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What it’s really like to go viral, according to 5 Australian content creators

IMAGE VIA @themontanaexperience/INSTAGRAM
WORDS BY CARMEN AZZOPARDI

“Going viral isn’t sustainable, and the aftermath is very difficult to deal with at times.”

With the consistent rise in social media usage over the last decade (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and yes, I’m looking at you TikTok) now more than ever it seems that if you’re posting content online consistently enough, your chances of going ‘viral’ are higher than you might expect.


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Many digital creators are able to talk you through a piece of their own content that has secured millions of views and likes (and if not their own, then they’ll know someone’s who has).

We can all relate to the immediate surge of instant gratification we experience when our Instagram selfie/tweet/TikTok post gets a bunch of likes, but what happens when a bunch becomes hundreds of shares, thousands of likes and millions of views? Does that instant gratification surge exponentially or do we experience something else entirely?

From personal experience, I can say with conviction that with increased gratification comes equal parts pressure, anxiety, satisfaction and judgement. A confusing cocktail I feel like I can’t escape when I’m creating content, which is hard to navigate when your job relies heavily on being online. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way which is why I spoke to four Australians and one overseas digital creator about their experience going viral.

Joely Malcolm, content creator

My most viral video was simple: myself in a new dress to a funny audio about skanky outfits. The dress was provocative but I was having a good body image day so I posted without even thinking. For the first few days it was positive, mostly women who loved the dress and were hyping me up. My community was growing by THOUSANDS of people and I felt so confident.

At 1 million views my TikTok moved to old man and incel TikTok, and the comments I received on my body were so vile that I turned off my comments and privated my account for a while. I even sold the dress! This was the first time this happened to me, and it destroyed my self-esteem hearing people say they loved my body but hated my face, among other horrible things.

@joely.malcolmdef don’t look like this right now 😌 #postergirl #pintereststyle #personalstyle♬ original sound – Glitterparis Ginger

Since then I’ve got my confidence back, but it was a really low time for me. I am so grateful for the online community who have reminded me why I do what I do, otherwise, I probably would have left forever. I’ve created other fashion videos that have gone viral and have been nothing but positive but I think it’s important to discuss that there are downsides to going viral and that you need a really thick skin to be online.

@joely.malcolm

Rowi Singh, content creator and artist

I’ve got two examples! The time I met Rihanna and put it on TikTok, and a fire Halloween look I created in 2020. Both had vastly different sentiments! The Rihanna TikTok was just a bit of fun as I wanted to harmlessly share an iconic moment. Yet the sentiment was so mixed! When content gets pushed out to a wider audience, you subject yourself to baseless opinions from strangers, both positive and negative.

Viral content only offers a glimpse of context for a stranger to comment on and on TikTok, people really don’t hold back on their two cents. I did gain lots of followers from it so it wasn’t all bad. I think some people were just bitter that I was in the presence of Miss RiRi herself!

@rowisinghPls enjoy #fyp♬ original sound – Rowi

The Halloween outfit video I posted on Reels was extremely positive. I gained a lot of followers and it was mainly strangers gushing over the look. The validation was VERY affirming. Going viral can NEVER be predicted. I’ll never plan content to reach a certain amount of views because I don’t have control over social algorithms. I can only control what I create! So I focus on creative expression rather than numbers. 

@rowisingh

Mon Sullivan, entrepreneur and influencer

When quarantine started I began making videos in hopes of expanding my platform to sell vintage clothing. The pandemic put a halt to both of my jobs and it was weird having so much time on my hands so I thought why not try out TikTok!

I had never been a huge makeup person but seeing everyone posting styling and makeup videos made me want to hop on the trend and so I started unboxing makeup I would purchase, clothes and [do] daily outfit videos. I think TikTok is such an incredible tool for marketing and connecting with like-minded people and during the pandemic, it really helped me not feel so alone and definitely changed the direction of my life immensely. 

Going viral definitely positively impacted my business; it increased my following by a lot and gave me a bigger platform to sell my vintage clothing to. I’m so grateful for all of the people who continue to support my small, sustainable business. It means so much to me and I still am shocked by the amount of support I receive with each website refresh.

