Going Viral on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed: Digital Flash Mob!

Wow! I’d like to say #ThankYou to the WordPress community and others for reading my Maturation of Hip-hop post which was randomly picked up by Erica at WordPress.com and posted to the Freshly Pressed section of the WordPress homepage on Wednesday, the 14th of March.

I say thanks since I know it probably took 45 minutes worth of reading, viewing, and clicking to flow through the entire interactive blog post. So to get this much feedback and readership, it means a lot of people invested a lot of their own time and mental energy to venture through the post. And from the responses, it looks like many of you enjoyed it enough to share, like, comment, and reblog it to your own networks. Please follow me as I try to explain this phenomenon of blogging…via a blog (although this adventure reminds me of a quote by Jean Cocteau, “An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture” – but, what the hey, let’s give it a shot):

I had no direct ambitions of “Maturation of Hip-hop?” ever reaching this broad of an audience (though as a writer, you always hope it does somehow), so I thought I’d share this experience back with the rest of the community by honestly blogging about the experience. I kind of just quickly threw “Maturation of Hip-hop?” together after seeing the 50 Cent video on his World Food Programme partnership that week. When I wrote it, I was just trying to get some random thoughts on paper in order to try to make sense of (and get some limited feedback on) what I thought we might be seeing at a very early and macro level of (for lack of better words at the time) a “Maturation of Hip-hop”. I published the post the evening of the 7th, shared it to Facebook, and posted a link on Twitter. Throughout the week after publishing, I got a few reads, but nothing worth writing home about. I thought it would be just a blog post a few friends from Facebook and Twitter would read and we’d chat about it the next time we hung out in person:

That was until the early afternoon of March 14th when I checked my Gmail notifications on Android…

What I realized Wednesday afternoon was that I had 92 missed emails and thought to myself that I was getting punked or spammed by someone on Pi Day…Though, once I opened the emails and saw that they were from WordPress alerts, I quickly tried to investigate what the heck had just happened (fully aware that WordPress themselves have punked all of us a few times by inflating our view stats and data graphs as jokes on April Fools Day). I actually hoped that someone outside the WordPress community maybe stumbled upon it and posted it to their outside social networks, and that was what was bringing in the traffic, comments, and reblogs…but, I was wrong. It was actually an email alert from an early commenter on the post that made me aware of what was going on. Someone had jokingly commented:

^^^This was the first random email I opened that afternoon and then began investigating. Once I arrived on the Freshly Pressed tab (after being astonished by the views I had already received that afternoon), I saw my post featured like this on WordPress.com.

As you can see, it was the fifth position and consisted of an image which was pulled right from the blog post of Bill Gates and Jay-Z dressed up and chatting. The homepage preview also had the title of the blog post and the title of my entire blog. Additionally, WordPress had included a link box to follow the Music category of other existing and future blog posts from the WordPress community of music-related bloggers.

It is a little ironic that both the post and my blog were fortunate to get an enormous amount of traffic on Wednesday, March 14th, as it is what is referred to as Pi Day – 3.14.year – which is in reference to measuring the area of a circle (3.141592 yada yada yada – find a local geek and they’ll happily rattle off the rest from memory) because I feel like my blogging efforts have come full circle (if you will please overlook the terrible pun this created lol). I mean this in that after 3 years of creative writing, posting, and drawing, something finally clicked in terms of what “being a blogger” means…readership…And I say that this Pi Day is a little ironic because I originally started this blog in February 2009 as a way to share interesting things I found online and to illustrate the things I was paying attention to. Though the blog never took off like wildfire, I was fortunate enough to get a quality of readers rather than quantity early on. I say this because (by using my blog as a creative outlet) I was contacted by Google, invited to attend TED, and approached for consulting gigs as an extension of my blogging and social media presence…though I rarely ever referred to myself as a blogger, because I felt that such a title wasn’t fitting considering the few regular viewers I managed to accumulate. Yes, I went through the process of blogging, but without much of a large readership, I didn’t feel like an established blogger (even considering how cool Google and TED both are!). To be honest, prior to hitting Freshly Pressed, my optometrist was the most frequent commenter on my blog posts (just to give you an idea of where previous regular interactions were at, and yes, he had good comments, so I was thankful for that consistent feedback).

