I’ve always dreamed that one day a piece of content that I produced might go viral. I would be doubly excited if I knew that it could be a piece that I really cared about and which I thought might represent me and my work in the way I wanted. After all it is possible to go viral for bad/embarrassing reasons!
Anyway, last month it happened to me when I shared this piece on LinkedIn:
I’ve wanted to write this post about what happened for a while but I decided to wait until the dust settled and I could properly digest some of the things that the whole thing taught me.
I want this post to help you think about what will help your own content go viral and make sure that you are ready for it if it does.
So, I’m going to cover 5 areas:
1- What happened to me
2- Why the post went viral
3- What I did next
4- What has happened since
5- What are some of the key lessons I learned?
First though, what does it mean to go viral?
Here’s a quote from it:
‘On the internet, a piece of content can spread just like a virus if people become “infected” when they see it. The infection usually comes from evoked emotions that spur the viewer to share it, so they can relate with other people and discuss how they feel.
Think about it. When you share something online, you do it because it moved you in some way, emotionally.
Whether it made you sad, happy, angry, surprised, disgusted or anything else — you share it because you want other people to share those feelings with you’
Generally people would define a piece of viral content as:
- one that gets shared a lot
- that gets shared in a small window of time
- that takes on a ‘life of its own’
Of course what you mean by ‘a lot’ depends on who you are. Generally something that goes viral will get a lot more shares and interaction that your content normally gets. Of course though, a piece of content that is viral for me would be a poorly-performing piece for someone like Richard Branson!
So, how did it happen for me?
1- What happened to me
The article I wrote which managed to go viral had been some time in the planning. I had been nearing 100 articles on LinkedIn for some time and I knew I was going to write a comprehensive article sharing some of the lessons with my audience. I also had some initial plans for promoting it. I always take time to promote my content but I especially wanted people to see this as I thought I had some valuable insights that I wanted to share.
I posted the article and began to promote it. The response was positive, slow but steady.
At one point I refreshed the page to see the updated stats. To my great surprise the number of ‘likes’ jumped up a lot. This really stood out to me as even popular articles on LinkedIn sometimes don’t get a great number of likes. My initial reaction was that maybe there was some sort of glitch or mistake as I had never seen this happen before- and I had seen the results for 100 previous posts!
I then realized that the reason for the interest was that Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn had given my article a ‘like’ on his page. As he has a lot of followers, the attention rapidly started to build.
How it felt
My initial reaction was excitement for two reasons. First, I was happy that new people would be exposed to my post.
Second, I was just very happy that Jeff Weiner had noticed a piece of my work. I’m a big fan of LinkedIn and feel I owe the platform a great deal.
My excitement built when I assessed the stats from the end of day 1:
Around 400 ‘likes’
More than 2,000 views,
I knew that something out of the ordinary was happening.
2- Why the post went viral
The first reason is that I executed my initial plan to promote it.
I had some targets- I wanted 150 views for day 1 by time I went to bed and 3 comments, for example.
A good amount of views for me for a LinkedIn article is around 500 after I’ve been promoting it for a while- so I thought that 150 for the first day would be good. Although I was confident that the subject matter would be of interest, as it was neither sexy nor controversial I didn’t want to set my sights too high.
As part of my plan I wanted to share the post with a few people. This included a couple of people I know who work for LinkedIn. They were very encouraging in the early days of me using the platform.
After sharing it with them, I thought that there wouldn’t be any harm in sharing it with Jeff Weiner.
There were three reasons I decided to:
a) I just wanted to say thanks
b) I thought that my post would be of interest because it was basically singing the praises of his company
c) I thought he would particularly like my post as it was encouraging people to use LinkedIn as a platform for content generation. As not enough people use the publishing function and only a small percentage who have, have written as many posts as me, I am sure this is an area where LinkedIn would like to get more traction.
The second reason the post went viral is what I did once Jeff Weiner had shared my article.
- Quickly realized something was going on
- Changed my work plans for the day, so that I would have more time to take advantage
- Formulated a new plan- for example made new plans to share it and tried to react to article comments quickly
3- What I did next
Next, I looked at new ways that I could share the article.
One of the critical things that I realized, which I had never even looked into before is that sometimes the Editors on LinkedIn tag your article in various categories.
If that do that, it potentially gets seen by a bigger audience. I managed to get it featured under ‘LinkedIn Tips’ – the channel is here.
You can also see the tag ‘Featured in: LinkedIn Tips’ under the title of my article. They put the tag on, you can’t do it yourself.
In addition, LinkedIn shared my post here, which I was thrilled about:
Plus, look at this tweet that an official LinkedIn account put out about my article.
Aside from this I did a number of things to make sure that my message spread:
Sharing it on other platforms:
This answer on Quora that has had nearly 15,000 views
This post on Medium.
I included a link to it in this article on beBee
Sending onboarding messages to new LinkedIn contacts- As I attracted new LinkedIn connections over this period I sent them messages to help plug them into my work and to see how I might be able to help them.
Reminding people to share their own articles under mine- I encouraged others to share links to their articles under mine. In this way I hoped to get their articles extra attention and also to increase the level of engagement with my post.
Shared it with influencers and people who I thought had something to add- I reached out both to my existing connections and to people who seemed to be authorities on LinkedIn to ask them for comment. In this way readers of my article got some fascinating extra insights in the comments and I had the chance to interact with some fascinating new people.
