Sunday, February 13, 2022

The Good and Bad of Going Viral

I posted something last week that went viral. I thought I'd take the time to share some personal observations about what happens when something you create catches fire, albeit briefly, on social media.

First, a bit about my post: It was a somewhat sarcastic (but I hope thoughtful) post poking fun at the leaders complaining about employee retention. We've heard the claim repeatedly throughout the pandemic that "no one wants to work," and it annoys me because too many employers have enacted policies and actions that diminish employee satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement. I hoped to make the point that people do, in fact, want to work. (Okay, sure, we all wish we were independently wealthy, but most people I know want to remain productive and contribute--they'd just like to do it in better, more rewarding jobs working for more appreciative bosses.)

When I posted, I expected a few likes and comments. Instead, it blew up quickly. My LinkedIn post is approaching 1 million views. People are sharing this on Reddit, and it was briefly the top item on the Reddit home page with more than 120,000 upvotes. The version I tweeted has received 33,000 impressions, and people have posted LinkedIn screencaps dozens of times. And on TikTok, a labor union account posted a video acting out my post as a script.

This isn't the first time I've had something go viral (but it is probably the most widespread.) At first, there comes some sense of pride for posting something others find worthwhile. But it's interesting to note how the context of your words changes as your content becomes others' content. For example:

- 𝙄 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙙 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙠: I immediately grew concerned about the reaction of my leaders at work. I focus on customer experience, not labor practices (although the two are not mutually exclusive, by any means.) And I am not anti-business; in fact, I'm very pro-business. I focus on CX because I believe in win-wins--companies can have practices that enrich customers, and customers will reward them with greater loyalty and advocacy. And I feel the same about employment practices--companies win when they treat their human resources like actual resources and not interchangeable and disposable parts. Still, to have a snarky post poking fun at employers get this much attention made me uneasy.

- 𝙄 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙙 𝙥𝙚𝙤𝙥𝙡𝙚 𝙬𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙠 𝙄 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙨𝙥𝙚𝙖𝙠𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙢𝙮 𝙤𝙬𝙣 𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙤𝙮𝙚𝙧: If a few hundred people had seen the post, it might not have occurred to me that many might think I was subtly subtweeting about my own employer. But, as this quickly amassed hundreds of thousands of views, that risk became apparent. If you know me, you know I'm far happier than most with my situation at Gartner. Sure, I have a few gripes like anyone, but I consider myself lucky to be doing what I do and working where I am with the peers on my team. But, some will draw the wrong conclusion when they see this one post and not other things I may post (including occasional praise for Gartner).

- 𝙄𝙩 𝙙𝙞𝙙 𝙧𝙖𝙞𝙨𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙘𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙨 𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙠: As it turns out, my post going viral did raise some concerns at work, but they have been a bit different than I feared. My employer is in the process of communicating our merit increases for this year. I have not yet received my information, but someone asked my boss if I had gotten my info and was so unhappy it inspired the post. (This is why more conservative people don't tweet or post publicly, but I am who I am, so I will continue to share my perceptions and thoughts openly.)

- 𝙄𝙩'𝙨 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙢𝙚 𝙗𝙪𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙩: Several people have seen my post shared widely and told me, "you're famous." After almost 15 years of professional involvement in social media, I am well aware that my words are famous and I am not. More than a million people saw this--and today, if you asked them who posted it, almost none could tell you. It's healthy to separate yourself from your content and not think all of this is about you. It's not.

- 𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙗𝙚𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙨 𝙮𝙤𝙪: Another thing that occurs is that this one thing people see about you becomes you. What I mean by that is that many now assume I'm a labor activist--people have urged me to become a moderator on the r/antiwork subreddit (I ignored the suggestion), a labor blogger asked me for an interview (I declined), and a whole bunch of labor activists and accounts now follow me. Yes, I post about inequity, urge better customer- and employee-oriented practices, and am quite progressive in my support for fairer policies for lower-paid and middle-class citizens. But, I am not a labor activist by any stretch of the imagination. So, my future posts may disappoint some of my new followers, and if so, so be it!

- 𝙂𝙤𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙫𝙞𝙧𝙖𝙡 𝙞𝙨 𝙖 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚𝙨𝙪𝙘𝙠: Your content going viral is a bit rewarding, but the time it requires is difficult. I've had to sift through over 500 new connection requests on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. I have received thousands of replies, comments, and criticisms, and I can't get to them all. I'm tempted to say I shouldn't even try to get to them all except 1) it's good social media practice to acknowledge some of the praise and answer the questions you receive, and 2) I do need to be aware of possible risks that could arise. For example, no one has yet replied by suggesting my employer must be one that fits my negative description, but if they do, I want to know it and respond quickly to share my belief that Gartner is a good employer. All of that means you can't simply tune out. I've spent lunch hours, evening and weekend hours, and some work time monitoring the buzz, and I'm glad it's dying down now (three days later).

- 𝙀𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙮𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙬𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙛𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙣𝙙: Finally, I am surprised how many people assume you'll want to make a mutual connection based on a single piece of content. As I noted, I've gotten hundreds of connection requests in recent days. Fifteen years ago, I might've accepted all the requests. Today, I'm declining the vast majority of them. On Facebook, I very rarely accept "friend" requests from people I don't know. On LinkedIn, I am no LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) who follows anyone and everyone. In fact, as a former social media researcher and leader, I advise people against that, urging others to keep their networks limited to people they know, can learn from (or can educate), and who will share content relevant to their professional interests. I invite people to 𝘧𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸 me on social media if they wish, but I will not accept 𝘣𝘪𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘭 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘯𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘳𝘦𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘴 if we don't know each other or share evident interests.

So, that's what happens when you go viral. People think you're famous. You hear from many acquaintances with whom you've not connected in a while. You get a sense of pride--and concern. And it tosses a wrench into your time management for a few days. Some good, some bad.

Knowing all this, I would still post what I did again. And I intend to keep doing what I do--posting about CX, business practices, and other relevant topics in which I hope to engage and learn from others and influence thought.