Going Viral: What to Do When You’re Internet Famous

By Nick Alter
October 19, 2016
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Internet fame comes swiftly and unexpectedly. It starts with a single social media post, and eventually takes the internet by storm. Going viral. What is it that causes one out of thousands of Tweets, posts, or videos a day to become so popular? Digital content goes “viral” for a variety of reasons, and this sudden boost of internet celebrity is always handled differently. However rare internet celebrity status may be, it’s important for businesses or individuals to know what to do with their sudden fame. In today’s blog, I take a look at why content goes viral, how internet fame helps (and hurts), and what you can do should you find yourself suddenly internet famous.

Why is it going viral?

The town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s live feed of an intersection near the town square became an overnight success, often with over 2,000 unique viewers at once. A strong social media presence and promotion on YouTube made the stream’s overnight success possible. Other popular internet memes, such as “LOLcats,” follow a simple formula: the content elicits an emotional response, is easy to understand, and can be easily duplicated. Sharing and promoting your content on sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and others makes it easy to view and share. If your content makes people laugh or smile, you’re more likely to see it spread, and telling a joke that is easy to repeat ensures others are “in” on the joke.

The Good, The Bad

Going viral for the “right” or “wrong” reasons makes all the difference in the trajectory of your internet presence. Grumpy Cat and Doug the Pug, two adorable pets with millions of followers, became popular for arguably the “right” reasons: being cute animals with a humorous social media presence. Conversely, when a mattress store in San Antonio released an insensitive “Twin Towers Sale” ad, the negative online backlash led to the store’s eventual shutdown. Turning internet fame into a success story requires care and cultivation, and monitoring social media outlets to prevent bad PR is essential for making a name for yourself for the wrong reason.

Grow, or Let Go

There are a few ways to grow from or sidestep internet fame or infamy. Interaction with new fans and followers goes a long way; you probably won’t have to do push-ups in the street, but positively acknowledging the sudden hype lets new followers know you’re “in” on the joke. If you find yourself in hot water online, try if possible to avoid stirring up more trouble; if necessary, issue a single note of acknowledgement and apology, then let the issue fade naturally. Keep in mind, internet fame fades as quickly as it comes, so ride the wave of success while it lasts but understand that your fifteen minutes can, and will, eventually end.

“So… how do I become famous online?”

There’s no ultimate formula for online success, and the reasons for why things become popular online vary too much to predict whether your content will go viral before you post. However, making emotionally-charged content easy to understand and duplicate is a tried-and-true formula for many of the most popular memes. The various success stories make internet fame alluring, while the tales of tragedy from online infamy may scare individuals or businesses into staying safe with digital content. Ultimately, staying true to your brand’s message online takes top priority, and if your next post on Twitter or YouTube becomes popular, enjoy it while you can.

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