A few weeks ago, I spent half an hour writing a joke blog post. And in a few, insane hours, it had been read by more people than the previous eighteen months’ posts, put together.
Even for a professional ghost blog writer, I’m not ashamed to admit my tiny, walk-on part in the Pricehound phenomenon was an eye-opening experience.
If you can cast your mind back to October, you might remember the gorgeous social media symphony that surrounded “The 29 Stages of a Twitterstorm“: a tour-de-force by hastily-installed King Of The Internets, Tom Phillips, which showed exactly why Buzzfeed is one of the world’s top social publishers.
I’m not going to rehash the whole story, but essentially Tom brought his Twitterstorm to life, with beautifully-puppeteered fake Twitter accounts, real celebrities getting in on the joke, nosebleed-inducing levels of confusion, and righteous indignation aplenty.
(A personal highlight was bewildered birdwatcher William Price-Hound, gently riffing on the black & white minstrel storyline by tweeting sightings of white birds with black faces.)
Only one thing was missing from the unfolding internet opera. Stage 23 of the Twitterstorm predicted “Social media “experts” rub their hands with glee at a new case study to write about”. Where were the blogs? Surely they must appear in a moment? Any time now. Surely?
Then, a bit like Harry Potter watching himself getting attacked by Dementors (and, IIRC, egged on by the incomparable Amy Weeks), I had a realisation:
This is where I come in.
It was a busy day, so I limited myself to half an hour, and crashed out a blog with the required title (complete with badly-executed title case): 5 Social Media Lessons You Must Learn From The Pricehound Scandal.
I rolled it up in a ball and pitched it into the mounting internet maelstrom (OK, I tweeted it). And that’s when things went crazy.
The post was picked up and bounced around online, including by the editor of Buzzfeed UK, and the page views on the blog started rattling up at a rate I’d never seen before.
(Confession: the blog took me 34 minutes to write. Continuously refreshing my WordPress stats page with a dumbfounded look on my face took the rest of the afternoon.)
Then, just as things reached fever pitch, my blog cropped up among the top Google search results for “Pricehound”. And soon enough, it was at number one.
(Yes, I know “number one on Google” doesn’t exist as an objective thing any more as a meaningful concept. But for most people, OK? Sheesh, do you have to be such a pedant?)
And, before the day was out, the rest of my blogging efforts to date had started to look pretty puny.
So what did I learn from the whole thing?
Without wanting to get too meta about it, I learned a few blogging lessons from the blog I wrote about learning lessons. And here they are:
1. Timing is everything.
Big confession for a Cornwall-based writer, but… I don’t do surfing. I had a go, once, and could never get the timing right to catch the wave. Too soon, and the wave goes over you. Too late, and the energy has gone.
Same thing here. If I’d blogged a bit sooner, my tweet would have been buried. Later, and the interest would have gone (or someone else would have blogged already).
I’m grateful to Amy for giving me the nudge when she did, because I was dithering, and would have missed all the fun.
If you recognise the moment, you need to act.
2. Twitter REALLY affects Google. And quickly, too.
I wish I knew how long it was between the first tweet and hitting the top of Google… but it felt like I got there just as the subject started trending.
(Which was kind of fortuitous, with the number of people looking at the trends list, seeing all the confusion, and hitting Google to find the story. See point one.)
I’d guess it took about an hour. Maybe two. I’d heard a lot about the internet getting all real-time, but it was impressive to see it happening before my eyes.
3. Without a strategy, it’s pretty much meaningless anyway.
As you’ll see from the graph above, the Pricehound episode has had a bit of residual effect on my numbers since October. But not much.
Likewise, relatively few visitors clicked around the other posts on my blog… and virtually nobody was curious enough to have a look at Lungfish.
And, if you think about it, why would they? They were either there to find out what all the Pricehound fuss was about or, at best, to see me play out my (self-appointed) part of the Twitterstorm story. What part of that makes them want to read about copywriting? Or come back to my blog later?
You can get as much traffic as you like, but it’s only going to have a business outcome if it’s a coherent part of a bigger picture. If they’re the right people you need for your objectives. If your blog address or demonstrates something relevant. This didn’t.
(Which is fine. Because I didn’t write the post for a business outcome. I did it for a laugh.)
…Add all that together, and what do you get?
IF you want to respond in real time to emerging events online in a way that influences your business (and that’s a big “IF”), you need to be timely AND strategic at the same time. And it probably helps to be consistent.
Chances are you won’t have time to think up a whole strategy on the fly when something interesting happens. And if you do, it might well be crap. So you need to have the strategy in place to start with – the kinds of things you’ll involve yourself with, why and how, and how often. What kind of angle you’ll take. Have a consistent personality and approach, and then apply that in real time when opportunity knocks.
Then you can come up with something epic AND strategic. Something like… I don’t know. Waterstones O.W.L.S.