Gayle Goes Viral
Meet Gayle Rachford, Norwex Independent Sales Consultant. She has 1,826 friends on Facebook. What happened to her at the end of the summer was unprecedented, and absolutely remarkable!
Her eight-minute Facebook Live video went viral, zooming from 1,000 views, to 10,000 views, to 100,000 views. In 36 hours, her clip surged past the half-million mark. The view ticker kept going--all the way up to 614,000 views.
Even more surprisingly, after 44 hours, Gayle pulled the plug. She pressed the DELETE button. The video vanished from Facebook, as suddenly as it appeared.
Q & A with Gayle:
One doesn't usually run into digital celebrities in Farmington, New York, so I was very pleased to sit down with Gayle, over a cup of coffee, to hear about her unexpected brush with fame.
How did it start?
Why did it end?
And, what did she learn in 44 hours?
Q: Let's talk about going viral. Wow, 614,000 views. Congratulations, Gayle. Tell us about your video.
GR: Sure. It was an 8-minute long Facebook Live video filmed in my kitchen. The topic was back-to-school supply lists, which ask parents to buy disinfectant wipes for use in their kids' classrooms. I quoted the manufacturers' warnings about the dangers of using those wipes around children from both the label on the container, and from the Material Safety Data Sheet posted on the company's website. I recommended that parents NOT purchase disinfectant wipes, and suggested ways to find safer alternatives for cleaning classrooms.
It's a timely, relevant topic that I think parents should consider. That's it in a nutshell.
Q: When did you know that this particular video was different from the other clips that you posted on Facebook?
GR: The view numbers didn't follow the usual pattern, at all.
Most people think of Facebook as a loudspeaker that broadcasts all our posts to all our friends, instantly. That isn't true at all. Facebook's artificial intelligence software uses an algorithm (mathematical formula) to predict which posts will prompt friends in our cohort groups to react, comment, and share. Generally speaking, a typical post gets a 4% to 11% "reach." So, if you have 1,000 friends on Facebook, only 40 to 110 people will ever see your post. The algorithm favors Live videos, as well as new and original content.
I have a little over 1,800 friends on Facebook. So, on any given day, only between 68 and 187 people will see my posts. I knew that something crazy was going down when the number of views exceeded my total number of friends!
Q: What secret, sophisticated, behind-the-scenes strategies did you use push your message out to more than six-hundred thousand people on Facebook?
GR: Ha! Going viral was completely unexpected. When I started filming my Live video in my kitchen, I expected that maybe a dozen of my personal Facebook friends might jump on to say hi and maybe press the heart icon a few times.
Q: Hold on, Gayle. Unexpected? Accidental? That's hard to believe. Think of all the bloggers, Youtubers, and Instagram personalities who work night and day to promote themselves on social media. Surely you hired a coach, read a marketing book, or took an online course to learn how to push your message out to a mass audience…
GR: Nope. None of that. I didn't do anything special other than my usual shtick: props, hand gestures, bright eyes, some dramatic poses, smiles, and laughter. I was a classroom teacher for sixteen years, so I have a bit of experience when it comes to capturing students' attention by keeping my lessons fast, fresh, and fun.
Wearing different outfits, putting my hair up or down, make-up or fresh-face, glasses or no glasses, hats, accessories, and changing locations instinctively inspires me to create unique characters. I'm a bit of a clown at heart.
Q: So, what is your "shtick" in this viral video?
GR: Ironically, I was being myself—a fired-up mom, ranting, in my kitchen, over a back-to-school supply list.
Q: Please don't take this the wrong way, Gayle, but that subject doesn't sound all that intriguing or attention-grabbing. I could understand a Kardashian sister sex tape going viral, but not back-to-school supply lists. What am I missing here?
GR: Well, I'm not an expert, but here is what I think happened, based on the demographics of viewers who commented on my video. The clip was shared over 7,000 times. Based on that level of engagement, Facebook's algorithm started pushing the video out to people, who shared common characteristics: women my age, moms, teachers, green-cleaning advocates, people struggling with specific health issues, nurses, janitors, industrial chemists, as well as people who buy disinfecting wipes!
It's impossible to know exactly how the video spread, because Facebook's algorithm is a closely guarded, proprietary trade secret, but the results were stunning. The number of views swelled like a tsunami in a matter of hours.
Q: How long did it take you to write your script? Did you use cue cards? How many times did you rehearse your presentation?
GR: It was a one-time thing. Totally unscripted. Straight from the heart. The words flow naturally, because this issue is on my mind all the time, as a mom, and as a Norwex consultant. I think about it. Post about it. And, talk about it. So, in a way, the script was already written, internally. I just turned on the camera and said what I already think about, out loud.
I also draw on my public speaking skills that I developed as a veteran classroom teacher. My mouth finishes my last thought, while my mind moves on to plan the next message. When you speak sincerely, words flow from the heart.
Q: You must have been thrilled by all the attention and notoriety. Who liked and shared your video? Can you categorize your fans?
GR: That's easy.
My Norwex friends gave me lots of love and provided terrific testimonials about the effectiveness of microfiber as a non-toxic cleaning tool. My friends who make their own DIY personal care and household concoctions jumped on my bandwagon, too. Lots of people recommended cleaning products made with essential oils, white vinegar, baking soda, and good ol’ lemon juice.
