Going viral? What’s it like when 80 million people read your name

Two years ago today, I found myself on the front page of my local newspaper.  Two hours later, my father phoned to tell me he had just seen me in the Mail online.  By the following morning, the switchboard at work had been inundated with calls from reporters asking to speak to me, and the day after that my partner had a call from a friend of his in the US who had just heard my name on his local radio station.

Over five days, the story I was involved in was covered by every major newspaper in the UK (both online and in print), the BBC, ITV, and radio 4 all ran the item, followed by MSN, AOL, Yahoo and many other sites.  It was mentioned on two television programmes here in the UK, and reached right around the world, including Poland, Australia and Singapore.  In total, between print and online media, roughly 80 million people read the feature.

So what was this startlingly important story that made me famous for a day or two?…

Melon!  Well, to be strictly accurate, a pot of melon and grape (those of you who pay attention to such things may remember a story about a woman being age checked in case her fruit fermented – yes, that was me).

A Tesco employee had (foolishly) responded to a complaint I made about customer service by stating (in writing) that all fruit would be age verified.  I thought this was a) very funny and b) would make a good filler for an inside page of the local paper – I posted the reply (without showing the employee’s name) on my Facebook page and tagged our local paper.  They ran the story, it was then picked up by a group of regional journalists and the rest, as they say, was history.






So what was the experience like?  I can only say a mix of bizarre and slightly frightening.  Bizarre as it was such an odd story and it’s totally, totally weird to go to your email login page and see your own face staring back at you.  Frightening as it went out of control very, very quickly: I had reporters creating chaos at work, constantly calling the switchboard and even my colleagues, my Facebook page was besieged and elements of the story (including my details and what actually happened) changed by the minute.

However, it was fascinating to watch the story spread.  It started at a single point (my local paper, the Plymouth Herald).  From there, it was picked up by regional journalists at the BBC.  They covered it, and within two hours it was in the online versions of most of the daily newspapers (including the Mail, Mirror, Metro and Sun).  There was radio coverage on Radio 4 and Radio 1 early the following morning, together with articles in most of the print editions of the papers.  Later that day the international sites picked up on it (including AOL and MSN), and, finally, that evening and the following morning, it was covered by some of the more out of the way places.

Would I want to go through the same experience again? No, not to the same extent at least – there’s an ‘out of control’ feeling when something takes off and you can no longer control the details.  That said, it did provide some insights, both as a (very limited) experience of what press intrusion must be like and, more positively, how a viral story can take flight.

I may not buy any melon for a while though!


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