A year ago, Allison Slater Tate was knee deep in caring for her newborn and three other children. She had submitted two posts to The Huffington Post’s Parents section, and they’d done decently, but she had no inkling what would happen when she wrote her third: an essay on how her self-consciousness about being in pictures with her kids was cheating her children of memories of mom. The post ran in early October with a headline "The Mom Stays in the Picture" — and that’s when things went crazy.
"I didn't even have an active blog of my own at that point, and I was largely out of the whole blogging community, Twitter, etc., so I didn't even know what kinds of posts went viral or what viral meant in terms of numbers," she says. Nonetheless, viral her post went. Big time. Within weeks, the essay had been read millions of times and liked more than half a million times on Facebook.
It can happen: something you do taps into the cultural zeitgeist. Suddenly, your ideas—you!—get passed around the Internet at Outbreak-like speeds.
So how can you capitalize on your newfound fame?
While fame can happen without your consciously doing anything (like the Ridiculously Photogenic Guy—who just smiled at a camera during a race) in the Internet era fame often happens because you created something. And if you created something, you can be ready to fan the flames along.
Veronica de Souza was bummed out the night of the second presidential debate in 2012. "Earlier that day, the startup I worked at had let our entire team go. I was jobless and had no idea what I wanted to do next," she says. So she stayed in to watch the debate. Then inspiration struck. "As soon as I heard the words Binders Full of Women"—Mitt Romney’s explanation of how he’d diversified his gubernatorial team—"I got the Tumblr URL and it was a blur from there." She posted humorous photo illustrations of the concept, and "I kept my name off it for the first hour or so until it really started to blow up," she says. "Maybe it’s just me, but I think the mystery of who is behind something on the Internet makes people want to share it more. At around 11:30 p.m., I told a friend it was my blog and she tweeted up a storm. I started gaining more submissions and more followers. I stayed up until 3 a.m. that first night, going through all the submissions and queuing up posts for the next day." She got over 15,000 submissions by the time she quit updating the post after the election.
While you might want to hunker down when your inbox starts filling up, don’t. De Souza says that "I knew that I would have a small spotlight for a very short amount of time"—and she needed a job. So she said yes to interviews on CNN and NPR. Tate took her baby along to New York to go on the Today Show and other programs—thus generating some excellent photos in which mom stayed in the picture.
Because guess what? You are going to hear from everyone. Tate reports that "I heard from my former teachers, I heard from my children’s former teachers, I heard from childhood friends and college classmates living in Europe. After I started my professional Facebook page, my German exchange student from high school messaged me there. We had not spoken since college!"
One way to make the most of your fame? Use it to draw attention to a broader cause. Kevin Heinz and Jill Peterson (and friends) danced down the aisle in 2009 to Chris Brown’s song "Forever." When the video went viral—to the point of significantly boosting Brown’s sales—the two elected to use their fame to raise money to fight domestic violence (Brown plead guilty in 2009 to assaulting former girlfriend Rihanna). Their website has now raised about $50,000 for the cause.
Tate wanted to give other women a way to share their struggles with self-image. "I was the one who had the idea to add a slideshow to the essay so that moms could send in pictures of themselves with their kids," she says. "There are over 2000 photos in the slideshow now." She reports that "I received so many emails, notes, and messages from friends and strangers about how my post changed their lives and changed them. I gained a sense of purpose in my writing and a reason to carve out time in my life to write."
People can’t help you make the most of your fame if they don’t know what you’re seeking. De Souza says that "I talked to a lot of reporters and made sure to tell everyone I was looking for a job." David Weiner, the editorial director of Digg, tweeted that he had heard her interview on NPR. "I replied with a joke hashtag: #ReasonsWhyDiggShouldHireMe," de Souza says. "We exchanged emails and I was in the office a few days later." Digg offered her a job as a social media editor. "The best part is that it’s been almost a year, and the excitement hasn’t gone away."
Tate suggested follow-ups for Christmas, Mother’s Day, and the one year anniversary. She recently went on the Today Show again to discuss the topic. She’s parlayed that fame into writing for several places, including Child and WhattoExpect.com. And—finally—her own blog, which she launched to keep her new readers with her for all her writing projects yet to come.