A couple months ago, I wrote an article in a matter of a few hours and hit the "Publish" button and went about my day. My blog was (and still is) relatively new, so I didn't expect much until I got a couple email notifications for comment approval within 10 minutes. What followed was a roller coaster few days and an article that has been viewed more than 180,000 times.
I've written about that experience before, but I wanted to share what I've learned as it pertains to managing and even fostering viral content.
The concept of fostering viral content at first may seem like an oxymoron. What's the point of fostering---or, to promote the growth or development of---something that is already viral? I'm not talking about continuing to post links anywhere that will accept them or blasting it to anyone with an inbox, but rather finding where people are talking about it, and joining the conversation.
In my experience, there were two tools that proved invaluable to this mission. They not only let me know who and where my content was being shared, but also saved my butt from certain disasters a few times throughout the day.
Google Analytics Real-Time Reporting
Going back to when I received those first couple email notifications, the first thing I wanted to do was see what was going on with the site traffic. I popped open real-time reporting in Google Analytics and was shocked to see that over 100 people were on the site at that very moment. I left the real-time reporting open for the rest of the day as it became my content command center. From here, I picture myself as the cigar-wielding manager, looking through the glass down at the store below, with a careful eye on how "customers" are interacting with my "product."
There are several useful facets of real-time reporting when monitoring your content, most of which can be found on the Overview tab. The biggest ones are the traffic sources: Top Referrers, Top Social Traffic and Top Keywords.
By monitoring my top referrers, I can see where my posts are being mentioned in online publications and blogs around the web. With this information, I like to pop over to that source and first see the context in which my content was mentioned, and see if there is a comment section in which I can contribute or even get the conversation rolling. Depending on the context in which you were mentioned, most bloggers will be thrilled to see the author of the article they mentioned not only found their site, but is interested in their point of view.
Top social traffic is a more direct route to the conversations on your work. From this, I also learned that my content was shared and on the rise through Digg, Techmeme and Reddit---each of which had their own thriving discussions where I was able to respond to questions, concerns and expand on some points.
Between contributing to the comments of several blogs, places like Hacker News and various social networks, I was not only able to contribute to conversations, but I was able to connect with numerous people. This level of attention is likely to gain you additional shares, followers and valuable evangelists for future content.
Lastly, real-time analytics saved my butt multiple times. While I'm busy monitoring traffic sources and tracking down sources, I rarely think to go back and refresh my site. I mean, why would you? Well, in my case, it would have shown me that my site was down and I was missing out on tons of traffic. In short, my hosting plan had some fine print I wasn't aware of that required a lot of scrambling to resolve, multiple times in a 24 hour window. However, it was the ever-moving pageviews tracker (up to the minute and second) which initially indicated that something was wrong. While I missed out on traffic and I came across people complaining on different sites that the article was unavailable, by catching it quickly I was also able to salvage a great deal of traffic.
This one should be a no-brainer, but as the world's leading authority on up-to-date sharing, this is the second window you should already have open when you hit "Publish." When I publish a new article, I keep an eye on people mentioning my Twitter name or sharing the article.
By doing this, I am able to see what numerous people are saying about my content and reply to offer additional thoughts or to simply thank them for sharing. Similar to the act of contributing in blog comment sections, this act often surprises people and can gain additional shares, followers and returning visitors.
I can't give you the magic formula for creating something that will go viral, and often, the harder you try the more unlikely it will happen. However, if you are fortunate enough to create something that truly resonates with people, you won't want to sit back and watch the people roll in. Instead, take action and seek out conversations. This is an excellent opportunity to connect with people and further promote your content, so don't miss out.