@themontanaexperienceei was wearing the perfect shirt for this sound omg♬ My Way IS the HIGH WAY – Tik Toker

But to be transparent in some ways it has affected me negatively because it puts a lot of pressure on me to always be creating. In a space where there are so many creators and content being posted at all times it can feel daunting to consistently create content I feel proud to post. Regardless I am so grateful for the opportunities TikTok has helped me manifest and wouldn’t change a thing and I’m working on feeling more comfortable working in the social media space!

I think going viral is super cool but at this point, I’m more so trying to figure out what content I want to post and what makes me feel authentic. In a way making viral content is a bit of a formula and I get how it works. But as I said before I’m trying to hone in on what I want to be creating because ultimately I don’t need everyone to follow me to feel successful.

I want people to follow because they resonate with the real me, not a calculated version of me that I know will get likes. I think as a creator that’s a very real thing you have to consider when putting out content. I’m absolutely going through a shift right now where I’m planning on posting a new type of content and I’m so excited to get to work. 

@themontanaexperience

Kika Lateef, digital creator

I have this fear that I’ll fall behind in the realm of social media and all of a sudden I will no longer be up to date with all the new stuff. So when Instagram reels came out it was shiny, new and exciting! I felt kind of obliged to use it (so I don’t fall behind).

I was also kinda sceptical about how reels was so similar to TikTok, which was also a motivating factor despite it being kind of terrifying. Posting a video on Instagram just feels so much more vulnerable than posting on TikTok where no one who knew me personally followed me!

Going viral is a very different experience for each individual, it can be negative or positive depending on the response you get from viewers. For me personally, it started out very positive! I finally felt like I found a way to be ‘seen’ on Instagram. I had spent so long on Instagram, struggling to find my ground.

I gained over 40,000 followers and also was recognised by a few agencies which is how I finally got signed to an agent and legitimised my career online. Brands began to see the possibilities of my content, and I finally was able to get consistent work which was amazing.

 

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A post shared by kika lateef (@kikalateefff)

But of course, going viral isn’t sustainable, and the aftermath is very difficult to deal with at times. Your reach begins to plummet and engagement declines [and] you begin to realise that getting over a few hundred thousand views or a million is lucky but not consistent. I began losing A LOT of followers because my viral video wasn’t consistent with the rest of the content I was pushing to create.

People who followed me for that specific video didn’t actually like the rest of my content, and it’s hard to not put that on yourself as a creator. I started making content not with the intention that it’ll go viral but creating what I loved while hoping it would get the same recognition. When it didn’t, it was very hard for me to keep posting because I felt like it was a ‘me’ problem and you begin to put your self-worth [and] value on the amount of views you get.

I began to compare myself to how well other people are doing and creating content definitely became more of a burden heavy with expectation (my own). My biggest takeaway is when the views are low, keep pushing through because consistency really is key, and accept that people can decide to unfollow you because your content isn’t right for them. Also, wow, you really begin to look at some comments and think how do people have time? It definitely helps you build tolerance!

@kikalateefff

Daniel Andaloro and Callum Mawson, musicians

We originally posted that first lockdown dance video because we were running out of fun disco related stuff to talk about on our socials (and boredom). It was always something we did on stage and talked about filming, but luckily by the time we finally got around to it, I felt super comfortable with how people filmed dances and TikTok/Reel style content and executed it well enough for it to POP!

It affected us really positively overall and sparked a whole bunch of creative juices to start flowing again for the Groove City project. In some ways it’s scary because our audience grew so intensely (4k to 70k in only a few weeks!). Luckily I am surrounded by people who I could lean on to ask for advice (or just watch and learn) on how to communicate with this new audience.

 

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A post shared by Groove City (@groove__city)

It’s still super fresh and I’m no doubt still finding my feet, but I am loving the challenge of having so many people listening to what we have to say, and making sure we spread what we truly believe in… I am taking note to constantly check ourselves and learn how to best respect such a large following. 

Now we’re trying not to expect any more viral hits quite like the original bad boy which racked up over 13 million views on reels but we’re definitely keeping notes on what type of content is getting received well and what type is not. We are currently posting whenever we feel like it, but I am realising pretty quickly that consistency and posting times definitely make a difference. Lots to learn! 

@groove__city

For more on what it’s really like to go viral, try this.

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