Viral Spiral

Ever wonder what it’s like for those involved when you see something Trending and Viral? Last week, I was a happy retired lady, lunching with friends, painting for fun, and my biggest worry was the declining health of my mother in law. Then the article in our local weekly newspaper ran. My life changed instantly. And not for the better.

Cue the scream.

It all started out as a bit of a lark. Sure – run a fun fluff piece in the weekly newspaper. Agree to a local late night news story as a favor for a friend.

Oh boy.

The next day, the email messages from various websites began. Various ABC affiliates across the country picked up the story, and it seemed like every crazy cat lady website, none of which I’ve ever heard of, was messaging me on Spock’s fan page on Facebook wanting a quote and permission to use photos on his fan page. OK – I picked the ones who seemed nicest, and went along with it. By Sunday night, Spock’s page had gone from 107 likes to 830. It was amusing.

Then came Monday morning. I opened my iPad while still in bed, and just for kicks, looked at the Spock page. I had well over 2000 likes on the page, 9 messages, and 25 people had posted on the page. WTF?  I checked my phone. I had 15 texts from friends all saying “I just saw you on Good Morning America! OMG!” Then the phone rang. “Hello, this is _____ from GMA. We’d like to follow up our story with an online article and would like a few minutes of your time…”. 5 minutes later, CBS, NBC, The New York Daily News and several others started hounding me.


I was in full Crisis Communications Mode. It was amazing how fast and how easily I slipped into the familiar routine. My goal at this point was controlling the message. Somehow, in the previous 4 days, these cat lady sites had  Spock growing from anywhere to a full 4 feet to 5 feet, and his fangs grew along with him. One media outlet said the police were regular visitors to the house.  (They have never, ever been here). It was time to make sure this nonsense stopped.

Having helped clients manage many crises in my working life, I knew what to do. Unlike some of those clients, I listened to me, and took my advice.  I agreed to interviews with the most reputable media, and placed strict controls on what could and could not be said. I supplied photos so mistakes couldn’t be easily made. I asked for links so I could check and then demand corrections when errors crept in. Most of the reporters I spoke to were lovely, and the interviews were pleasant, but not all.  I turned down a major news outlet because the reporter was a real jerk, and wanted to write an unacceptable story because he thought it would  be ‘funny’. The words “Please jump off the Brooklyn Bridge” may or may not have been spoken by me.

By Tuesday morning, CNN and HLN had picked up the story. I was now Trending on Facebook, Yahoo and Google News. The Spock site was up to 5000 likes, and I was receiving an average of 10 messages an hour from people who wanted to know what kind of cat food he ate to where could they get a cat like him. I spent that day working with the last media interviews with HuffPo, Buzzfeed and The Daily Mail in the UK.

What am I happiest about?  I followed the advice I gave countless clients – I didn’t read ANY of the comments on the articles. I’m sure I was trolled, and trolled badly. However, I retained my sanity, and saw none of them. Boom.

Finally, I said “That’s it!” (Insert Danny DeVito’s voice for full effect) For the rest of Tuesday, I told everyone who contacted me that it was time for the story arc to end, refused all further interviews, and gave no one else permission to use the pictures from Spock’s page. I’m sure that didn’t stop them, but it did slow down the process.

Tuesday night, Diane, a good friend and former colleague (and fellow former journalist) agreed to help me manage the Spock page, which just went to a community of over 6800 likes. We had joked for the past few years about how her gorgeous, fluffy calico was Spock’s girlfriend. We made that official, and she did a great post about how Spock is Callie’s  Jaune-Tom, and she’s his Mewsette. I am so grateful to have Diane’s wit and creativity on this journey. I missed working with her, and am loving the chance to have fun on this page together. I’m already thinking about a story line for Valentine’s Day.

Wednesday was blissful silence, which gave me the day to focus on my MiL. By Thursday, I had my life back. I was able to talk on the phone with various good friends, got all the household chores done that had languished, and was able to spend 3 quality hours studying brushwork techniques.

One of my friends still in the media told me on Monday that it would take two weeks for things to return to normal, and I bet her I would shut the hype down in 7.  I did it in 6, and she owes me lunch.

The best part?  I have now rejoined my Regularly Scheduled Life.  Here’s a bird I did to help brighten up my MiL’s week. I hope she likes it.   I’m so glad I was able to afford to have me manage my crisis.

I really must take myself out for a spa day to say “thank you”.image