Behind the Crap: what it feels like to go viral
In the content marketing game, everyone talks about something ‘going viral’.
Most agencies, like Velocity, will tend to downplay the idea: “Just make the best content you can make and if it happens, it happens.”
Well it happened. To us.
Our recent Slideshare piece, “Crap: Why the biggest threat to content marketing is content marketing“, has just been through a hell of a hockey stick, reaching over 168,000 views to date. In B2B land, that’s pretty viral.
This post is my attempt to share what it feels like when this happens. I hope it doesn’t come off as one big brag: I honestly feel we were just lucky with this one, so telling this story is in no way an attempt to prove how clever we are. If you’ve met us, you know how futile that attempt would be.
The joy of vanity
I’d like to say I’m immune to so-called vanity metrics like views and favorites and shares — but I’d be lying. I LOVE vanity metrics (as long as they’re trending up). We work hard on our content and we want nothing more than to feel that it does all those new things content is meant to do, like ‘resonate’ with people and ‘engage’ them. A hell of a lot of the content we make doesn’t manage to get this kind of response, so when it does work, it feels really, really good.
Of course, we know that vanity metrics don’t always correlate to business metrics much less the über-metric of B2B: revenue. If you do an infographic on the Olympics or the Election or the Superbowl, you might get a massive spike around those times. But, let’s face it, the vast majority of these people probably don’t care about you. They care about the Olympics or the Election or the Superbowl. Your vanity metrics won’t drive the real ones.
If you do content marketing right, vanity metrics should correlate with the hard metrics that the Revenue Sluts live and die for. After all, your content is about issues that your prospects care about. Who the hell would want to read a Slideshare about content marketing unless they were into marketing? So snipe away, you cynical bastards, I still count views, shares and favorites (not to mention engagement metrics like comments). And higher numbers are better than lower numbers.
When one of our pieces gets a lot of views, it also drives web traffic, form fills, downloads of other content and inbound interest from the kind of people we really want to work with: confident, ambitious marketers. In other words, it makes money.
So I’ll only sniff at virality when it happens to other people. When it happens to us, I’m going to enjoy the ride.
Here’s what happened with Crap:
We publish it on a Thursday and embed it in a blog post. Then give Hwasoo and Jim big, sloppy kisess for their stellar design work.
We do the usual pimping: Tweets, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest…
We also let our friends know about the piece – a core group of B2B influencers who we really rate.
First day: 700 views.
Fantastic. Maybe this one will match the Three Poisonous Metaphors piece that hit 6,000 views in about a week (which we were thrilled about).
Already, we start to notice the tweets. Nice tweets. Friendly tweets. Enthusiastic tweets.
Day two: 1,400 views.
The ripples start.
Ripples are all those cool, unexpected things that happen when content goes out and makes its way in the world. Like when people you respect pop up and respond. Or when you get an invitation to speak or guest blog or contribute to something interesting. We love ripples.
On day two, Ann Handley from Marketing Profs gets in touch to suggest a guest blog expanding on the Six Principles of Content Marketing that are only touched on in the Slideshare. Nice ripple!
Weekend time. We hit the pub and forget about content marketing.
Monday morning: Holy Shit.
Martha comes in and says, “Did you see the numbers on Crap? 22,000!”
Surely not. I think you mean 2,300, Martha.
Nope she’s right. Twenty-three-bloody-thousand views. What happened?
This is what happened: Slideshare put the piece on its home page: Top Presentations of the Day. I don’t know how they choose these — clearly not by raw numbers — but boy, does it make a difference. Crap is also featured on the Spanish, German and French versions of Slideshare, amplifying the visibility even more. When all this happened: this happened:
The fabled hockey stick of Old Norse legend.
Houston, we’ve achieved lift off
Even cooler, just one hour after noticing that we’ve hit 23,000 views, we reach 25,000. Then 27,000. This thing is flying off the shelf as we watch.
As we go about our day jobs, someone or other shouts out “30,000!” then “35!!” followed by giggles and head shakes.
And the thing is getting more and more comments, shares, favorites, embeds… people like it.
Jessie kicks off an office pool: whoever guesses closest to the total views on Friday mid-day, gets tea served to them all day by the loser. (That’s a big deal over here. Don’t ask.)
Meanwhile Google Analytics and Marketo send more good news: a record day for web traffic and content downloads.
Over on Slideshare, the Three Metaphors piece — which had been settling down to a trickle – is spiking. (One of the best ripples from new content is that it sells old content).
Tuesday: 48, 50, 55k.
Hundreds of tweets.
