Going “Viral”: What it Means and an Inside Look on What Actually Happens

by Marian Schembari on January 13, 2014


Before Elliot and I got engaged, we started noticing how every couple (and every photo on Pinterest) used the same set of engagement photo poses. (I have a whole Pinterest board with our inspiration)

As a joke, he and I started talking about spoofing said photos – gender-swapping the traditional ones, exaggerating the materialistic ones, etc. One thing led to another, and our photographer/YouTube friend Malia caught wind of the idea. She said, “If you two ever get engaged, I’m doing these photos for you as a wedding gift.” Well, a few days later we did and a few months later she did. Best. Gift. Ever.

Marian Schembari Elliot Speed Engagement Photos

How Said Photos Got Online

We were so excited to post these puppies on Facebook. I will eagerly admit that we’re both social media addicts. We laughed so hard at the final photos so we wanted to share with friends!

While it was out of good fun, part of the reason we took these was to highlight some of the really uncomfortable and traditional gender roles that crop up when you start planning a wedding. For example, I’ve had to explain to too many people that I will never change my last name. Yes, Elliot has seen The Dress. No, I will not be given away.

Let me insert here that WHATEVER YOU DO WHEN YOU GET MARRIED IS A-OKAY. I know you don’t need my approval, but you have it. Flipping the head on tradition is what makes us laugh. It’s okay if you don’t. We are merely providing a humorous (to us) alternative.

Which is why I sent the final album to the editor of Offbeat Bride, the one wedding blog I adore. Ariel, the genius behind OBB, responded with an ALL CAPS request to write a story about the photos and be the first to do so. The next week they were live.

The Slow Trickle

Offbeat Bride is well-read and respected, so there were a decent chunk of people talking about the photos. Elliot and I were excitedly reading comments all day, giddy on outside approval. (Shut up. You know you’d feel the same way.)

Marian Schembari Engagement Bench

After publication, other editors and producers started emailing with requests to re-publish the set. For example, The Good Men Project has a partnership with the Offbeat Empire, so it was picked up there as well. 

It was 22 Words that lit the fire though. I had literally never heard of this site ever, but emails came in one after the other after they covered the story. (They were one of the few that never emailed for permission.)

Then Cafe Mom picked it up. Then Huffington Post.

Good Morning America. The front page of Yahoo. Jezebel. The Daily Mail.

What These People Wanted

I’ve always wondered how topics like this snowball. Why do some images/blog posts/videos spread so quickly? And what rights do the original creators give up because of it?

Well, here it is. Ariel of OBB told me via email:

I knew as soon as I saw the photos that these would go viral. Some of that was timing with Taint Week — since Christmas – New Years is such a slow news time, wacky wedding stuff tends to do well. But some of it was also a combination of a widely relatable topic (anyone who’s been on Pinterest for 5 minutes is familiar with the tropes of engagement photography), and the perfect timing in terms of the wedding industry. New Years is the peak of mainstream engagement season (which stretches from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day), and so there are a LOT of folks just starting to think about wedding planning… which means a lot of folks feeling overwhelmed and perhaps a little dubious about some of the expectations. These factors (slow news week + easily relatable + timely in terms of wedding planning season) combined with the humor of the shots meant that it was pretty clear this one was going to go big.

Other editors started asking for “permission to use the photos”. Our response was, of course, duh, but we wanted links back to my blog and Malia’s YouTube channel. We also gently suggested they link to the original article (another reason OBB wanted to be the first to publish).

The photos started appearing elsewhere without permission. The sites in question properly credited both us and OBB, so good form was had by all. It’s been a week now and I think I understand why they didn’t email: Time.

When television producers started knocking, their subject lines all read, “TIME SENSITIVE: Engagement photos”. They all wanted a quote and permission ASAP.

One TV channel wanted Malia to sign a release form. They wanted:

  • To use the photos for free.
  • Acknowledgement that we could never ask for money/royalties for said photos down the line.
  • The right to use the photos however they want, forever and ever. (The wording killed me, “in perpetuity throughout the universe.”)
  • Our understanding that they could also not use the photos and scrap the story entirely.

