It can happen to any blogger, from those new to the platform to veteran writers with a decade of posts under their belt.
Going viral doesn’t discriminate, nor is it possible to predict.
A packed Dad 2,0 Summit breakout session Friday heard four bloggers share how their posts went viral and the repercussions of instant celebrity. Each found their curious fame through different paths, but they all described a cultural minefield demanding a delicate approach.
Moderator Morgan Shanahan from BuzzFeed.com (@the818)— Panelists: Chris Bernholdt (@dadncharge), Beau Coffron (@lunchboxdad), Doyin Richards (@daddydoinwork) and Jessica Shyba (@mommasgonecity)
For Richards, sharing a photograph of him brushing his daughter’s hair ignited a crush of attention.
“I was just doing what a dad’s supposed to do, and it broke the Internet,” Richards says.
The viral photo inspired some to praise Richards’ parenting skills. Others crudely slammed the blogger in racial terms (Richards is African-American). When the photograph hit the web anew thanks to the Good Men Project web site Richards experienced a second wave of digital fame. Within days he was answering questions about fatherhood from Katie Couric.
Bernholdt shared his views about play date culture on his daddy blog DadNCharge.com, an act that couldn’t prepare him for the media avalanche to follow. Suddenly, news stations were begging him for exclusive interviews. He came away shell-shocked.
“There’s no ‘Dummies Guide’ to dealing with the media,” Bernholdt says. So he started asking peers who had experienced the viral tornado for tips on how to handle all the attention.
“What are the rules of engagement?” he asks. “How do you negotiate so it’s working out for you in the best way possible?”
Coffron, whose blogs about creative lunch boxes afforded him viral fame, agreed with Bernholdt’s assessment. Coffron wishes he had spoken to others who had went through the process sooner. It took him a while to learn he could simply say, “no” to media requests, for example.
“You need to do what’s best for you and your family,” Coffron says. “For my wife, we talk about every media appearances we’re gonna do [now].”
Shyba posted a cute picture of her toddler with their new puppy an Instagram, her introduction to the perils of viral fame.
“It wasn’t just one site [posting the photograph]. It was like 18 different sites, all with my baby’s face on it,” Shyba says.
Looking back, she wishes she had a plan in place to deal with the fallout. Watermarking her photographs to prevent people using them without her permission could have helped, but some folks would use them all the same, she fears. An Italian tabloid, for example, swiped her picture without asking if it could do so.
Audience member Buzz Bishop, who experienced his own brush with viral sharing when he wrote about his “favorite” child, cautioned the crowd about losing your own narrative.
“You have to ride it, but you can’t really control it,” he says of viral fame.
Ryan Hamilton shared his personal story with the session, recalling how he approached a column on the racial unease engulfing Ferguson late last year.
“I know going into this there’s gonna be tension. I did it anyway,” Hamilton says. He told the crowd not to fear the process but embrace it.
“Tell your truth, speak your story. Whatever happens happens. As long as you’ve been honest and authentic with yourself that’s your win,” Hamilton says.
Shanahan whose job with Buzzfeed.com involves finding hyper-popular posts, says no one can say whether a post will go viral. Even she can’t predict how a particular article will be greeted by web users. Still, one lesson remains about those items that catch the public’s attention.
“Things go viral because they strike an emotional chord,” she says.
Coffron cautions those who crave viral attention to be careful what they wish for, since anything can happen as a result.
“You don’t realize until you’ve been through it how stressful and tiring it can be,” he says.
* * *