I jest, there were many amazing things that came about as a result of one of my reels going viral but anxiety was one of my prevailing feelings attached to it.
Let me tell you what happened – the good, the bad and the anxiety.
So, it was August 2021 I had just finished my first in person market since the pandemic and I was about to go on a weeks holiday from my ceramics work. My holiday was intended to include a bit of a break from Instagram but I still checked in throughout the week, because hello I’m addicted, and I noticed that a video I had posted 2 weeks before was starting to get a lot of likes. On the Monday I was incredibly excited because it was at 500k views. This was so exciting because I had made it my goal at the start of that year to make videos and my work was paying off, I was getting noticed! Then I woke up the next day and it was at around 800k. I couldn’t believe it but I was still on holiday so I was trying to switch off and have my wee social media break (spoiler: I did not have a social media break that week). The following day it reached over 1 million views, I think it happened when I was sleeping, classic me.
After that it went kinda crazy. I still can’t comprehend the kind of numbers it eventually got to and how fast it happened. In 1 day it was viewed a million more times. The next day it reached 4.2 million views, the day after that it was up at 6 million. It slowed down and took maybe a week to get past 9 million where it hovers around today. I was gaining thousands of new followers, my other videos were also getting a lot more attention, I went from a couple dm’s a month to an overflowing inbox and all these comments I couldn’t even keep track of. I was overwhelmed. It freaked me out that that many people were viewing something I made. And then the troll comments and messages began.
I think when a video goes viral it gets bumped up by the all powerful and mysterious algorithm and gets shown to a lot of people and some of these people may not be interested in ceramics, or be particularly nice. Unfortunately I got some nasty comments and one particularly vile message that I won’t focus too much on what it said but it was very personal and made me cry a lot. Please turn on offensive language filters on your comments and dm’s if you haven’t already and add certain words or phrases that Instagram will block for you. Protect yourself, F the trolls.
Another theme of some comments was people (men, it was men) criticising my techniques or criticising my design choices. Now I wasn’t aware I had gone back to art school and had asked for this critique from these ceramics experts who don’t even have a profile picture.. I think it’s a common thing for artists that we might get 99 lovely comments about our work and we’ll fixate on that 1 negative thing. I had a wee rant on my stories and logged out for a day but it was the community that I have on Instagram were super supportive of me and there were some particularly lovely messages from people that really helped me out of that slump.
It’s not that I can’t take critique, if you’ve met one of my lecturers at art school you’ll know I know how to take critique, but what I wasn’t prepared for was these anonymous people just saying nasty things because they’re bored or just nasty people. I’m so critical of myself that I say nasty enough things to myself, I don’t need some dude telling me that. It’s made me have a different attitude to my social media. I try to make it a positive space for myself and set my boundaries. This is the part that’s still a work in progress, I have a lot of anxiety around messages or comments and people saying nasty things but Instagram is a lot more enjoyable for me now.
For once in my life I had impeccable timing. I happened to have a shop update the week after the video went viral and I was really excited about it because hopefully some of these new followers could turn into sales. And they did, it was one of my best online shop updates and it was a huge boost to my confidence.
My follower count went up fast but it plateaued just as fast and has stayed the same since. I think some people followed me and haven’t stayed interested or were bot accounts and have been deleted because I lose as many followers as I gain nowadays. I don’t take this personally because I’ve been posting the same as I was back then and I like what I share, I’d rather have less but engaged and nice followers than just heaps of them for the sake of it.
I felt proud and excited and amazed at this video but I also felt anxious and freaked out and overwhelmed. And I felt guilty for feeling negatively about something most people on the internet probably dream of.
So what do I think happened?
The short answer is I don’t know.
The long answer is I think it was the right time, the right music, maybe a little luck, it was a satisfying video that drew people in, then when it took of it just kept running, at a sprint. The video starts with me trimming a handle and the trimming really nicely curls, it looks super smooth and people have said it calmed them. The Olivia Rodrigo song was well matched to the pace of the video and her music was also very popular that summer.
That summer I was posting a lot, photos, videos and reels and was pretty active online so I think our lord and saviour the algorithm liked that and might have shown my videos to more people, it was also when Instagram really stepped up their battle to be tiktok and push reels, and this was the one that took off. My first thought is to brush it off as luck (and I do kinda think it was) but I also want to be proud of it and to let go of all the anxiety I felt at the time. It was work, I was putting a lot of my time and effort into making videos and it wouldn’t have done well if it wasn’t a good video.
I don’t think I could ever replicate it if I tried, and I’m not sure I’d want to, although I’d be more prepared for it now.
So what did I learn?
I love making videos. I enjoy the process of making a video as much as I enjoy making a mug and I want to keep doing it.
Going viral is not the big thing I thought it was. It's very exciting now the anxiety has passed, I wish I could go back knowing what I know now and maybe I'd enjoy it more.
Boundaries on social media are essential. Turn off your notifications, turn on your offensive language filter and add your custom words into your settings so some asshole can’t make you cry in your dm’s.
Strangely the viral video has made me look less at the numbers and think more about if I’m enjoying my experience online.
Going forward it's about quality over quantity, personal connections over numbers, sustainable growth over going viral.