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Describing the experience of going viral

Brett Stanley experiences the phenomena that is having an image spread rapidly across the internet

28 December 2015


Brett Stanley experiences the phenomena that is having an image spread rapidly across the internet

The concept of ‘going viral’ is pretty straightforward: you post something online, which people notice and like, and then they repost it and more people see it, like it, and repost it again. It’s exactly like cells dividing and multiplying, and it snowballs. The more it’s shared, the more it’s seen, and the more it’s shared again. It takes on a life of its own, and it happens to online content every day. I just never expected it to happen to mine.

Late last year I put together a couple of photo shoots in New Zealand featuring beautiful women dancing underwater on poles. It’s not as sleazy as it sounds, in fact it was a way to highlight pole dancing as the legitimate sport it’s become. It’s so much more than entertainment for gentlemen’s clubs, with pole-fitness studios opening up across the globe all the time.

Brett Stanley

So we shot these great photos, the girls making everything look amazing while doing their darnedest not to. I was proud of what we created, so I posted them on my blog and social media. They got a few ‘likes’, they got a few ‘shares’, they even got a ‘retweet’ here and there. I was happy and went to bed in my LA apartment. It wasn’t until I woke up the next day that I realized the magnitude of the response — it had taken off. 

The social media shares were in the hundreds and rising every minute, I would see them pop up in my Facebook newsfeed from places that I never expected. I got emails from bloggers and news agencies wanting to repost the images. I started seeing my own blog post translated into other languages, and then other countries retranslating those translations. I couldn’t keep up! I was fielding emails and comments every day. I spent hours looking through my website stats to see where it had travelled to next. It was incredibly humbling and flattering that these images could have garnered such an amazing response.

Brett Stanley

But then I started to worry: I had no control over where these images were going any more. They had set out on their own. Soon the joy turned a little sour as I scoured Google’s reverse image search results to see who had pilfered my images that very hour. It was no holds barred out there, logos were removed, model credits discarded, my beautiful images were being soiled by the blogs they were now associated with. What was an attempt at changing the stereotype soon became part of the problem: beautiful, scantily clad women dancing with poles.

The comments, while mostly positive and complimentary, still dropped into the gutter, with people asking where this underwater strip club was, would they need to throw Spanish doubloons instead of notes, and why were the drinks so watered down?

Brett Stanley

Word to the wise: don’t read the comments. Ever. Here be trolls.

It wasn’t all bad, in fact much of it was incredibly uplifting. I was getting messages from people all over the world saying how much they wanted to do a photo shoot like this. The exposure was huge as well, with the images being viewed in more than 70 countries. I had TV stations from as far and wide as Germany and Mexico ask to use the behind-the-scenes footage that we had shot. I saw it being talked about live on air in Spanish, and for some reason it went nuts in Eastern Europe, with about 50 sites reposting in Russia alone. Poland took the prize for the most hits, but it makes sense considering that’s where poles come from.
It was a rollercoaster ride and I didn’t know when it would end — except it did. 

Brett Stanley

As with any plague it has to reach critical mass at some point. I was expecting it to peter out after a day or so, but it lasted about three weeks — and then it was gone. Extinguished like it never was. This is the nature of going viral, it’s a flash in the pan. It might be your shot at fame or notoriety, but it’s going to last as long as it takes for people to move on, which in today’s society ain’t a lengthy amount of time.

Would I wish for it to happen again? Would I work towards it? Yes, of course, but now I know how it all works. I know that it’s like a runaway train, barely clinging to its tracks. I would be prepared next time, I would put watermarks where they can’t be removed, and I would try to keep my hands on the wheel.