Going Viral in Perspective (A 2011 Reflection)

This year, I had a blog post (quite unexpectedly) go viral. For a couple of days, it was a crazy ride, as people around the world reacted to LinkedIn’s quietly implemented policy of attaching names and pictures to third party advertising on the platform. The original post was no work of art – it was quickly written without any intention of being a big deal – but because of the sensitivity of the privacy issues involved, it became a big deal nonetheless.

And, in fact, two days later, LinkedIn announced a change in policy, due to the volume of the outcry. That was also unexpected – and quite gratifying, to be perfectly honest.

But what can we learn from a viral incident like this? Here are a few perspectives:

1. Viral happens. Slamming out this blog post early one morning was not some carefully-crafted effort at setting off a firestorm. It just happened to touch a nerve. This was personal – it was about US and OUR privacy. And the whole incident had storyline-drama built in – perceived betrayal, David vs. Goliath, LinkedIn stepping in the same pile Facebook did, etc. Even if the blog post itself was fast-food, the table was set.

2. Viral happens more readily in a pre-existing network. Five years of building a high-quality network meant that I had an engaged audience who spread this thing at light speed. And the global aspect of the reach was breathtaking.

3. Viral posts take on their own momentum. You can do some things to fan the flames (and, yes, I did) when you recognize that you have a tiger by the tail, but most of the spread of the LinkedIn fiasco happened organically.

4. Viral doesn’t necessarily mean business. What impact did all this kerfuffle have on my core revenue-generating business? Probably about zero. For some folks whose business model depends on eyeballs and clicks, the story may be different – but 15 minutes of fame on the Internet may have little to do with the success that pays the bills.

And that’s the main perspective I want to reinforce. The blogger’s dream is to put out posts that garner tons of views and comments. But one happy customer is worth far more than hundreds of comments and thousands of RTs. A close-knit, supportive inner circle of like-minded souls will be far more important in the long run than the passing applause of the crowd.

Be the best person you can be. Do the best work you can. Viral happens. And even if it doesn’t – just keeping adding value to your existing network. We can all do that.

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

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