What I Wish I’d Known Before My Content Went Viral

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Photo by Miguel A. Amutio on Unsplash

Earlier in my career, I was super focused on creating viral content and getting the highest number of shares possible. I thought if I could get a viral post then people would inevitably see the value in our product, sign up and become passionate customers. Today, I’m going to tell you a story about one time I had a piece of content go viral and the things I wish I would have known before that happened.

Years ago, I got really caught up in “startup culture.” I was working crazy hours, not hanging with friends, and only stopping to eat and drink beer. While that produced some decent results for a while, it started to wear me pretty thin and I decided it was time to start working on my physical and mental health.

So, what did a younger me decide was the best course of action?

Maybe adjust my diet and slowly incorporate exercise into my life to create small sustainable changes?

Nope. I dove headfirst into training for a half-marathon.

I was determined to go from a sedentary pasty blob to a running… pasty blob. I was so excited to see the change in myself and my body that I started wearing a Fitbit.

I was frustrated at the time that you couldn’t see all of your Fitbit data in one place. I wanted to be able to see my exercise activity go from eating potato chips on the couch to running 10–15 miles a week, but Fitbits dashboard only showed you one day at a time. Being a marketer for a company that sells dashboard software I thought, “I’ll figure this out and write a tutorial about it!” Finally, a content marketing project that will make my personal life better!

I found a solution using IFTTT, one line of JSON code, and Initial State to stream my daily activity from Fitbit and view my cumulative data on one dashboard. I was so proud. I wrote up my blog post and put it on our website.

A few days later it got picked up by the popular internet publication LifeHacker. They had written a few times about us before, and it was always a good thing for our traffic and sign-ups. This time, however, it freaking blew up.

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Within just a couple of days, it got 30,000 views on the original LifeHacker post and was re-blogged across their international networks, and shared across a ton of other blogs too. We got 500 signups in one weekend. That may not sound like a lot, but for a young startup still finding its footing, it was a huge win. For a brief moment, I felt like an all-powerful marketing genius. Had I just helped our company create a viral footing to which we would look back on as our cornerstone of growth? Had I helped not only achieve but confirm that we had found product-market fit!?


All those new users started the tutorial, but never returned to finish, monitor their data, and convert to being a paying customer.

But why?

Fitbit targets people who want to easily track their fitness activity. This could be anyone from a high school athlete to your good ol’ granny. This is a much broader and different audience of people than we attract: developers, engineers, and DIYers.

It was a good idea and a cool project, and that’s why LifeHacker picked it up and it got so much traction. However, the people who saw it on LifeHacker didn’t want to do the multi-step process that the tutorial took you through. It only took 30 minutes to set the whole thing up, but it also required modifying some JSON code: an intimidating step for your average Fitbit user.

So, what did I learn?

A lot of times in the startup world, our nose can be so close to the grindstone that we lose focus of our target customer. In this instance, I got so excited about a cool idea that I wanted to solve that I forgot to ask myself the simple question, “Would our target audience find this valuable?”

Marketing is all about being where your customers are, and showing them you can solve a specific problem for them in a way that makes their life easier or better. Just make sure it’s the problem that your product is made to solve.

Director of Marketing at Initial State.

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