Little Book of Confusables

Lessons from a 10.6 MILLION video post on Instagram: pros and cons of having a viral Reel

Going viral. It’s the social media dream. But have you ever wondered what it takes to get a viral video post on Instagram? In this blog, I share the lessons I’ve learned from having had an Instagram Reel hit over 10 million views.

You know the theory…

Focus on your audience. Engage, entertain, inform. Add value. Post at the right time. Use the right hashtags.

However great you are at planning your Instagram content we all know there are posts you put thought, time and effort into, and those that are a little more off-the-cuff, shall-I, shan’t-I.

You post the former at the time your audience is most engaged. You’re convinced they’ll resonate and generate off-the-scale engagement – record numbers of likes, comments, saves and shares. Maybe you’ll even grow your following as a result.

You post the latter… whenever. You’re not even sure you should be posting it, but hey – why not?

Isn’t it always the way that the posts we put the most effort into just do okay, while the unplanned posts have unexpected results?!

That’s certainly what happened to me with my Instagram Reel that generated 10.6 MILLION video views. Read on to discover the lessons I learned from the experience – and why having a viral video post on Instagram isn’t all good!

Engagement is validation

Social media is literally addictive.

Those likes, comments, saves, shares and follows on social media give us a buzz that scientists have equated with a dopamine hit.

And engagement is validation! It tells us we’re on the right track. That we’re providing value. That our audience love what we’re doing. They want more of the same – and they’re prepared to stick around to prove it.

Combine the buzz with the validation and you have a powerful combination. Is it any wonder we chase the thrill of the viral Instagram post, and the rewards it can bring?

The potential benefits of having a viral Instagram post are clear. The exposure, the opportunity to supercharge your following, and find more fans of your work – perhaps even opportunities for sponsorship and free products, influencer style!

Was my reality all it’s cracked up to be?

Read on to find out.

Before we start, what constitutes a viral video post on Instagram?

Good question! General consensus seems to be that anything with more than 100,000 likes can be classed as viral. My post ended up with more than 400,000 likes.

My Instagram background

I have two Instagram accounts: my original account @STEcopywriting where I post nature and countryside photography and @thecopywritersday where I generally post about small business life (productivity tips, wellbeing, dealing with the challenges of freelance life) and writing (#confusables, language funnies and practical writing tips).

(For context, the average view count for Reels on @thecopywritersday was around 1,500, with a high of almost 6,000 views.)

I know my content pillars, but is every post strictly in line with them? Of course not. It’s good to mix things up from time to time, right?

This was one of those posts. A wild card, if you like.

The story behind the post

I’ve been gluten intolerant for around five years, so when my 19-year-old son told me I needed to buy gluten-free puff pastry so he could make me a gluten-free pain-au-chocolat, I jumped at the chance.

Are you kidding me?! YES!

I shot a timelapse video of him making it, and decided to share it on @thecopywritersday. Okay, so it wasn’t about small business life or writing, but a naughty-yet-delicious snack that takes just two minutes to make? It’s practically a productivity hack! 😁

Initial engagement was good and the post plateaued at around 4,500 views. I thought no more about it until a month later when it suddenly took off and I started getting between 20 and 40 likes a minute.

Of course – me being me – I got excited as soon as views hit five figures. (I shared an excited post on LinkedIn when it hit 12,000. Should’ve waited!)

Three weeks later, the post had hit 10.6 million views with 412,000 likes and almost 500 comments. My following – which had been languishing at around 4,000 – more than doubled. (I didn’t quite make 10,000 but I wasn’t far off.)

So, let’s get to the pros and cons of having a viral video post on Instagram.

The good of having a viral video post on Instagram

Well, it certainly is a talking point! The fact that an Instagram Reel I created reached more people than the total population of Sweden is utterly bonkers – yet being able to share my experience to help others makes me happy.

Of course, there’s the impact of growing my following and having more people seeing my posts each day – with a new book coming out this summer, that could prove handy.

My Instagram insights were off the scale! At one point they told me I’d reached a total of 9.5 million accounts in 30 days – representing an 86,327% increase in reach.

Told you it was bonkers!

The not-so-good of having a viral video post on Instagram

Y’know those dreams where you’re running on the spot and not getting anywhere? Welcome to my following!

While you could say it’s great that my follower numbers more than doubled in less than a fortnight (from 4,200 to 9,900) I’m expecting a mass exodus once these new followers realise I’m not a cooking account!

I still get new followers daily who love my language and small business tips, but my follower numbers are currently decreasing at the same speed they’re increasing. (Will I ever get to the magical 10,000?!)