My previous (legitimate) one-day traffic high was 44 views and I had just passed 13,000 total blog views the week I reached Freshly Pressed. I say “legitimate” because I had one day in which I received 72 views, but I do not count it since for some reason a spammer snatched a link and posted it to all of their fake/worthless websites, so I got a lot of (what I call) worthless traffic or bot traffic…so, we ignore that one-day high and stick with 44. On a typical day, it was cool if I broke 20 views. Until now, it was shockingly the things that I drew that received the most attention rather than items I had written. Yes, I know that my style of writing interactive blog posts can be time-consuming for readers to get through, but I still figured more people would want to read content rather than just look at pencil drawings (but that’s the power of Google’s Image Search). It was always a picture that I drew of Lil Wayne’s Rolling Stone cover that garnered the most blog traffic until the “Maturation of Hip-hop?” post. By the time I checked WordPress, after seeing I made it to the homepage, I had already broken the 1000 views mark and was well on my way to getting some serious exposure. I quickly posted to my social media that I had made it to the homepage and tried to get people to check it out (at the time, I was still unaware how I made it there).

I actually thought it was an auto-populated listing based on rapidly growing traffic or something. I had not yet seen the email from Erica, nor had I Googled what it meant to be on Freshly Pressed – which I learned was actually a personal nod/shout-out from the WordPress team that they liked your post [link provided below]. At one moment Wednesday afternoon, I was receiving 10 views per minute as I hit refresh on my stats page. What stood out the most was the increasing number of countries that were seeing the post as well (as this new “Where in the World?” stats feature was recently rolled out by WordPress).

Fascinated and curious, I sat and checked on the traffic stats, comments, and reblogs, and I even caught myself as if it were the scene in The Social Network where they are watching membership numbers grow, and grow, and grow. Since I couldn’t find that scene clip on YouTube, I found a similar clip outside the world of technology, but equally parallel to the feeling of something going viral through WordPress. If you haven’t seen Cast Away with Tom Hanks, you just need to know that he’s stuck on a deserted island after surviving a plane crash. While on the island, he makes good of the limited resources he finds (natural and from the plane’s cargo, etc) to try to “recreate” civilization for himself on the island. In this scene, he organically gets a fire going and experiences the elation of going from a few branches and some brush to a full on huge bonfire. I share this here sort of tongue-in-cheek because it is a hilarious scene to watch from the movie, but if you pick up on the nuances of how Tom Hanks acts out the “creation of fire”, you can kind of laughingly relate it to having a low-key blog garner a relative boatload of exposure in/for a short amount of time:

In many ways, similar to the fire, a blogger starts out with a few resources and no guarantee of readership, acceptance, or feedback. And as you keep trying and trying, all of a sudden something clicks and your little “project” catches on and grows exponentially. And as rewarding as it is, sometimes you are the only person present to truly appreciate living that experience, because 1) you were the person putting in all the work leading up to that moment, 2) you’re witnessing this “Win” through the stats page on your computer or mobile device – which is a solo experience, and 3) non-bloggers think you’re nuts (as I saw in the reactions from my social network and social circles as I tried to share my excitement). Lol – if you are laughing, then you really do know what I’m talking about and are probably a blogger yourself. Btw, I hope you liked the Cast Away clip and can see the raw parallels here.

Now, for the stats. To give you a visual perspective on the increased traffic, here is a snapshot of my traffic leading up to March 14th, with March 14th’s day’s end stats illustrated by the bar on the far right.

