Griffiths: Careful what you wish for going viral

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IN March, 2011, I walked into the Phoenix Bar in Civic and my friend Joel rushed up to me at drink-spilling pace waving his mobile phone.

Jhhn Griffiths
John Griffiths
He’d spent part of the afternoon pushing an oversize slinky down the escalator in King O’Malley’s, at times reaching a delightful equilibrium, and had recorded the whole thing on his iPhone.

“You should put that on YouTube,” said I, “it will totally go viral”.

Fortunately Joel took my sage advice and at the time of this writing the video has been viewed 3,385,523 times and featured on Japanese television.

(Joel gets a little shifty when anyone asks exactly what’s going on with the ad money from YouTube, but I did get a pint of cider out of it)

This makes the King O’Malley’s escalator one of the most viewed in the world and we look forward to tourists starting to make the pilgrimage, perhaps with a slinky rental business operating from behind the bar.

However, while it’s relatively easy to see something great and recommend putting it out there, it’s much harder to set out to make something that will be taken up by the world’s masses.

Occasionally I get asked to speak about the intertubes and social whatnots. Invariably the question comes: “How do I get my message to go viral?”

To which the answer is: “Messages don’t go viral.”

Amusing or interesting things go viral, on very rare occasions they also contain messages.

A better rule of thumb is: “Nothing you ever want the world to see will go viral, anything involving you that does go viral will be something you desperately wish did not”.

How many people knew what David Gyngell looked like before he started punching on with James Packer in Bondi?

As the old joke goes “you fool around with just one goat…”

In that vein, the other viral sensation to come out of Canberra in recent years was that picture of Raiders’ star Joel Monaghan “simulating a lewd act” with a teammate’s dog.

When the best possible spin you can put on a story is that you were merely simulating reprehensible behaviour it really is time to leave town.

(Parents of a certain age will fondly remember fielding the awkward question from their progeny “what’s a loodact?”)

The night before the story broke my publisher was getting (rightly) nervous and we considered sitting on it.

“If we do run it, it will be the most viewed story we’ve ever run,” I said. And so it was.

In a way, it was immensely frustrating. All the worthy stories, some of them dangerous, as nothing compared to a gang of drunk and slightly famous idiots with a camera.

Our server groaned under the load, our advertisers impressions blew out to an international audience with no possibility of becoming customers, and the BBC started calling me for an interview at 4am.

While many dream of “going viral” my advice would be to be careful what you wish for.

The real moral of this story is that if you think you’ve got a really cool video you should buy me a pint of cider and I’ll advise on the next step.

See the slinky heading down the King O’Malley’s escalator at  tinyurl.com/mfu22ah

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