Also on the subject of follower growth, there’s something comforting about knowing the people who follow you. It feels like a community. Now, I’ve no idea who more than half my followers are – and it’s a strange feeling. (If you’re one of them, drop me a DM and say hey! I’d love to hear from you.)

The second downside is that, while I was getting around 30 likes a minute, any comments and tags from my community of followers were swamped! I missed hundreds of comments – and the chance to respond and strengthen my relationships – as a result.

People told me my views and engagement in general would experience a massive boost as a result of having a viral post.

That simply hasn’t happened.

We know the Instagram algorithm can be tricky. I sometimes wonder if it’s showing my posts to the new followers who don’t necessarily want small business advice or writing tips, rather than the lovely warm and engaged community I had before. It’s intriguing, but I guess I’ll never know.

Conclusion

Like most things in life, having a viral video post on Instagram isn’t a magic formula for success. Going viral with a post that’s in line with the services or products you offer is the dream. Going viral with something that’s not… I’m not sure. It certainly was an incredible experience.

As for the long-term impact on my Instagram account – only time will tell. Why not follow me and be part of the journey?

The viral accident: lessons from a Facebook post gone mad

This summer a happy accident led to a post on my Facebook page going viral. I mean crazy popular.

Now the dust has settled, there are lessons to be taken from having a post reach over 275,000 people – and if anyone can benefit from my experience I’m happy to share. I’m nice like that.

Credit where it’s due

Like many of the gems I post on social media, I can’t take credit for finding this one*. People often tag me with mistakes they’ve spotted (“Hey – saw this typo and thought of you!”) It’s not the most romantic of gestures but it means I have a limitless supply of examples of bad spelling and grammar. Awesome.

The most viral a post of mine has ever gone was when the sign opposite was picked up by The Poke on Twitter a couple of years back. That picked me up a good few followers, I can tell you.

When I shared the Waitrose typo, it was met with the Twitter equivalent of tumbleweed – fewer than half a dozen retweets.

Lesson one: just sometimes, Facebook > Twitter.

Undeterred, I decided to share the typo on Facebook as shown above. It took perhaps a day to pick up momentum, then…

Did I just go viral?!

Like a ball bearing careering around a pinball machine, things quickly went a bit mental. In what I can only assume was down to a sweet spot of timing and relevance – I shared the post on what was, for many teachers, the last day of the summer term – it hit a tipping point.

Lesson two: timing is key.

People who saw the post reacted in the same way as my friends and peers when they spot a typo: they tagged teachers they knew (and let’s face it, everyone knows at least one) with a “You have got to see this!” eagerness.

Once I realised what was happening I edited the post, adding “Gold star for you if you tag a teacher who’ll appreciate this post”. It did the trick, and the momentum Just. Kept. Going.

Lesson three: keep an eye on response and tweak your posts if necessary. Add in a relevant way to encourage people to share if you can.

Scanning 600-odd comments, it seems most people were shocked it was Waitrose that made the mistake. Had it been one of the cheaper supermarkets – you know who I’m talking about – would the post have had the same impact? Maybe not.

Lesson four: the more well-respected the business, the higher the expectation that they can spell. Companies who can’t, beware. 

When the post began to gain momentum I was out catching up with my social media friend and colleague, Azaria Timms.

Having chatted to her about the post over a cheeky glass of fizz, I decided to boost it to a targeted audience of teachers. It was the first time I’d promoted a Facebook post, and I’ll be honest, I expected great things – even for a lowly… cough… £6.

As it happened, the boost increased the reach by just 330 people, with one major downside: a guy I don’t know and have never worked with took such offence at my promoted post he decided to leave me a one-star rating for – in his words – spamming him. Ouch.

Lesson five: people still have mixed reactions to advertising.

If you only take one thing from this article, make it this trick: when you click the list of people who’ve commented on a Facebook post, you’re given the option to invite that person to like your page. Inviting everyone who’d commented or shared the post netted me over 150 new followers in a week – compared to a previous weekly high of, err, three. Skills.

The flipside was a stroppy message from one lady who replied, “No thank you, I have no need for your services and no interest in becoming your friend”. Err, okay…

Lesson six: don’t expect everyone to understand the difference between a Facebook page and a Facebook profile. And remember – you can’t please all of the people, all of the time.

As for Waitrose – yes, I tagged them in the post, and no, they didn’t respond. Given the reach of their own posts, I’m putting their lack of comeback down to jealousy of my superior social media skills. (Jokes.)

*Credit for sharing the original post is due to my good friend and reptile guy, Steve Jack. He’s @seashaker on Twitter, in case you’re interested. Expect snakes. And spiders. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.