Here is the first part of an answer from someone I know who is an expert on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn & Social Selling Trainer 🔷 Speaker 🔷 Coach 🔷Helping You Attract More Of The Right…
Of course I also shared it with my own Tribe, The Influencer Tribe. Their support and feedback makes such a difference to me. You need to find your own tribe.
I used a feedback loop of social proof- What I mean by this is that I made sure that people were aware that my article was going viral- by giving stats, sharing comments etc. People like to get involved with things that are getting attention from others so doing this meant that more and more people interacted.
I made sure that I responded to comments on the article as quickly as possible- Whether people had a question, a kind comment- or if they wanted to share their own articles with me- I tried to be responsive and show that I valued them taking the time to engage with me.
I shared my feelings and my happiness with others- For me, one of the most enjoyable and crucial things was that I was open about the emotions I was experiencing. I didn’t try to pretend that this happened to me all the time or play it cool like I wasn’t very excited it was happening. I mean, I’m a LinkedIn geek so even the fact that it was happening to me on that particular platform was very exciting to me. People like to see your authentic reaction to something- I hope that whenever I shared my article or responded to a comment my genuine delight shone through.
4- What has happened since
The reaction to the article has just been brilliant.
I have interacted with some amazing new people online and have so appreciated all the positive comments I have received. Here is a selection of the ones posted under the article:
Social Activist, dreamer and realist.
Life Coach & Speaker ♞ Inspiring people to be bold, do what really turns them on and master the art…
Marketing & communications professional with proven ability to transform business objectives into…
By the end of Week 1 the article had reached these incredible stats:
Views of the article- 15,375 views
Likes of the article- 2,378 likes
Shares of the article- more than 250
Comments on the article- more than 100
Plus lots of new followers, a massive amount of views of my LinkedIn profile, maybe around 50 new LinkedIn connection requests during the week, plus my email list on this website grew by around 15%!
5- What are some of the key lessons I learned?
- Persistence is key– there will be so many times that you share articles and don’t get the engagement and views that you want. Bear in mind that I had shared 100 articles on LinkedIn before one went viral- while I was happy with the attention many of my articles got, not every one lived up to my expectations. You just have to suck it up, try again and try to improve.
- Luck is also key– With getting your message to go viral, there is always a certain amount of luck involved. Have humility- be proud of doing a good job but grateful that other people are giving you their precious attention.
- Helping others is key- Even the CEO of LinkedIn has certain ambitious and likes to be shown things that praise them/affirm that their work is important. Plus the article itself sought to help other people and give them some new insights that would help them to grow their influence on LinkedIn.
- It isn’t always the content you care most about that others will love- though happily, it was in this case. Sometimes you will write an article that you are so proud of and it won’t get attention, but another article that you are ambivalent about will get a huge reaction. Just- in the words of my favourite poem ‘treat Triumph and Disaster both the same’. Keep on going, keep on learning.
- Share things you are truly passionate about– you are much more likely to get attention for your work if you share things that you really care about. In this case I really care about LinkedIn and I think that as a publishing platform it is a major opportunity that a lot of people are missing.
- You need to build and hold momentum– When you promote your content you need to find a way to build interest in it, but also to hold it. As excited as I was about the initial attention my article got, I immediately tried to think of other ways I could promote it and get an even bigger effect.
- Share your authentic experience with others– When you experience something new, like having a piece of your content go viral, share the experience with others. Share some lessons too if you can.
- You don’t know when it will happen but you need to be ready when it does– Like many things in life, success with promoting a piece of content will sometimes happen when you least expect it. Whenever it happens you need to take advantage and quickly think about what you can do to use the extra, temporary amount of attention that you have.
- Have something on your site that will help capture interest– This incident showed me, yet again, why it is so important that I have an email sign-up form on my website and a piece of content (in my case, a free book) to give away. If I didn’t have that, I would have had the attention for an instant and then it would have gone, never to return. This way I have captured a proportion of the new audience for my work and I can communicate with them well into the future.
- Adjust your plans as needed– As well as having a bit of a plan to promote content, you need to be responsive. Try not to just do things in a fixed way, react to how situations are developing to get maximum results.
- Think about ways you can use the attention you have, once you have grabbed it- There was much more I could have done to optimize the attention if I had been more prepared, like having a free LinkedIn course on my website for all the new people who saw me as an authority on the subject. I did write a follow up article on LinkedIn on a similar theme to take advantage of the extra attention.
- Spread the love- When you have attention, think about how you can use it to help other people. In the original article I tagged three people whose work I admire in the hope that they would get a small piece of extra attention. If you get attention for a piece of your work and then someone asks you a question- feel free to signpost them to other people if you aren’t the best person to answer it. In the same way, hopefully other people will do this for you when you are the best person.
- Make sure you use any opportunity to demonstrate your expertise: lots of people asked me questions or asked me to comment on their articles (see below). It gave me a great opportunity both to help people and to show publicly that I have some expertise in this area.
There is no formula that guarantees that your work will go viral. However, hopefully I have given you a few pointers to make it more likely.
Here is an interesting article from John Nemo about going viral on LinkedIn.
Here are some other, useful articles about viral content:
by Neil Patel
by Jessica Holmes
by Eric Sachs
I hope that this article will help you and good luck with getting your own content to go viral. I don’t know whether it will ever happen to me again but I now know how to do quite a few things that will maximize my chances and help me to take advantage if it does happen!
You can’t guarantee your work will go viral- but it is worth trying- I certainly found it so exciting.
Also, if you have any insights about content going viral- or a piece of content of yours that went viral, I would appreciate you sharing it in the comments!