Thoughts on the unpredictability of which social media posts will be popular

I tweet a lot and I write a lot on my blogs, especially on my ACGT blog. Sometimes I write things where I think: This…this is the one that will go viral. And of course it never happens that way. The more I try to engineer a meme, the less likely the chance of success seems to be. This is why my concept of a #MexicanTweetOff never went anywhere, and that no-one seemed to get the joke in my recent #IamSpartacash tweet:

But then there are those tweets and blog posts which I think won't be of that much interest to anyone, but turn out to be the most popular things I've ever written. This week has been surprising in that two of my social media posts have taken on a life of their own.

Everyone loves a good gnome story

First, I spotted the opportunity to have a bit of fun with Genomics England. Last Thursday was a big news day for them with the project being featured in Nature. So after seeing the piece in Nature early on Thursday morning, I came up with this:

This tweet went on to have over 40 retweets and Genomics England ended up featuring me in a storify article on Friday about their news of the previous day. To date, that tweet has reached an audience of over 67,000 people on twitter!

Microsoft as a tool for bioinformatics

Then on Friday I was trying to find an image to use in a talk. I wanted to make a point about Excel often being an inappropriate tool for the management/querying of biological data, and just wanted a picture of Excel containing some sort of biological data. I was quite surprised by the image that I eventually found, and immediately shared it in a quick blog post:

Admittedly. the 'NFSW' part of the blog post title was a tactic designed to deliberately provoke curiosity. I tweeted about the blog post on Friday afternoon, a time which normally doesn't provoke a lot of interest (many of my European followers will have gone to bed by this point).

But it seems that this post hit a nerve and it has subsequently taken on a life of its own. Currently, there has been 64 retweets and 44 favorites, and now it is being spread on Facebook. By the end of Friday, it had become the most read item on my blog for the entire week (this never happens for posts I publish on Friday afternoons). I assumed that traffic would die down on Saturday but that didn't happen. By the end of Saturday, the post was my most read article of anything I have posted in the last 4 months.

At this point I assumed that things would surely quiet down on Sunday, but that didn't happen either. Traffic to my blog doubled compared to Saturday, and the post has now become the most viewed article of anything I have written in 2015, with almost 3x the page views compared to the next most-read article.

I guess the message here is that I should stop trying to predict the popularity of my social media posts!