My new single one-day high is 3,397 for March 14th after making it on Freshly Pressed at 1:15pm that afternoon. To further highlight how little traffic I previously got, I didn’t even have the social buttons installed on my posts because I did not want there to be so few shares illustrated next to each button on each post. After getting this relatively insane amount of traffic for my blog, I quickly turned on the social buttons in the WordPress Dashboard under Settings > Sharing > Enabled Services …and allowed it to show buttons on all four options listed. I received just under 7500 views in two days and am still receiving increased traffic from Freshly Pressed (though newer hand-picked blogs were selected Thursday and Friday afternoons; pushing my group of blogging peers to the second Freshly Pressed tab by now).

At the writing of this post, I have seen traffic die down a bit for the weekend and from sliding down the homepage. I think 7500 views in a few days was a huge success considering my blog is not about a single topic like cars, travel, or hockey. Writing about cultural studies and publishing content that is just interesting to me is more of a creative outlet than anything else, so for Erica to pick it up, read it, and promote it on the homepage is possibly a once in a lifetime experience unless I figure out how to keep these new-found visitors, fans, and followers staying interested in just the things I’m interested in. I’ve had people tell me that I should have hurried up and put ads on my blog when I saw I reached 1000 views, but I have never intended on selling ads in this space since I don’t really know how to classify it as a blog. It’s just my random thoughts, doings, and discoveries, so it gets a broad mix of readers (now, all of sudden), plus I like doing it just for the sake of doing it, so I’ll pass on the ads.

As of late afternoon on Sunday, I have received 7601 blog views, 4650 “Maturation of Hip-hop?” views, 198 WordPress likes on “Maturation of Hip-hop?” from fellow bloggers, 120 total blog followers, 24 reblogs of the post, and 116 comments on it (including some very articulate responses like this one from @mnicolebrooks, along with a video she thought of while interacting with the content in the blog post):

Of the 116 comments, 6 are me responding to others, plus there’s really another 5 others that I removed and didn’t count (for instance):

…as well as 42 Facebook shares, 32 Twitter shares, and a Google+. I inserted a snapshot of the social interactions stats at top, middle, and bottom of this image taken from the post: (continue reading below the image)…

It literally felt like a digital flash mob of 7500 people from 100+ countries (see next video below) showed up at my desk over the course of a few days and asked to read through my notebook folder to learn, comment, criticize, photocopy (reblog and share), and ask questions…as well as make an effort to chat further about other topics (social media connections). To put the nearly 7500 total individual post views in perspective, it was like half of the 16,000 fans in the Xcel Energy Center at any game during the WCHA Final Five tournament this week all venturing over and reading my blog. When I heard the attendance announcement for one of the games, I looked around and realized that fact, and that was when everything really hit me.

Each of these 7500 people didn’t have the time nor the opportunity to establish a connection or bio with me. I made a focused effort to read all of the comments and tried to check out all of the blogs of the folks who commented, liked, reblogged, or chose to sign-up to follow my blog further, but it got overwhelming and I didn’t feel like I could really reciprocate a parallel amount of attention to any single individual as they were showing me. There were a few folks who I feel I really made a new digital connection with because they were the ones who stood out from the crowd or happened to appear at a lull in the otherwise furious traffic and alerts. Early on, I made the most attempts to personally thank those who reblogged my content at the beginning, but then just decided to comment on my own post thanking folks for their support and assuring them that I would get back to each of them when things calmed down at a later point.

If I can share any insights from this experience, it would be that you should always write as if your post will get this type of exposure, because you never really know what might happen behind the scenes in this socially connected world we live in. Also, I would like to specifically focus on Freshly Pressed. As you can read here, WordPress actually has a framework that they work off of for selecting the “approximately ten new blog posts” hand-picked each weekday that make the homepage.

All in all, I’d say this was a really cool experience and if you’ve continued to read this far, I thank you for your support and interest. I hope you found it interesting to see what your participation helped create for not only myself, but all others who have been promoted to Freshly Pressed. As I mentioned earlier, I feel this whole experience has legitimized what I had already been doing for 3 years through around 250 posts. I think blogging really does challenge preconceived notions of writing, journalism, and story telling. If you’ve seen the movie Contagion, you’ll recognize this scene in which Jude Law is a blogger trying to uncover the story behind a growing viral pandemic. The doctor Jude Law approaches for information tells him, “…blogging is not writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation!” – lol.

