I had an interesting WordPress experience this past weekend. It made me appreciate how this going viral thing works.
Back in May 2015, my friend’s dog Cookie died and I wrote a blog post about it (When Good Dogs Die). The pain of her loss was too fresh for my friend to want to read this post, and as time passed, it slipped both of our minds.
This past Saturday, I was at Cookie’s mom’s place with The Fluffy Dog for our almost-weekly playdate. We were talking about old dogs, and suddenly she exclaimed “Oh, I didn’t read what you wrote about Cookie yet!” And she felt she was ready. So when I got home later that day, I facebook messaged her the link to that post. She read it and shared it on facebook.
Now, Cookie’s mom is heavily involved with dog rescue and dog sport (agility and flyball, mostly). She has just under 200 facebook friends, and it seems that most of them are also committed Dog People. By the time I went to bed on Saturday, there were over a dozen comments and more likes on the post. Not too much. A nice number of people saying nice things about my tribute to Cookie, and remembering Cookie themselves.
What was fascinating, though, was what was happening on WordPress. My stats were jumping! I don’t make any effort to get new followers, working on the assumption that if people stumble across my blog and like it enough to follow it, they can probably make that decision without any pressure or PR from me. I’ve got just over 130 followers now (way more followers than facebook friends, hah!), and I am comfortable with this slow growth. Until this weekend, my record “views” for a single day was 54. Again, while I find the stats interesting (because stats! numbers! bar graphs!), I don’t spend time planning my posts in order to gain eyeballs. I’m writing what I want to write about, and if people like and comment on my posts, that’s a fun bonus—but it’s not the main goal. (Kind of like how I dress: I do it to please myself, but I won’t turn down a compliment.)
Anyway, back to the story. By the time I went to bed on Saturday, I had received almost double my previous daily view record: there were 93 separate views, the vast majority of which had been referred from facebook and directed to the post about Cookie.
There were almost no new comments. There were no new followers. If I didn’t have access to my stats, I would have had no idea this was even happening. I wasn’t tagged in my friend’s facebook share (she knows I’m trying to keep my blog persona separate from my facebook persona). If I hadn’t seen her “share” flow through my facebook newsfeed, I would have missed it on facebook as well.
By the end of Sunday, my friend’s post had been shared a few times. It was hard to say how many: through my desktop interface, it said twice, while through my mobile interface, it said six times, but neither of those counted at least one share by a mutual friend that I caught in the newsfeed, so what else got missed? Meanwhile my new record (from Saturday) of 93 daily views was more than doubled by the end of Sunday: 192 views on Sunday, overwhelmingly from facebook and straight to the post about Cookie.
I found myself getting caught up in it in a weird way. By the end of Sunday, there were nearly 20 comments and nearly 30 “likes” on my friend’s facebook page where she had shared my post. I had one new follower (after they commented on my blog and I followed them first), and a couple of new comments on my actual original blog post about Cookie. Nothing on the public face of my my site showed the (for me) massive jump in traffic. I started obsessively checking my phone to see how many more visits I’d had. I started getting worried that too many of the people who know my friend would be able to work out who I am (although I am sloppy enough in my blog posts to know that my current “anonymity” will be short-lived, so whatever), which made me start rethinking past blog posts and how much I have exposed myself to the world. I started getting a bit panicky about the idea of this post going viral and having so many eyes on my blog. At the same time, I was delighted to read the comments on facebook about people being moved to tears by my post; who can resist knowing you’ve written something moving?
So there were two processes going on for me: an emotional one, in which my fear of being seen battles with my desire to speak (more about that here). And a learning one, in which I was trying to figure out the correlations between facebook and wordpress and google+ and twitter, the connections among the various shares across various platforms, how to track where the post was being seen, how to reconcile the different stats across different apps (the differences on facebook between desktop and mobile interfaces, for example), and a growing understanding that “sharing” should not be taken lightly.
By taking sharing seriously, I mean this: let’s pretend that Cookie’s mom had not just shy of 200 facebook friends, but the 5000 maximum allowable friends. And say the same proportion of those friends visited my blog and shared my post further. And let’s say as well that I had monetized my blog with ads and such, so I got paid per eyeball. That would be a nice little deposit into my PayPal account, right? Or say that instead of Cookie’s mom, a staffer at some business with a popular facebook page had shared my post. I don’t think there are limits on how many people can follow a facebook page, so let’s say half a million people saw that share, and a huge proportion visited my blog, and I got paid per visit by advertisers.
That is a lot of money, all at once, from a random share! Now I know this is theoretical, but think about it. I mean, really think about it. Not in terms of making money online, because there’s a short path to heartbreak for ya. (May as well just go blow your paycheque on lottery tickets; sure, you might get lucky.) But in terms of what your share means. When you share someone’s post or link, what are you saying? Are you approving it, or are you sharing it for the “ick factor” or as part of an “I don’t believe this crap” post? Because basically what I learned this weekend is that a single facebook post can balloon out and lead to a lot of “hits” for the original site. And if that site is monetized, you could be directly contributing to more income / stats for something you actually oppose.
Not that this happened to me. My “balloon” popped quickly. By Monday morning, there were hardly any new views. My friend’s shared post on facebook, and the few places where it got shared further, have all moved downscreen, replaced by new shares and posts and status updates. My blog post is old news. The world has moved on. And I’m totally okay with that: this was my brush with going viral, and I got off lightly.
And here’s what I liked the most about this experience: hearing vicariously on Cookie’s mom’s facebook page about how many people liked and even loved that old dog, and seeing how many of her friends took the time to read about Cookie, and to share their love and support with our mutual friend. Just when I get all jaded and irritated by humanity in general, along comes a whole pile of people willing to take time out of their day to read about and remember a good old dog.
I guess I’m just sappy. But that’s what those numbers ended up meaning to me: people care. People love. Dogs are love. We remember. We hold each other when we cry.
Also, posts about dogs are popular. 🙂