A Few Things I Learned about Social Media from my First Viral Blog

After months of blogging for a handful of people a day I posted a blog this Monday that had more than 150,000 hits in 36 hours.  Former President George H. W. Bush commented via his Chief of Staff.  Texas A&M University administrators sent me emails, I reconnected with long-lost old friends and at last count 377 people had left online comments.  I’ve been asked permission to include the blog text in an upcoming book, it’s been featured on numerous websites and (I’m told) published in newspapers. My company Facebook “likes” doubled.

All of this basically overnightA former President of the United States was reading my blog.  A week ago not even my mother read my blog.  Before Monday, when I sat down to write a post I assumed I was talking to the same few readers as always — most all of them friends who read it out of a sense of obligation.

Not anymore.  The last two days have taught me an awful lot about the good folks from Texas A&M University, but I’ve also learned some important things about how social media works.

But first let’s set the stage. 

I wrote this blog quickly on a Sunday evening, the day after my son and I had returned home from our first Aggie football experience.  The blog shared my perspective on the great culture at A&M, and I hope it tied the experience to a good lesson about how to nurture business culture.

The blog posted, and before I knew it I couldn’t keep up with the comments or the incoming emails (apologies to all of you nice folks who commented and to whom I’ve not personally responded).   I had new friends all over the world, invitations to social and networking events and dozens of truly personal and heartfelt messages from people I had never met.   Some of them asked me outright about my business and what they could do to learn more about it or even help me grow it.  I was being invited to lunches and introduced to new networking contacts around the state.  And of course, you’re asking the logical question.

How in the heck did that happen? 

I’ve thought a lot about that.  I’m a social media rookie.  I don’t have a huge bag of on-line tricks to drive online traffic (though I’m grateful for the patient teaching from my friends Jeanie Hornung and Jamie Harrington).  It just happened.  There are many thingss to take away, but here are three important things I learned from that social media two-day whirlwind.

  • You’re not talking to the internet, you’re talking to real people.  Maybe lots of them.

It’s easy to stare into a computer monitor and feel like posting a blog or a Tweet is making just a tiny peep in the endless cacophony of cyberspace.  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes it isn’t.  There might be 15 people listening to what you say, or there might be 10,000 times that many people.  If you’re going to say something, it had better be something that you’re not embarrassed to have your name on.  When something goes viral, the genie is out of the bottle.  Careful what you say.

  • Affinity matters

This blog didn’t get lots of hits because it was a great piece of literature, it got hits because the topic was something that a lot of people care about.  As the link got forwarded and re-forwarded (and re-forwarded again) it had nothing to do with a giant discount or a brilliant business insight.  It got sent around the world because I was simply talking about something that lots of people care about.  If you’re using digital marketing to drive business results, never forget that people will respond to what THEY care about, not necessarily what YOU care about.

  • The hub has many spokes

Sure, a few people subscribe to my blog, but most people don’t.  So how did it get found by so many?  The blog posted to Facebook, along with a tweet of the headline.  That headline got re-tweeted with links and the Facebook page started getting liked by people I didn’t know.  Every time that happened the article flew into an entirely new personal network.  I used to think that blog traffic was a simple function of patience and perseverance.  Now I know better.  Social media platforms work together, and they all have their own unique power.  Use one and you’ll talk to some people.  Use them all and your network expands in ways you simply wouldn’t have thought possible.

So there you have it, the story of my 15 minutes of cyber-fame.  Now back to writing something for my 20 subscribers.

Business is tough.  Hang in.  If we can help you, just let us know.

Jeff Whittle is Managing Director of Whittle & Partners Consulting, and the President of The Alternative Board – Metro Dallas.  We kick around business issues regularly on this blog, and on his Twitter account.  You can follow him @jeffwhittletx, and be sure to check out our Facebook page.

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