Hahaha: “You wanna to talk to me?…Call my office and make an appointment!” (Side note: this is a brilliant line dropped into the dialogue by the writer illustrating the perpendicular approaches to conducting work between Jude Law’s character [read: Digitals] and Elliot Gould’s character [read: Analogues].)

And though I always chuckle during this part of the movie, I see why more traditional sources think this is true, but perhaps taken in its entirety, blogging really does provide a larger value to society and the community of bloggers that create it. I do not feel that we are merely “graffiti with punctuation”, but I can see why formal writers would say such a thing. It’s because we do not follow the traditional methods for writing, publishing, nor being an “expert”. So what? The times have changed and I think this entire story is but a microcosm of the larger picture of blogging and social media (and a prime example of what I was getting at in the social media section of “Maturation of Hip-hop?”). You don’t have to just take my word for it, look at what Sohaib Althar experienced when he inadvertently live-tweeted the entire Osama Bin Laden raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan last year and got flooded with digital traffic:

Sohaib is now up to 73,000+ followers on Twitter, though he had a few followers prior to tweeting about a helicopter flying around near him. I did not already have a snapshot of it, but I recall Sohaib even tweeting to his new-found followers the night of the Bin Ladin raid jokingly encouraging them to “stay around” [read: continue following him on Twitter] after the “news” faded and he was no longer the closest source to what went down that night. I think that Sohaib’s “stay around” comment was a clever awareness of how social media works and how the crowd moves online. He meant it, but was simultaneously making a community-wide comment about digital life. Haha – I even studied Sohaib’s experience from a cultural studies perspective, but did not adhere to his advice of creating a Gmail filter (considering I received very little traffic prior to March 14th), but as of right now, I need to get back to my Gmail account and see what the heck has been going on these last few days:


Keep going, fellow bloggers! And again, thanks for allowing me to share this experience with all of you. I hope, again, that you have found value here (educational and/or entertaining). I now need to craft another blog post responding to the wide range of comments and feedback I got on the Hip-hop post. I feel that a few side dialogues will continue into the future with some of you that I have recently talked with or was already chatting with.


^^^That’s not me, but you get the gist – lol!

~ by Adam Maikkula on March 19, 2012.

5 Responses to “Going Viral on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed: Digital Flash Mob!”

  1. That is an awesome story. I guess there is hope for all of us bloggers. I guess I need to be more patient!

    • Thanks for reading! Yeah, keep blogging away. As you can see, you never know when/how it might get scooped up and get a bunch of exposure. One thing I didn’t add in this post is that tag varieties probably play a big role too. Good luck!

  2. Thanks for sharing about your experience. I started following your blog after it was posted on Freshly Pressed and It’s exciting to hear about how it all went down from your point of view. Gives me hope for my blog too….maybe 🙂 Also, I think it’s great that you just blog about what interests you….keep it up. I loved that you tried to connect with as many people who liked/commented/reblogged your Maturation of Hip Hop post. Whenever anyone likes or comments on one of my posts, I do the same…but I can’t even imagine how overwhelming that task would be if you had thousands of hits to sort through. It’s sweet that you tried.

    • Thanks for the feedback (and the follow). I was a little iffy on how a blog on the effects of being “Pressed” might go over, but it looks like it is being well-received. It was really an overwhelming experience. From a purely manageability perspective, it would have been much easier to handle 7500+ visitors spread out over the course of a few months than in 2 days lol. This single post, over 3 days, accounts for 1/3 of the traffic I’ve received in all 37 months of blogging. That’s crazy :). Good luck and thanks again! – Adam

  3. That’s exactly how I found it…in Freshly Pressed! Congrats!!!

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