What to Do If Your Blog Goes Viral: 10 Tips

When my blog went viral because of the fake Apple store post, I was totally caught off guard and made a lot of mistakes. I know it’s all very exciting when this happens and people start contacting you from all over the world, but it pays in the long run to be hardheaded about this in advance. Below are a few pieces of friendly advice based on my experience, in case going viral ever happens to you.

Please add your own tips on this in the comments section!

  1. Recognize what’s coming. Have 1,000 people visited your blog in the past hour, when previously only 10 people came in a day? Is your content being rapidly Tweeted? Welcome to the land of the viral internet! Prepare to take action.
  2. Decide what you want out of this experience. Are you looking to become famous on the internet? A full-time blogger? The next Paris Hilton? Or are you looking to maintain your privacy and your regular life? This will inform how and where you allow your content to be distributed.
  3. Consider buying the domain name of your blog address (e.g. for myblog.wordpress.com, buy myblog.com).
  4. Consider putting up ads on your blog. You may find this tacky, but when you realize that your content is spreading all over the internet and lots of people are making money off of it, you may feel differently.
  5. Make sure you have a copyright notice prominently displayed. Decide on a policy of how your content can be used by different media outlets (e.g. blogs, print media, television). Be aware that US law does not recognize the “moral right of attribution” – that is, just because you ask to be publicly credited when you give permission for your content to be reproduced elsewhere, doesn’t mean the outlet has to credit you. You having given permission for use of your content is enough for them to run it.
  6. Consider watermarking all of your photos, or disabling the ability of others to download/right-click your content if you want to maintain strict control (this may or may not be easily done, depending on who is hosting your blog).
  7. Realize that your content may have considerable financial value – don’t just give it away to people who are going to be making money from it. (Remember: multibillion-dollar media conglomerates are not your friends.) In particular, demand in advance that you be remunerated for any use of your content in print or on TV. Technically, there’s no difference in terms of copyright violation online/on TV/in print if your content is used without your permission, but there’s something particularly galling about not being paid for your content to be used in print or on TV by someone else. May them pay up.
  8. If you give permission for your content to be reproduced, do so in a limited way – BE EXPLICIT. For example: “Yes, you have the right to use this one particular photo for this one particular article, and nowhere else. You may not archive my content for future use.”
  9. Do not ever give permission for your photos to be freely used by a major warehouse of photos like Agence France-Presse (AFP), Getty Images, or the Associated Press (AP). These places have tens of thousands of clients, who will be buying your photos from them, without any financial gain for you. Your photos will be reproduced by numerous outlets credited only AFP/Getty/AP, without crediting you. AFP/Getty/AP will claim that they have no control over this – while this may be true, it will not help ease your feeling that very bad things should happen to these people. Giving your photos to one of these agencies will mark the end of your control over your photos – BEWARE.
  10. Do not be impressed or intimidated by your unauthorized content showing up in prominent places – get on the phone or send them an email and make sure they remove your content or pay your for it – or both. The following outlets are among the numerous places that abused the content of this blog: NYTimes.com, CBS News, New York Post, The Independent (UK), Le Figaro (France), and USA Today. I AM NOT IMPRESSED.

Anyone got anything else to add?

9 Comments

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9 responses to “What to Do If Your Blog Goes Viral: 10 Tips

  1. geography lady

    thanks for sharing lessons learned the hard way.

  2. JimmyJames

    Good, comprehensive advice! With your blog I saw you attributed many times as a source when I surfed over tech sites during your viral period. I can’t say the frequency of misses, but most gave you credit. I read a lot of tech sites!

    I have a good example of virality for emailed photos that breached your clause (9) accidentally. My brother and sister in law, farmers in Western Canada, photographed a black bear yearling beat up by their simmental hereford cross cows last spring (2010) and emailed the sequence to family.

    Within a month or two the photos had somehow caught the eye of a TV station in Oregon, who contacted their local expert, a farmer with bear experience for public commentary. Shortly thereafter the photos were attributed to that farmer and the the local affiliate gave way to national and then international media coverage of the photos, now morphed into a pseudo animation montage as well as a stills sequence. A year later the brother in law, with legal help in the US at least, is still trying to regain copyright after these photos have been across the world in every imaginable form and attributed now to many different sources in many jurisdictions. Of particular grief is those news/content syndicates.

    Just google this term and see for yourselves: “cows beat up bear”. You’ll see his photos at virtually every link, compare a few to confirm this. Note the copyright and attribution, they should be Copyright 2010 Wayne Ray but none of them are. I’ve seen the originals and I know the cattle and area well, so it’s obvious to me whose photos they are. It’s truly breathtaking how ubiquitous they’ve become in the public arena.

    So to avoid this kind of thing I’d advise watermarking any photos that may be valuable or unique to the rights holder before making them public, including emails. If people want access to unwatermarked photos they have to contact the copyright owner directly. Removing watermarks leaves obvious traces and damages the quality of the photo, although there are tools which can now make a pretty good job unless the watermarking is robust (specialty software). Additional invisible watermarking may be needed to supplement the visible ones.

    Also, one ought to consider what kind of rights we want to assign such as copyleft (eg Creative Commons), copyright or whatever before letting any IP out in the wild There are alternatives, for those that want them.

  3. Great tips. Does it mean the traditional billion dollar media companies didn’t pay you for your work?

  4. Kim

    “disabling the ability of others to download/right-click your content”

    That may stop the casual journalist and I guess it may reduce the problem somewhat, but it’s really easy to get around.

    The rest was good advice

  5. thanks, this is extremely helpful.

  6. Great tips! Another tip would be to implement some type of caching system to keep your blog alive when the masses come. This would not be a concern if you are on the big pipes of WordPress.com but if you have your own server it will be necessary.

    Preventing people from taking your pictures is a lost cause since even if you do things like disable right clicking on images or playing them in some type of flash application people could still do a screen capture and get what they need. I guess this might be a bit different for print publications since I am thinking they would pay for large original pictures instead of low-res web images.

  7. Good points. I don’t expect anything on my blog to ever go viral, but hey, you never know, do you? I’m sorry – and disappointed – you were robbed by the big media names you list in #10. Otherwise, I hope you did see some benefit from the more honest outlets. You sure were all over the place! And I’ve seen in Chinese media that some action was taken against the “Apple” shops by local authorities, so I guess they were paying attention, too (and found that surprising).

  8. Unfortunately we live in a mean world littered with cold hearted people. These big companies really don’t care what happens to you, Thanks for the helpful tips!

  9. Thanks for the useful advice! I guess you never know what will go viral and when, so it’s always best to prepare. I hope your 15 minutes of fame were more of benefit to you than just annoying in the end – although reading this post makes me believe that the latter might be the case…

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