In the jaws of the media: How it feels to go viral

By Nicola Peate |

August 22, 2013 | 6 min read

Nicola Peate, social media manager at Rippleffect, recently got more than she bargained for when she dislocated her jaw after eating a burger and the story went viral, garnering attention from media outlets including the Guardian, BBC and the Huffington Post. Here, Peate shares her thoughts on what it feels like to be at the centre of a viral.

It’s the age-old question that anyone who works in social media will be used to hearing: “How can we make this go viral?” As we all know, there is no quick trick or sure-fire formula as to what will be taken into the public conscience and blow up into a huge story.

But this week I seemed to have accidentally hit the 'jackpot' when I personally 'went viral' with a rather embarrassing story of how I dislocated my jaw eating a burger. Not my proudest moment but certainly my most famous.

What started life as a press release by Liverpool Royal Hospital, in which I praise their treatment of my injury, turned into a worldwide gossip story hitting headlines on the BBC, the Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Huffington Post and eonline.

With that in mind, The Drum has asked me to supply some thoughts on what it's been like being in the middle of a viral story.

The first thing I noticed was how much my personal social media channels have been accessed and used as part of the story by various media outlets. I've had posts I made on Twitter used as quotes by international publishers, all hungry (excuse the pun) to add something fresh to the article.

Disconcertingly, photos that I had innocuously posted on Twitter from years gone by or that my friends have tagged me in on Facebook have been downloaded and used within the stories – some even being 'photoshopped' with the addition of a giant burger!

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The volume of interest in the story has surprised me; maybe it was the popularity of shows like Man v Food or the ludicrousness of the event itself. But within 24 hours of the original story breaking in Liverpool, there were over 3,500 tweets mentioning the words ‘jaw’ and ‘burger’.

New followers and mentions naturally followed; as did the friend requests and inbox messages on Facebook – particularly from journalists, features writers and other people with EDS (the condition that means I dislocate easily).

On LinkedIn, I received a surge in profile views as well as requests from people in the industry –perhaps the inability to eat a burger is a sought-after skill employers are looking for. Or perhaps, like many of the tweeters, they assumed this was a successful PR stunt. It wasn't. I do love my job, but even if the Liverpool Royal or Almost Famous – the restaurant – were a client I can’t say I’d dislocate my jaw just for a nice case study.

One or two have suggested that I have used this as an opportunity for personal promotion, but this isn't the basis on which I would like to build my reputation or even that of Rippleffect. At first, I was happy to do the odd interview and admittedly found the novelty of the situation fun. But as interest grew, it became an overwhelming experience.

Aside from the PR stunt queries, there were a few other negative comments. Now firstly, I in no way want to imply I was 'trolled'. I wasn’t. However, there was a fair share of nasty comments – ranging from me being "stupid", to "a fat pig" to several suggestive comments I wouldn’t repeat on The Drum!

Were I a client of Rippleffect's, we would advise ignoring the negative tweets as they are not actually damaging my reputation. However, seeing this as an opportunity I wouldn’t have again, I decided to tweet some of the negative tweeters to see their reaction. My responses were deliberately light-hearted and self-mocking and I instantly received an apology from all, along with a friendly message. On Facebook, however, I carried out the same experiment on the Guardian post and received no response from any other posters. It seems that people are quicker to give out negative comments on Twitter but are also quicker to take things back. On Facebook, however, posters lose interest once a thread has reached its peak, knowing that their comments are now buried thanks to new stories taking precedence on the page.

The real opportunity I think this has given me is to have first-hand experience of how a story can travel so quickly. It was amazing how the various social media profiles I own became an integral part of the creation of content appearing around the world and how people got in touch to ask me about it.

While this has taken me no closer to answering the question “how can I make this viral?”, I have learnt that if something does go viral, you should use your social media channels wisely. It is a chance to have a say and shape the story. I was able to use Twitter to confirm that this wasn’t a PR stunt and express my reaction to the story, which was important for protecting my online reputation.

All-in-all, the experience has been surreal and aside from being very embarrassing, it has actually been a real eye-opener to the power that social media holds over news. People’s thirst for news is bigger than it has ever been and the content we post on personal and business profiles, however innocuous, is not only there for all to see; it's there for all to use when creating their own content.


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