Social media best practices

Five ways to make a user-submitted video go viral overnight

Guest author Paul Pronovost is the Executive Editor of the Cape Cod Times. He also oversees GateHouse Cape-based weeklies: The Cape Codder, The Provincetown Banner, The Register, Bourne Courier, Sandwich Broadsider, and The (Falmouth-Mashpee) Bulletin.

It was close to the end of the shift for Ethan Genter, our night reporter, and he was trolling social media for some of our news sources to see what they were up to. He came across a tweet from Greg Skomal, the state’s shark expert.

“Filmed a white shark predation attempt today… one lucky seal!” it read, with a video embedded in the message. The 27-second video featured one of the Cape’s many grey seals leaping out of the shallow water near Monomoy Island, with a great white shark leaping in pursuit, missing its prey in mid-air. A dramatic escape. Ethan showed it to News Editor Patrick Cassidy, who called Digital Assignment Editor Jason Kolnos about getting it on our site. By 11, it was posted, tweeted and Facebooked. By morning, it had gone viral.

During our morning review, the video was by far our highest traffic driver at about 35,000 page views and 165 shares on Facebook overnight. The page views ticked past 80,000 by the end of the day. To keep gas on the fire, we wrote a front page story, interviewing Skomal, who gave a naturalist’s blow by blow of what we were seeing in the video.

Another 40,000 page views were generated when the story was published in print and online, topping 120,000.

 photo cape_cod_times_20150819_A01 1_zpsovzlvhqk.jpg

Of course, having great content like this is key. But the takeaways for our staff were these:

  1. Keep your eye out for good stuff. This was essentially user-generated content that we played up.
  2. Move quickly when you think you have something good. Later, other media posted the video as well, but it was too late at that point. The viral momentum was already carrying our way.
  3. Push heavily on social media. At one point, 75 percent of the traffic came via Facebook. Since the front page story it’s now closer to 50 percent, but social media clearly set this on fire.
  4. Use the analytics to inform your decisions. Looking at the overnight numbers, we knew this was something we wanted to give long legs.
  5. Find your shark. OK, we’re pretty lucky to have great whites swimming around all summer, but there’s something that gets every community going. Find it, and stay on top of what sources are doing and saying. And when you see something interesting, pounce. Hopefully it won’t get away like that lucky seal.


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