And finally, they WANT TO BE THE ONLY ONES THAT DO THIS. Which is silly, since “virality”, by definition, means “an image or video that is circulated rapidly on the Internet.” You’ll never be the only one.

One producer asked us if any other show had picked up the story. (Um. Duh. She found it on Yahoo.) When I said Good Morning America and a few other networks had been in touch, I never heard back .

The Big Question: Traffic

A few years ago, I was retweeted by Stephen Fry and my blog traffic skyrocketed. Funnily enough, that did NOT happen here. There were maybe a few extra hundred people here on the blog, but the only real jump was an extra thousand visitors the day we went on Yahoo and another two thousand after Jezebel. That’s it (which, I’m obviously not complaining about). Maybe ten new Twitter followers, 100 new subscribers, a few random Facebook friend requests and one email from someone who discovered my blog because of the article. Otherwise, zip.

Marian Librarian Blog Traffic

So if you think “going viral” (especially for something totally unrelated to your blog) will help your traffic, better to befriend a social media savvy celeb and get a retweet to one specific blog post.

The awesome thing about the traffic bump was that my bounce rate is WAY down (currently at 4%). People are apparently clicking on the link to my blog, then poking around to figure out who the heck I am.

Here’s to 15 minutes of fame. Poor Elliot.

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  • amitygardens

    I loved your photos when I saw them on Jezebel. You both seemed like a super fun couple so I looked around at your blog and so here I am. Definitely keeping you on my feed.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Awwww! That’s awesome, I”m so glad you’re here :)

      • amitygardens

        So am I. :)

  • http://www.ageektragedy.net Abby

    This is awesome. I’ve read similar things about going viral and how it doesn’t actually translate to a significant increase in blog traffic — but still, I am super impressed with your awesome photos! Love love love.
    xx Abby a geek tragedy

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Thanks Abby! It was a total surprise to me, but definitely an interesting experience.

  • James Madelin

    “I will not be given away!” I prefer to think of it more as donating… or perhaps borrowing? ;-) All joking aside, awesome… Naomi wasn’t ‘given away’ at our wedding either and we wrote the vows. Amazing how many people found this beyond their comprehension at the time. I discovered last night that vows used to include the bride promising to be ‘buxom’ too… back in the days when it meant ‘happy’! Great post Marian, thanks!

  • kristenej

    First of all, congrats! I was super excited to see Carlee post this on her wall and then to hear about all the viral activity was amazeballs. Secondly, had to go back through your posts and catch up on what you’ve been doing and feeling. I too went through a job loss this fall, while enjoying more press and writing opportunities and overall blessings outside of work. However, I’ve also learned just how resilient us communication/social media/marketing types are. Been on new job for two months now and get to do marketing strategy with them tomorrow(Tuesday). And for the record, I was always a Feedly girl, so I never lost track. Anyway, this is long, but keep doing you and I’m looking forward to hearing even more awesome things!- Kristen

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  • http://www.sweeneysays.com Sweeney

    (1) I have to give a digital toast to the whole you-all-do-you-but-here-are-the-wedding-conventions-I-cannot-abide. CHEERS. AMEN. THIS. OTHER WORDS IN ALLCAPS.

    (2) I flailed a little watching them go viral. “I READ THAT GIRL’S BLOG!” I shouted to myself as each new Facebook friend shared some iteration of the story.

    (3) And, of course, the photos are awesome.

  • KathleenNeves

    Small world! I used to rave with Ariel in Seattle. She’s awesome!

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. GO INTERNET!

  • http://leucadiachiro.com/blog/blog.html Leucadia Chiropractic

    Aww. Cute photos. You guys are so creative. I think your wedding will be awesome as well. Are you also going to post the wedding photos?

  • chirisdex

    A few decades ago, I was retweeted by Stephen Fry and my weblog visitors increased. Interestingly enough, that did NOT occur here. There were maybe a few additional number of individuals here on the weblog, but the only actual leap was an additional million guests the day we went on Google and another two million after Jezebel. That is it (which, I’m obviously not stressing about). Maybe ten new Tweets supporters, 100 new members, a few unique Facebook or myspace buddy demands and one e-mail from someone who found my weblog because of the content. Otherwise, zip.

    Spybubble gratis

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      A few decades ago twitter didn’t exist. Good try tho.

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