What Happens When You Start Producing Viral Content: Hint You Can’t Stop
The Viral Experiment
“Hey check this out, look how many shares it has reached”
I think I must’ve sent this to the co-writer of Brublahblah (BBB) when our post “Things People Say When They Hear You’re From Brunei” was shared (1700++ shares) beyond expectation. The comments and shares came flooding in.
In 2014, I started the website BBB with a local ThoughtCatalog (TC) writer. I found it amazing that a local writer could reach such a broad audience, their writings have reached thousands on TC to an international audience. I wondered whether it could actually work in a local context.
BBB I think was an experiment into the notion of what could go viral in Brunei. Yes, we had seen forwarded messages on Whatsapp on sensationalists topics but what about curated content like writing, video or graphics? This was a time before Babu Sinur, before Filterworks Production and before BGag BWN (Which I might add is the latest iteration of 9Gag Brunei, the last of which was Brunei Meme Center).
When writing this I was trying to track down the first time I had a taste of those shares. Chart the consumption with the notion of viral content and it’s various guises. The thrill of notifications was surprisingly further back than I had anticipated.
Initially I thought the post that started it was “You Know You’re in Your Twenties in Brunei When…” a listicle of course but it turns out to be this, “Peribahasa Moden Brunei” a series of graphics based on Jay’s tweets completed in January 2014.
The engagement these two posts had at the start of 2014 must’ve been another leading factor in creating BBB. Listicles as basic and simple as a format was not a familiar way to present content in Brunei.
Nicest Things About Brunei
A couple months before the creation of BruBlahblah in February 2014 I posted a survey on my social media accounts on the Nicest Things About Brunei that suddenly gained a life of it’s own. The survey was done tongue and cheek, with questions like, “Nice place to remember the awful things you’ve done in your life and bury them deep inside you”. (Looking back I can’t believe nearly 200 filled out the survey with a question like this). The “bloggers” passed on the post and I needed a way to present the entries since the public took the time to fill it out.
I had the idea of a montage of Brunei videos in an Adam Curtis style or movie commentary videos on Youtube but found the style fit the concept of Nicest Things In Brunei. In one night, after compiling footage and editing it over a Surf Vampires track I had finished, “Nicest Things About Brunei”.
My ideas were gearing towards what could go viral and how content is guaranteed to go viral. Completing projects in less than 24 hours while it was fresh in the public’s mind. Only done in a night the video has since racked up 30,000 views.
Gaming The System
I was finding myself looking between the lines of Buzzfeed or Upworthy content. Seeing what gets shared on my Twitter feed. Checking r/blackpeopletwitter /wholesomememes. Reading articles on the latest social media metrics: how to optimise your shares, get the most exposure for your posts. Localising memes I had seen on Twitter by translation or adding the phrase, “Jan Paloi”.
When asked how come my posts were shared, I would slyly say I was “gaming the system”. I’m now knee-deep in the ether. The notion of being “viral” has been the leading incentive for content. Rather than being a way of sharing content from Brunei about Brunei, it’s become a factor in the decision making process.
Being viral is the aim, the content doesn’t matter.
Tie this knowledge with working in multimedia at BT, it became a surefire way to tap into clicks. No other website delivered content as directly and frequently as BT. I could see how major stories were shared in real time, what people liked on Instagram, what content garnered the most Facebook likes, what truly interested the public.
Now my decision making process factored into these questions. These weren’t all rationalized immediately but came together through trial and error. Questions include:
- How is it going to be shared? Mobile? Desktop?
- How quickly is it going to be shared?
- How fresh is the topic in the public’s mind?
- Is it the best time to share it? After school? After work?
- Is this going to offend anyone?
If responses weren’t significant (less than 100 shares/likes/retweets on any social media platform) then I had to ask myself which of these factors was it lacking. Maybe the format was wrong, or its just after work finished and people aren’t relaxing on social media.
There is a predictable curve when content gets “viral”. I initially wrote this as a cycle but it doesn’t get repeated. Viral content is engaged in different ways. The curve happens within a 48-72 hour period after it is posted. In some other cases it may happen within a week depending on the impact of the content. What these curves have in common is they all fade away. Whether gradually or suddenly viral content is easily forgotten.
- Engagement: A sudden surge of likes, retweets, shares. This peaks during a certain time and slows down completely, then stops.
- Comments: Comments which disagree, agree or suggest something else. One comment usually starts a chain of comments. Nobody wants to be the only one commenting on content.
- Remixing: This happens after the 48-72 period. Depending on the complexity of the content the public wants to create their own version. This would be shared in the comments or on their own social media page.
When I checked my analytics for my first blog in 2012 where I shared pictures, I would ask, “How many clicks? Who is looking at this?” I spent hours, way past midnight to share pictures from an event. Turns out there is a way to guarantee clicks, to ensure the public views your content with minimal effort.
Now even when my viral content goes into the tens of thousands the question I ask myself in 2017 isn’t “Who is looking at this?” It’s now: “Am I proud of this content?”
Moreover the underlying aspect to all of this is why I set on this viral experiment. I want to see novel content from Brunei. I value originality, individual expression and those just churning out content at home to indifference. As mentioned above the impact that viral content has is fleeting. All viral content is easily forgotten as it is replaced with the next meme, the new obsession and the latest content to flood your timeline.
Now when I ask myself, “Am I proud of this content?” I answer with a resounding,
[Special thanks to @rolluptheclouds]