Going viral: How a throwaway tweet got 100,000 views

After all my time on Twitter the nearest I have come to a viral tweet is a comment made during the Big Benefits Row televised debate.  It was retweeted 116 times and 82 people added it to their favourites list. So it was with sheer fascination that I watched a Eurovision tweet created by my friend Bob trundle its way around the intewebs.  Here's Bob's take on his viral experience.


The grand final of Eurovision 2014 had it all, from busty Polish milkmaids to bearded 'ladies', along with its fair share of nonsensical lyrics.

As usual, I was watching with subtitles on, as this gives you the English translation of songs sung in their native language - such as Italy's entry, La Mia Citta ('My City'), sung by Emma Marrone. It wasn't a totally awful song, but it was Italy's worst ever, scoring just 33 points and ranking 21st overall.

But for me, the most interesting thing about Emma's performance was the 94,000 (and climbing) Twitter views it got me.

I Love Tweeting Inattentively

First and foremost, I love to tweet anything I find even mildly amusing. Life can be pretty dull sometimes, and you never know what might brighten up someone's day. I'm a writer, so I have a lot of writers as followers, and that also means anything to do with words makes good Twitter fodder for me. So when Emma randomly sang the line 'I love parking inattentively', it was worthy of a quick (and blurry) photo of my TV, tweeted with the not-too-imaginative caption 'BEST LYRIC OF THE NIGHT'.

Over two days (and nearly 100,000 views) later, my tweet is still being retweeted and favorited by people I've never heard of and, apart from the occasional '22 people favorited your tweet' notification, never will.

At the last count, my tweet had been seen over 94,000 times, more than 3,000 people had clicked on the link to the picture (the rest must have just seen it as an image preview within their Twitter timeline), almost 2,000 retweeted it, and almost 1,000 favorited it.

Where Did It All Go Right?

Big events like Eurovision, major award ceremonies, sporting events and so on are prime candidates for going viral - and when there's an obvious hashtag to use like #Eurovision, your chances of being seen are even greater.

In my case, I also mentioned @YPLAC in my tweet, a popular website dedicated to recording examples of people parking like a cu... erm, people 'parking inattentively'. Was it my language-obsessed followers, the @YPLAC crowd or the #Eurovision hashtag that triggered my best-ever tally of retweets?

The answer is, it was undoubtedly a combination of everything - a tweet with several specific areas of appeal can ultimately be more than just the sum of its partial audiences.

Words of Warning

Surprisingly, I didn't get any backlash from this tweet, although a few people made borderline racist comments about Italian people's ability to park attentively under any circumstances. In hindsight, a better, less blurry picture might have done even better, but I'm not really dwelling on that either, it's just nice to have my timeline back under control instead of it being a blur of retweets.

Spare a thought for @merseyboyred, whose tweet comparing the Austrian entry to the guy from the Snickers advert did about ten times as well as mine, but who had email notifications switched on for each of those 20,000 retweets. If you're gonna go viral, or even try to, you might want to switch off notifications first!

And finally, do I wish I'd watermarked my image with my Twitter handle? No, not really. This isn't my first picture to go viral - the Mirror are still using my image of Countdown's 'ITCHYSEMI' moment and just vaguely attributing it to 'Buzzfeed/Twitter'. (See that pattern of lines on the top half of the clock? That's because it's a photograph of my TV, rather than a screen grab, and it's how I know for certain that I took that photo.)

But I don't really own Eurovision or Countdown, and they could easily have got a screen grab of their own from elsewhere - I didn't create the content, not really.

Compare this with content I genuinely made myself - such as my MasterCard #PricelessSurprises Venn diagram, which the Guardian used with full attribution - and I think there's a big difference. You just can't be precious about happy-snapped things off the telly; once you send it off into Twitterland, it's out of your hands. 

Besides, with 20,000 email notifications coming your way, you might be glad for the two or three that don't give you credit.

Bob Bardsley |  Phronesis Freelance
All images reproduced with kind permission