Going Viral

This blog has been a little neglected recently. It’s been around, in different forms, for a number of years, but it probably really hit its stride from the end of 2007 for about a year. This coincided with leaving GCap (now Global) and having more time to write. Not working for a big radio group also allowed me to talk a bit more openly about radio, and generally be a bit more interesting.

This last year at Folder Media and through our acquisition of Fun Kids i’ve been much busier. I’ve also been more involved with radio industry things that if you’re in, you can’t really talk about. For example, it’s hard to do a post about the industry’s co-ordinated response to Digital Britain when you’re part of it.

The blog’s also become a bit tumbleweed-y because of Twitter. Twitter offers a quick way to get an opinion out, try and be funny or release some information. Pre-twitter they’d be things that you might talk about in a blog post, but now when tweeted, there seems less impetus to write them up.

I’m therefore trying to do a few more regular posts.

My last one – Commercial Radio Bleating – has been my best performing posts in ages. It wasn’t at all designed to be, but looking back, it did, inadvertently do a number of things that makes something ‘go viral’. Therefore I thought it might be interesting to talk a little about how that happened and come up with some tips that might get your content (whether it’s personal, your radio station’s or something else) more views.

1. It was written with passion. Nicky’s tweet really did annoy me. It covered a topic that meant something to me, and something I felt that I could write about.

2. (I hope) it was informative. It added something to the conversation – there are new ‘facts’, it tries to be fair-minded, but there’s a strong argument in there too. Also, whilst a fair argument it leaves open many things that you could disagree with.

3. It speaks directly to the audience. My blog audience is very very specific. Generally it’s people who work in, want to work in, or follow radio. To many of them it strikes at the core of their radio world – being ‘BBC’ or being ‘commercial’. It’s very easy for most of the readers to have an opinion about it.

4. It was posted on a Tuesday evening at 8.34pm. Again, nothing intentional, but I think this meant it entered an interesting cycle. When I publish a new post three things happen.

Firstly, it publishes it to mattdeegan.com on the front page. This means anyone coming to the site will see it. However – this is far less important than it used to be. Generally, not many people bookmark a load of homepages that they cycle through them when they have five minutes. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s not as if there are people madly refreshing to see if i’ve written something new. Indeed, because i’ve been posting much less recently, my just-stopping-by traffic has dropped quite a lot.

The second thing that happens is that it updates my RSS feed. This means that people who subscribe to the site using an RSS Reader will see the post the next time that they log in. Around 300 people subscribe to my RSS feed and I imagine that over half them will probably see it within 24 hours. This, in itself gives the post a decent amount of momentum. Also, people who use RSS Readers tend to be a little more in the opinion-former category, so they’re probably more ‘important’ in spreading an idea than regular website visitors (no, offence if you’re doing just that, but you’re clearly a muggle of the internet). That is a joke.

Thirdly – when I post, my twitter feed gets automagically updated, so a tweet appears saying “New Blog Post: Commercial Radio Bleating (http://dee.gs/pcd)”. There’s a plugin that does this and you can choose how to lay it out. I think it’s important for this to be really simple alerting someone that there’s a blog post, including the title, and then having a short link to it. It needs to stand out in someone’s news feed and encourage them to click it. I think the title really helps here. Normally, titles on the internet should be very simple and descriptive, because generally we should all be writing for Google. In other words writing in such a way that someone searching for something is more likely to click through. With ‘Commercial Radio Bleating’ – it doesn’t really do that – however, for twitter followers it becomes, just like an old school headline – something intriguing. Is it saying something good about commercial radio? Is it something bad? Either way it’s more likely to encourage people to click through and read. Twitter was in fact the biggest referrer to the post. Which leads me on to…

5. Spreadability. Twitter does an awesome job of quickly getting a message around. As mentioned before, before Twitter i’d have to have waited 24 hours for the feed reader types to get to it to start to build any buzz. With it dropping at 8.30 it meant that many people are at home, have more time, and are probably catching up with their twitter messages. They’ve got the time to see it, and to read the post. They’ve also got the time to retweet it to others. In the next 12 hours, 12 people retweeted it, many adding an endorsement about it too. This spreads it much further than my own twitter network (554) – if I add up the total number of followers that these people had, it was 5,677. Now some of these are likely to be duplicates, or bots, but with relatively few people passing it on, a lot of others can become aware of the post quite quickly.

The third biggest referer to the site was Facebook – a few people linked to the post – and there was quite a bit of discussion around some of the links – this will be flagged up in other people’s newsfeeds and once again spreads the message.

6. Other blog posts. I was also lucky that a few people included links to the post in other articles, James C also very generously wrote a whole post about it and as he’s a radio blog A-Lister, he became the second biggest referer. There you go James – you’re bigger than Facebook, but not yet bigger than Twitter.

When people include a link to you it doesn’t have to be an endorsement – but it does give you social (media) capital as it says to that person’s readers that you’re worth reading too. Out of all the links the one that surprised me the most was Phil Riley mentioning it on his Orion Staff Intranet Blog.

7. Back to timing. A big chunk of this referral activity happened at night and then in the morning, which meant the number of readers was increasing through the morning. Also – another thing happens in the morning – my email subscribers get an email of the post. There’s a little box on the right hand side that allows you to subscribe to the post via email – it’s all handled automatically, but the timing is set so that it arrives in people’s inboxes early.

8. Verbal buzz. Once the idea has spread to enough people, and quickly enough, it becomes something that people can talk about. Now, this might be in the comments in the blog, or it might be person to person. I went to the Radio Academy event on Wednesday evening – about 24hours after posting – and I was quite embarrassed how many people had read it, or said “I heard you wrote something interesting”. Wednesday was then capped off when Nicky Campbell, the tweeter which kicked it all off, re-tweeted the link and responded to the point raised.

Overall it was an interesting 24 hours – and that was all it really took for all of this to happen. What was hugely important was having a number of distribution channels that would get the post out quickly. Though when I say ‘distribution’, i’m really talking about ‘people’. They’re the ones that can give it more momentum and then get it to more people. Having networks that support what you do – and giving visitors multiple opportunities to consume your content on their own terms is important. So for me, people can get to what I write through the web, email, RSS and twitter.

But most importantly it needs to be content that makes people want to consume and spread. I wrote what I thought was a much more interesting post about getting rid of BBC1 – no one was particularly interested and it got no traction. There’s probably a number of reasons for that, but maybe it’s just that radio people don’t really care that much about TV…

One thought on “Going Viral”

  1. …and tv people care even less what radio people think. Their loss of course.

    “Bleating” is a great post for the reasons you’ve identified but also because you bravely challenged someone who has made himself comfortable on the moral high ground.

    Several years of Watchdog righteousness rubs off on your brand equity. You took a pop at that, and that’s healthy for your blog and probably for Nicky too.

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