Something very unexpected happened in March. An Instagram reel I shared went {a little bit} viral. Here are the stats almost four weeks after it was originally posted..

At the time of writing, the number of views has jumped up again, surpassing 250K.

I’m well aware these stats won’t seem that big to some people. If there’s a scale of virality, this piece of content would definitely sit at the lower end. But for me, these numbers are HUGE! And the way they crept up was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in the 15 years I’ve been {over}sharing online.

Let’s Set the Scene…

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been experimenting with my Instagram content, especially video. Here’s some context in case you’re new here:

‘My guiding word for 2024 is ‘play’ […] Adopting a more playful approach to Instagram has helped me work through my creative block. Instead of worrying about timing things perfectly or being late to a trend, I’m following the fun, playing around with different formats and trying to make visiting my main feed feel more like following my stories.’

Letter From Love Audrey, January 2024

The viral post was part of a series of bookshop tours I’ve been making, partly because there are few things I love more than books, but also as a way of challenging myself to record voiceovers for my reels.

Making the Reel

At the end of February, my mum and I spent the day in Bath. A visit to Persephone Books was top of our to-do list. I knew I wanted to include the shop in my series, so I captured plenty of video while I was there. I shared some of this in my Stories the following day.

While we were in Bath, we also made it to the Jane Austen Centre. I think this is why some music from the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice jumped out at me when it came to selecting an audio. It happened to be an early trending audio which I’m sure played a part in those crazy numbers.

From what I can remember, it didn’t take me long to edit my clips together. I wrote myself a short script, recorded the voiceover and left it in my drafts for a few days.

Sharing the Reel

I decided to share the reel on Tuesday 5th March. World Book Day was coming up on the 7th, so there was a lot of bookish content about. I added the relevant hashtag to my caption and clicked ‘share’. It didn’t rack up many views to begin with. In fact, it didn’t seem to be performing as well as some of my other content.

By Thursday, things started to feel a little different. I noticed the reel was being saved a lot and the views were starting to creep up at a more rapid pace. People also started following me from the reel and I was struggling to keep up with my notifications.

When I checked the stats that evening, it was my most successful reel with over 21K views. When I went to bed around 10pm, it had jumped to 40K, and when I woke up the following morning it had 85K views. By 8am, it had surpassed 100K.

I couldn’t believe it. Every time I thought it was slowing down, the views would jump up again. Just under a week after it first went live, the reel had been viewed more than 200,000 times.

What Did It Feel Like to Go Viral?

Honestly, it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had online! At least, not to begin with.

As the notifications rolled in, I started to feel quite panicky. The rational part of my brain knew my reel was a fleeting moment among an otherwise rapid scroll, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were suddenly thousands of eyeballs on me and my content. Watching my follower count grow was equally unsettling. In my head, the 4000 or so people following me before I shared this reel were old friends, and the new people were… well, strangers. What if they weren’t very nice? What if they didn’t ‘get me’ or my content?

For me, the strangest thing about going viral was the loss of control. After a while, it didn’t feel like the reel belonged to me anymore. It had been claimed by the internet. Beyond taking it down or turning off comments, I had no say in what happened next. People were tagging friends, having their own separate conversations in the comments and planning road trips to Bath. It was truly surreal.

What Happened Next?

When I finally managed to calm down, I realised how exciting the whole thing had been. I’m not sure I want to reach that many people with every piece of content I put out, but it’s nice to know something I made from a place of joy and fun resonated with so many.

After years of painfully slow growth on the platform, gaining more than 400 followers in a short space of time was a nice surprise. I refused to let stage-fright set in, so I stuck to my posting schedule and kept showing up. Meanwhile, the reel continues to gain likes, views and shares every day. It will be interesting to see how future installments of my bookshop series land!

Has any of your content ever gone viral? Is it something you aspire to or does the mere idea fill you with horror? One thing’s for sure, if growth is your goal on Instagram, a viral reel won’t hurt! If only it were something we could engineer…

Love Audrey xxx

P.S. What Happened When Charlie Went Viral?

P.P.S. A version of this post originally appeared in Letters From Love Audrey, my monthly newsletter filled with creative inspiration for you and your business. If you’ve enjoyed reading this and would like more of the same in your inbox, you can sign-up here.

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