Want To Go Viral Online? Easy as 1, 2, 3. I’m Using #3 in this Post.

Want to Know How To Go Viral ?

Who doesn’t?

Most people want their videos or their blog posts to go viral online because they want the traffic it produces.

But I think going viral can create a lot more than just website traffic blips. 

The deeper side of going viral is that it can change lives. 

Let me share a story that demonstrates what I mean. And then I’ll share some of the ways you can go viral.

This story did a slow burn online a couple of years ago thanks to some videos posted to YouTube.

It is not the kind of red hot viral of 8 gazillion views you associate with a Gangnam video, but the gradual heat that builds over the time and that mass media likes to cover. 

Most importantly, this story is about the changed lives and altered perceptions.

Some of you may already know the story of James and Bob the Cat, but stay with me because James’ story gives us the key to a type of viral that people cannot resist.  

The Cliff Notes version is Bob was homeless and injured.  So was James.  James nursed Bob back to health.  Bob followed James everywhere including Covent Garden where they attracted attention duo-busking (aka panhandling). 

People started taking pictures and videos of the cute ginger cat busking with his buddy.  Along the way James shared his story of how the two came to be. 

Here’s the key.

James didn’t hold back.  Viral - Bob the Cat - the marketing bit

He shared everything – the ugly warts, the unflattering truth.  

He shared the fact that he was a former drug addict.  He had screwed up many, many times before but that caring for an animal and being loved by that cat turned his life around. 

More people noticed. 

Without Bob, James was just one of many homeless, invisible people on the London streets.  With Bob on his shoulders, James became visible. 

One person who noticed was a publisher and asked if James would like to publish his story. 

Fast forward several years later, James and Bob are celebrities.  His first book and others that have followed have reached the #1 best seller’s list in England.

He’s been interviewed countless times, contributing to the viral online nature of his story.

He travels all over – including the US, sharing his story.  His Facebook Page has 150,000 fans and there were rumors of a movie deal in the works.  Bob’s fans often knit scarves for him and from the looks of it, Bob’s wardrobe is full.

In addition to changing the trajectory of James’ life, the story also changed how some people in London viewed the homeless.  In one of the many YouTube videos, a man said that after reading James’ story the homeless are no longer invisible to him.  I gather there are many who share this man’s view.

A fabulous story, don’t you think?

But let’s get back to going viral online. 

#1 Way to Go Viral – James and Bob Way

The number one method is to be brave and don’t hold back.  Courage is required. This approach is the life-changing James and Bob way to viral. 

Tell your ugly story – the one you hide – and people will listen.  People will not only listen, they will – in some way – be changed by hearing your story.  Plus sharing your story can change your life as well as it did for James.  

Most of us quietly live our lives and keep our viral-ness stuffed in a closet.  We don’t want to share OUR stories!

Why not?  You may have other reasons, but here are some my excuses. 

It’s private

Of course it is.  We value our privacy, right?  Some do more than others – like me.  Only a few very trusted souls know the really ‘big’ things in my life.

But here’s the rub.  As long as your story is private, people can’t connect with you in a way that truly matters and that is through their heart. 

Nelson Mandela said it best: 

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.

If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

It’s embarrassing

That is why it works! 

All of us have embarrassing things in our lives. 

The truth is we respond to those who demonstrate the courage to share their embarrassing stories.  It gives us the courage to share ours. 

It’s none of their business

Absolutely true.  But, these days, if you want to bubble to the top and break out of the boring sea of sameness, you have to be willing to be the real person you are and not the pretend person you want to be. 

Oprah’s popularity wasn’t because she shared boring stories with her audience.  She shared real life stories about herself and others that allowed others to connect with her. 

The same is true if you want to go viral online. 

#2 Way to Go Viral – The Run of the Mill 

If sharing your story is too scary for you, and it may, you might be asking are there other ways to go viral?


If you’re a humorous cut-up or a natural born daredevil, you can leverage these qualities and go viral.  But these approaches still require courage of a sort. 

You can’t share a knock-knock joke and expect to knock it out of the park.  You have to go to the absolutely bleeding edge.  The place few of us go for fear we’ll never return.

Think john Belushi in Animal House or the Blues Brothers. Think Evil Knievel and all of his daredevil tricks.  Think ‘Carrie’ Coffee Shop Prank  or How Animals Eat Their Food.

#3 Secret to Viral – The Chicken

Share someone’s compelling story with others.  That’s what I did here with James and Bob the Cat. 

It takes a little work, some research.  It is also less emotionally courageous. Yes, I am a chicken.

The plus side is that in the course of sharing others’ stories, you’re sharing what matters to you as a person and that is a beginning. 

Bottom Line

Will this post go viral? 

I doubt it.  I’m not planning on it.  I’m thinking about becoming more courageous. 

James’ story represents the positive side of going viral few talk about.  I thought I would. 

I think the world needs more compelling and courageous stories – our stories – that give others courage to make a difference. 

Personally, I want to see more of those stories go viral and less videos poking fun at Grumpy Cat or How Animals Eat Their food. 

The deeper question we have to ask ourselves is:  Are we willing to be courageous and tell out stories?

Not just to go viral, but to be more than we are.

Am I? 

Are you? 

I’ve shared with you what gives me pause. 

Share what holds you back from telling your story down below.

If you’re interested in finding out more about James and Bob the Cat, here’s one of the better YouTube videos you’ll find online.  Enjoy it.


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Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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