Muriwai Monster - going viral without effort

How to find great content? 

Finding space for inspiration

Do you sometimes take a walk to clear your head, trying to find ideas for new content? I have my favourite places to blow the cobwebs out of my head and re-charge for writing. Muriwai beach, not far from Auckland, is such a place. It’s a nearly endless stretch of beach on the “wild” western coast of New Zealand’s North Island, ruggedly beautiful and often deserted.

There is always something unusual washed ashore. Colourful shells, gigantic starfish, weird jellyfish and this time a rather large and smelly tree trunk. Usually nothing special, but this one was spectacular. It was covered in seaweed that was hanging off the trunk like strands of glistening dreadlocks with thousands of little shells holding tight.

Unusual images capture attention and unleashes creativity

The crawling giant

This wondrous tree trunk appeared like something alien, something from another world that needed to be investigated. Every investigatory angle triggered images and ideas. From one perspective, it was a giant crawling along the beach, from another, a scary prehistorical creature. And close-up it looked like someone had meticulously woven thousands of beads into the trunk’s seaweed plaits.

I started taking pictures and felt blessed that I had encountered something so beautiful. It really made my walk very special. At home I posted images of the tree trunk on Facebook and received several comments from friends. One sent a link to a German newspaper article about the “Muriwai Sea Monster”.

How monstrous content goes viral

It was the same day I posted my pictures in my news feed, that I saw an article in a major German newspaper. Apparently, only two days earlier someone had posted similar pictures on Facebook and now the New Zealand sea monster story was making headlines in global newspapers. It surprised me that an event, so quiet and natural, developed enough momentum to make the leap from social media to renowned international newspapers.

Getting close for better detail

The smelly tree trunk story, did what every writer, blogger or business owner dreams of – producing content that grabs attention and spreads like a highly contagious virus. This is the stuff we are working hard to achieve. And annoyingly enough, there does not seem to be any logic or reasons why this story went viral. Or is there? Let’s have a close look:

  • The story is about an old and smelly tree trunk
  • The tree trunk washed ashore like many other objects
  • It happened at the “end of the world” in New Zealand, a country that is not in the limelight these days (except for unreasonably high property prices)
  • The author made no extra effort to make this post go viral like using SEO or other internet magic (after all, “sea monster” does not usually come up when doing keyword research.)
  • The author is no celebrity or successful blogger

Here’s what I think is the reason for the smelly tree trunk making headlines:

  • The tree trunk was an eye-catcher
  • It was unique
  • It triggered curiosity, creativity and kick-started everyone’s imagination
  • Despite its deterring smell, the treetrunk was spectacularly pretty
  • It evoked ideas of mystery and mythical creatures
  • The written message was secondary – it was the image that caught attention

Grab the monster by the tail to accelerate your copy

So clearly – if an inanimate object can make headlines without a well thought out strategy and social media campaign – can we do the same?

The Monster's Tail

The monster’s tail

Generally, we can. But we would also have to be able to create the same uniqueness that captivates. I am as guilty as anyone of neglecting my social media images. As a writer, the images I use with my blogs are secondary. For me the copy is my main content.

It is time to rethink that concept. With a bit of research, I found out that we process images 60,000 times faster than text. Apart from that, social media loves images. Images are shared, re-posted and pinned much more than content. People’s reading habits have changed. They went from reading to scanning. Especially online, they don’t read long documents, they mostly scan the headlines.

Images tell a story of their own. No need to read, no need to stay focused, extremely short processing time.

Synergy is the key to viral content

But it’s not as easy as that. I am convinced that images and copy need one another. They create synergy where both parties achieve more in combination rather than isolation. Images can grab attention and motivate to read the copy. But in equal measures can a strong headline hook the reader to look at images and, of course, read the copy.

So, go out and find your monsters to boost your copy and write great headlines to boost your images!

http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/neuseeland-raetsel-um-das-muriwai-monster-geloest-1.3292403

http://www.stern.de/panorama/wissen/natur/neuseeland-raetselt-ueber-das–muriwai-monster–7236984.html

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