Lessons from going viral (part 1)

social media visibility blocks Feb 16, 2018

Toward the end of last year, at the request of one of my students, I shared a piece of content from my program 'A Visible Woman'.

I paid $10 or $20 to boost the post for a week to be sure that it would be seen by a good number of my Facebook followers. A couple of thousand people saw it and responded well and I assumed that would be that.

But then, about a month later, Facebook started notifying me that people were commenting on the post, sharing it, and tagging their family and friends. When this had gone on for about 24 hours with no sign of abatement, and I started to get the feeling that something was up. I remember saying to my husband Andrew, 'You know, this could go viral!'.

He laughed and said 'We'll see. Maybe...'

'Baby viral?' I asked, smiling.

The next day when I checked the post, one of my favourite Australian feminist writers, Clementine Ford had commented on it. I was very excited about that and honestly I would have been completely satisfied if that's all that had happened. But then a few hours later she shared it on her Facebook page which was when things really got moving. By the end of the day, even Andrew couldn't deny that my baby viral had turned into a full out viral post.

It kept receiving comments (some of the wonderful, some of them awful - I'll talk more about that next time) and eventually over 20,000 people engaged with the post. Over 7,500 people shared it, 10,000 responded by liking or loving it, and it received over 2,700 comments. At a time when people are complaining about not getting any organic reach on Facebook, the post was shown organically to over 1.1 million people.

More than once I've wondered why that piece? Andrew (a man who's honest to a fault) was the first to say 'You know babe, it's not even your best piece of writing.'

Which, I have to agree, is true. I mean I like it a lot. But I don't think it's my best work.

So why that piece?

For a while I wondered whether it was a sign that I should be talking more about motherhood and the trials and tribulations of it all. I think society needs to have a major re-think about how it defines motherhood and I could see myself playing a part in that. But I didn't want to spend all my days talking exclusively about being a mum so I decided that if there was a lesson to be learned, that wasn't it.

Unsure what to think of it all - other than it was an extremely helpful turn of events right at the time I was drafting a book proposal - I let the experience go.

Then recently I heard someone talking about the value of authenticity and I realised that was the lesson.

I now believe (something that may be blatantly obvious to you) that the post went viral because it was one of the most personal and vulnerable pieces I've ever written.

I was willing to see and reveal a part of myself that women aren't supposed to talk about. I was telling an ugly, unvarnished truth and in doing that, I connected with thousands of other women who felt the same way but hadn't been able to speak up about it.

I realised that in speaking truthfully about the experience of many, I'd given other women a vehicle to express themselves.

I can't tell you the number of women who tagged their partners in that post with comments like 'Please read this' or 'This is what I've been trying to say' or 'Please understand me'. (That last comment brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it.)

Speaking up and hiding nothing - especially the ugly stuff - has the effect of unburdening others of their shame and their secrets. It breaks through isolation and reminds people they're not alone.

About 14 years ago I got divorced from my first husband. Break ups - especially divorces - are pretty visible things. They're hard to hide. Eventually you have to acknowledge that your marriage has broken down and invariably people ask you the dreaded question, 'What happened?' So you're forced to talk about the thing that's breaking your heart over and over and over again.

One of the things that still strikes me to this day was the effect which that very visible and vulnerable time in my life had on other people. Two different friends broke up with their partners soon afterwards saying, 'I was inspired by you. I thought about what you said about not settling for unhappiness and I decided I didn't want that either.'

That's the thing about all those hard, challenging and vulnerable times in our lives; when we allow other people to share in them, it connects us. It gives them permission to be more honest with themselves and to make healthy changes in their own lives.

When you show others your vulnerability, your flaws, and/or your ugliness, it helps. It heals.

So ultimately that's what I've taken away from my viral post experience.

In a world where nearly everyone is faking it on some level about something, authenticity is rare. It's a gift you can give the world.


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