Crap is getting on the radar screens of some great folks we really admire. Some are already friends — like John Watton of Silverpop, Jon Miller of Marketo, Kieran Flanagan from Hubspot, Michael Brenner of SAP, Joe Pulizzi from the CMI. the Savvy Sisters, Billy Mitchell, Jeff Ogden, Robert Rose, Paul Dunay, Chris Lake…
Others are people we can only admire from afar: Rand Fishkin (or a Fishkin minion) shares us on Inbound.org and we pop up on the SEOmoz Top Ten email (love that email). Thanks Rand! (I call him Rand now. It’s just how we roll. Me and Rand: we’re informal that way.)
Kieran and Corey Eridon invite us to do a guest post on Hubspot.
The ripples are growing whitecaps.
More and more people follow us on Twitter. More web traffic. More downloads, newsletter sign-ups, brownie points (you mean you don’t measure brownie points?)…
By bedtime, we’ve hit 72,000 and everybody in the office pool is left behind. Stan guessed highest — 35k — so gets Luke to be his tea-bitch. (I said don’t ask).
Wednesday: wake up to 80k
I’ve become that sad bastard who wakes up and checks his socials. Embarrassing or what.
Ashley Friedlein from Econsultancy — the most authoritative guy in the world’s most authoritative digital marketing community – weighs in with a cool comment. Lee Odden (author, legend) asks us to contribute to a project. Two prospective clients get in touch out of the blue. One says, “I’ve never read a piece of content and called the agency behind it before but I’ve just put our agency selection on pause until we’ve spoken…”. Group blush.
Our web forms break. All of them. During our busiest traffic spike ever.
We take the forms away from everything except the newsletter sign-up, which we use a WordPress plug-in for, temporarily.
Then the whole site goes down. No information, warning, recommendation or suggestion from our lame web host. Sheesh.
Back in business. Crap views approaching 90k.
The party ends.
Four days in, Slideshare takes us off the home page. Views drop off a cliff, Here’s the Slideshare analytics chart for all of our presentations (not just Crap):
At this point, Crap has about 86k views. We all assume we’ve hit a wall and will be lucky to reach 90k under our own steam.
But then something cool happens.
The Hubspot guest post is published — and views start to rise again:
This is a classic example of spinning off content to get more from the initial investment (we call it ‘atomising’ in the Content Strategy Checklist). (And we call that last sentence ‘cross-promotion’). (That one, too).
The Hubspot post quickly becomes the top embedded source of views — annoyingly dwarfing Velocity’s own blog post. It drives over ten thousand views in a few days. The power of the Hubspot content brand.
A few days later, as the Hubspot post effect settles down, the Marketing Profs post is published and we get another spike in views.
More are coming from embeds we didn’t even know about (ritholtz?):
Today, the Daily Views history looks like this, with the guest post after-shocks clearly showing (that little wiggle in the second bump is the SEOmoz email, I think):
What the Daily Views chart doesn’t show is the accumulation of views. That would be a rising line that flattens slowly rather than drops off a cliff and bounces like a dead cat.
Whew! What a ride.
That’s the story behind the roller-coaster called Viral — so far (we haven’t even sent an email out about it yet).
Today, long after the Crap virus has settled down, we’re still getting hundreds of views a day and the total views number at this moment is 168,309. Oops. Just checked again. Make that 168,338.
[UPDATE: As of 22 November 2013, Crap views are at 352,176. Yikes.]
The good things that came from it include:
- Awareness – putting our little agency on more maps
- Positioning of Velocity as a thought leader in content marketing
- Downloads – of everything from the B2B Marketing Manifesto to the Content Marketing Workbook (will I ever STOP pimping?)
- Newsletter sign-ups – so we can keep in touch with folks (I mean nurture them senseless)
- Guest post opportunities – on some great blogs
- Speaking invitations
- Fun for the whole family – getting it right is motivating
- A case study of our work to show clients
- Spin-off content like this post
- More social followers
- A boost to the Velocity content brand
Even without seeing the numbers behind each of these, this indicates one hell of a return on investment. This content marketing stuff really works.
I want to write about WHY we think this of all pieces went viral in another post soon.
But for now, I just wanted to share the ride.
I don’t really have any lessons.
We got lucky.
We enjoyed it.
Now we’re back down to Earth, looking up at the sky, waiting for the God of Virality to visit us again — and trying some more fun experiments — like Ryan’s recent Content Strategy Hangout in Google+ (which was a hit) or Martha’s blog in German (which is completely and utterly unreadable) or Neil’s Definitive Web Form Experiment (Neils’ not even a closet geek. He’s out.) or the next piece we’ve got in the works (watch this space).
My only worry? That we may feel disappointed if our next piece ‘only’ gets a few thousand views — something we’d have been deliriously happy with in the world before Crap.
I hope not.