I went viral, and this is what happened.

FOUR

(Photo by Heather Stumpf Popio)

It started as a facebook status and it ended up in Huffington Post, the New York Times, and the London Mirror. This is what I learned from going viral.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a Facebook status that I also shared on my BLOG. In a nutshell, my blog was about all the nasty feedback I’ve received being a normal-sized woman who is an actress in the theatre world. I went on to to demand a call to action for diversifying casting in theatre for different races, body types, genders, etc. Finally, I proclaimed that I will no longer change myself to conform to an industry ideal, because I’m happy with myself just the way I am. You can read the original blog HERE.

1) DON’T PUT ANYTHING ON FACEBOOK THAT YOU DON’T WANT THE ENTIRE WORLD TO SEE.

Everyone has always said this, and I never paid much attention. But I now know that this is very very true. PLEASE HEED MY WARNING! Is your post something you don’t want your family to see? Your spouse? Your boss? Don’t. Post. It. It doesn’t matter how many privacy controls you have on it. I had my post extremely protected and it still went viral so quickly that I couldn’t control it. My friends encouraged me to make it public because the topic was striking a chord with so many. So, I made it PUBLIC. After that, it spread like wildfire. My blog was getting hundreds of views per minute, thousands of views per hour. Everyone I’ve ever met started messaging me, texting me, emailing me, calling me, tagging me, sharing my post. I had to turn off my notifications to everything on my phone because it was BLOWING UP and I was getting really overwhelmed. Which leads me to…

2) GOING VIRAL IS LIKE BEING ON DRUGS.

For a couple days I tried to respond to everyone that was contacting me. I watched my website stats exploding. I would hit refresh every couple minutes and the amount of views kept spiking. It was unbelievable and so thrilling. In my personal life however, I could barely string two sentences together. I was so overstimulated. I got distracted by everything. I retreated from being social. I felt like I was in a hyperactive daze. Scientists have said that a “like” on facebook releases dopamine into our brains. It’s that little rush of pleasure when someone “likes” your post. Imagine what thousands of “likes” an hour feels like. I’ve never done it, but I’m guessing it’s what being on cocaine feels like. I had to retreat into my bedroom and hide under the covers for a few days until my heart stopped racing.

3) SUDDEN ATTENTION BRINGS OUT THE GOOD…

In the midst of all of these stressors, I received the greatest show of support I’ve ever received in my life. Friends from all walks of life reconneced with me and said they were proud of me. Colleagues, mentors, family members, fellow actors, directors, casting directors, artistic directors, my fellow Navy veterans, and people I went to highschool with, all reached out to me and were so unbelievably supportive. The kindness of friends and strangers took my breath away. I was brought to tears by their own testimonies and their own experiences. I actually felt that for a moment, I was helping people and making the world the tiniest bit better.

4) THE BAD…

While the response was mostly positive, this kind of sudden attention also brings out the nasty side of people, even in friends. When I mentioned on Facebook that the attention I was getting was overwhelming, I was ridiculed by some. I heard I was “milking it for all it’s worth.” One of my friends made a good-natured Facebook status making fun of me, and a hundred people liked it. Many of those people are my friends. Some were there to laugh with me, but many were there to laugh AT me. I tried to take it all in stride.

5) …AND THE UGLY.

When a woman posts strong opinions online, the internet thinks she is fair game for abuse. It was so strange seeing pure strangers saying awful things about my intelligence, my talent, my body, and my agenda. Men were messaging me disgusting, derogatory, and explicitly sexual things and posting threatening messages on Facebook.

6)  IT DOESN’T LAST.

In this instant gratification society that we are living in, our attention span is very short. People will move on to the next viral sensation in a few days, if not a few hours. Make sure you’re checking your filtered messages on Facebook. That’s where I received messages about being interviewed, being on the radio, and participating in some podcasts. And this is my advice if your blog suddenly goes viral. PUT ADS ON YOUR SITE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  I didn’t do this right away, because it didn’t cross my mind until a couple of days after my blog had already reached its peak of views, but if I had I could’ve made a little bit of money. And hey, I’m a starving artist. Every little bit helps A LOT.

 

Overall, despite some nasty side effects, it really was a very positive and cool experience. If I had it to do again, I would stress about it a little less, I would not sit like a crazy person and hit refresh for a day watching blog stats spike. I would accept the positive feedback without second guessing it. Of course hindsight is 20/20. Going viral was never on my bucket list. It wasn’t something I was striving for. It just happened. Anyway, I know how to deal with it all now. And if something like this ever happens again, I’ll be ready. 🙂

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