See All Posts

Going (Kind of) Viral

On Sunday, United Airlines became the subject of a tweetstorm after a gate agent denied boarding to two young women because they were wearing leggings and therefore did not meet the dress code requirements for the buddy pass on which they were traveling.

Of course, that entirely rational explanation didn’t surface for some time—well after the Twitter-verse, including yours truly, worked itself into a swivet.

I figured my tweet about the subject, in which I mused about wearing leggings on my next United flight, would simply be one of hundreds of thousands of other tweets and as such would likely be viewed by a handful of people in my network before disappearing down my Twitter feed.

Alas, I was wrong. Very wrong. As of this moment, about 48 hours after I hit send, my post has been retweeted 92 times and liked 465 times. According to Twitter analytics for my post, my tweet was seen 45,920 times, and nearly 1,250 people interacted with it. My tweet also appeared in the Huffington Post’s story about the kerfuffle, right above Chrissy Tiegen’s.

Having a tweet go semi-viral was a strange experience and one that gives me additional perspective on what it means to be on social media. A couple takeaways:

  1. Follow your own advice. I violated my own cardinal rule about “breaking” situations on Twitter—I leapt in well before the details of the situation were known. And plenty of people, as recently as yesterday, felt compelled to inform me exactly what context I had missed in this story—namely, that these weren’t paying passengers but instead employee-connected travelers who were informed in advance of dress code regulations. (I still think prohibiting 10-year-olds from wearing leggings is dumb, but please don’t tweet at me about it.) The lasting lesson here is that your immediate response is rarely a good idea. I should have taken the time to see how the facts unfolded—a good lesson for all of us who need to balance rapid communication with accurate communication.
  1. The thing that you try to make go viral will likely never go viral. Most of the things that you post will never go viral, but perhaps the thing you think is a one-off pecked out over coffee could. I’ve sent funnier tweets, more controversial tweets, and more relevant tweets, but for some reason, this one took off. I cannot explain it to you, and I likely cannot ever replicate this experience. Just goes to show that it’s truly hit-or-miss on the Internet, so don’t build your social media plan on something going viral.
  1. Being on social media involves risk. If you’re going to have a presence and say anything worth reading, you’re going to get feedback. Some of it will be negative and some of it will be downright nasty—several strangers made very hurtful comments about my appearance and my intelligence this weekend. If you, or your leadership, or your organization don’t have tough enough hides to take feedback, criticism, or name-calling, perhaps you should reconsider whether or not social media is worth it.

Twitter is still a vital tool for me, as well as a fun way to engage with people, perspectives and events I might otherwise not encounter. But I’m OK with not having quite that level of attention again…at least for a while. And no, I’m not going to wear leggings on my next flight.