose it would be nice to have a day-after-going-viral post already written and ready to go up just in case, but that just seems like it would be tempting fate and stacking the odds against your post ever going viral in the first place. I’d rather wing it, should I ever be so lucky.

      Thanks again for sharing this post on Twitter! You are awesome! :)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I suspect Mark, it is somewhat random. I know several Freshly Pressed bloggers. Most of them deserve it. I know several who have been Freshly Pressed more than once, still deserve it. Then I go over and read Freshly Pressed, I wonder what some of the others are doing there when I know many others who should be there and have never so much as sniffed the Freshly Pressed list.

    Who picks? Who decides?

    Good luck though, if that is your wish then I wish it for you.

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  6. First of all, LOVE the fresh look! I need to do a complete rehab on my blog.

    I blog anonymously and would never want a post to go viral. But I’m happy to help you, Mark!

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  7. I hear ya and I’ve also wanted one of my posts to take off. To gain mass followers in a day. How cool would that be? Hasn’t happened yet. Closest I got was the skyrocket of views my blog received after posting a picture of meeting Keanu Reeves. LOL

    Good luck to you, Sir. In the meantime, enjoy a romantic gondola ride in Venice with your lady. You’ll have better memories.

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    1. The gondola ride would top my list, for sure! Italy has long been my dream vacation. FWIW, I feel you are just as deserving of having a viral post as anybody else. Even when you aren’t hobnobbing with famous actors!

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  8. I once read a post by a fellow who got pressed on word press. It was a horror. Naturally you have to do the obligatory responses to all the commenters. Do you visit their blogs with a like? A comment? A follow ? He was so overwhelmed after several months still going he closed his blog and started a new one. It was humorously written but still a nightmare. Be glad you don’t get viralized.

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