I was also amazed at the number of people who wrote long comments about severe chemical sensitivities and terrible reactions caused by disinfecting products that they used in the past. It was heartbreaking to read about the terrible side-effects that their children have suffered through.
Moms who home-school their kids also weighed in on the issue. They don't want their kids exposed to a whole host of concerns: cleaning chemicals, contagious illnesses, bullying and violence, and illicit drug use.
A handful of angry taxpayers, objected to buying the wipes, not because of the health threat, but because they didn't want to buy anything extra on the school supply list. They kind of missed the point of my video, though.
Some crusaders jumped into the debate who were not only anti-chemical, but anti-GMO food and anti-vaccine, as well. They were definitely passionate about their issues.
There was a contingent of environmental activists, who raged against chemical pollution and contamination as a global issue, not just a school issue.
I was shocked at the number of educators and parent-aides who gave eye-witness testimonials about seeing children in other classrooms wiping down their own desks and washing their hands with these wipes after lunch or after finishing messy art projects.
Thousands of commenters wrote that this was new information to them, and they thanked me for posting the video.
And, then there were the…TROLLS.
I really can't speak on behalf of the rest of the viewers, who watched the video, but who didn't leave comments. I hope they responded positively, but I have no idea how they reacted privately. That's a great unknown
Q: You must feel quite validated by that wide-spread favorable response. Tell me about the TROLLS.
GR: As the numbers of views grew from the thousands to the tens of thousands, a friend called me on the phone, upset over the negative remarks some people had written in the comments section. Horrified and indignant, she wanted to know what I was going to do about the “trolling bleach-heads.”
Q: Trolling bleach-heads?
GR: Before I go down the rocky road to Trollville, let me state upfront that the response to my video has been overwhelmingly positive. Of the 614,000 people who viewed the video, slightly over 5,000 people wrote comments. Roughly 80% of those comments were positive and supportive. So, by my calculations 99.8% of my total viewers were either neutral or positive. That whittles the troll comments down to two-tenths of one percent of the total viewing audience, which isn't too bad. Throughout the whole experience, I focused on receptive people, who were grateful to receive the information that I presented. Does that make sense?
Q: Yes, it does. But, Internet trolling is such a fascinating phenomenon. Can you give us any insights?
GR: A cool feature in Facebook lets you sort live video comments by different metrics. Choosing "real-time" lets you see how people are reacting in each moment of any live video. For some people, my clip was an 8-minute roller-coaster of emotions: likes, eye-rolls, laugher, thumbs-ups, rage, followed by either poop or heart emojis.
Q: Poop emojis? That's rough. How did you cope with that?
GR: Ha! Some trolls even combined the burning fire emoji with the poop emoji to enhance the drama of their critiques.
How did I cope? Well, I knew the trolls weren't criticizing me, personally, as a human being. They were simply reacting to moving images and sounds on their own devices.
It's similar to worked-up sports fans shouting at their TVs when their favorite quarterback throws an interception or fumbles the football. The fans are passionately reacting to one moment in time, but the game goes on, and they'll end up cheering and high-fiving each other at the next touch-down, or screaming at a ref, who makes a bad call. It's more about their own entertainment, than it is about me. Plus, there is always another game on, so they'll just repeat the whole process again, and again, and again somewhere else on social media. I have a relatively strong and stable mind-set about criticism of this form on the Internet.
Q: Give us a run-down of who wrote negative comments about your video. In other words, who were the "haters?"
GR: Remember, only two-tenths of one percent of the commenters objected to my post, so I don't want to give too much weight to the "haters." However, their unfavorable responses were a true eye-opener for me.
It was humbling to realize that so many people have completely divergent beliefs about health and wellness. The “haters” were so cemented in their positions that there was no room for discourse, much less persuasion.
That said, the negative commenters fell into well-defined archetypes.
TROLL TYPE #1: Eye-rollers:
The most benign group were the people who just pressed the comment button "Come on," or who inserted an eye-rolling emoji. There were some eye-roll gifs, too. These people weren't very invested in the core issue, at all. There were even people who made salty comments, while at the same time admitting that they didn't even watch my video! I'm really not going to take shallow feedback like that to heart.
TROLL TYPE #2: Mud-slingers
Another group of haters wrote snarky insults, absurdly rude remarks, and spewed profanity. They no doubt write similarly unsavory comments about every photo or video they see online, regardless of the content or the underlying message. Their negativity came across as superficial and habitual, so I didn't take any of that personally, either. The silver lining was that I had to look up lots of terms in the Urban Slang Dictionary, so now I'm much more literate in caustic abbreviations. SMH.
TROLL TYPE #3: Direct-selling Detractors
I was unprepared for the vehement attacks on multi-level markers and direct-sellers. After all, I wasn't promoting any products or selling any items in my video. My purpose was clear and focused: Moms, who find disinfecting wipes on their kids' school supply lists, ought to be aware of the harmful effects of those chemical ingredients. Holy cow! If Satan were running a flash-sale, you would expect comments like these: "snake-oil, dishonest, shady, worthless, scammer!" And, those were the mild comments!
It's entirely possible that I don't understand the big picture or the larger context that generates such corrosive comments. Maybe other direct-selling companies have not treated their sales teams well? Maybe the products of some multi-level operations have disappointed customers? I'm not sure why there is such a push-back against the peer-to-peer business model, I can only speak to my own positive experience in this industry.
I have been a Norwex Independent Sales Consultant since 2014. My training has been rooted in Norwex's core values: Integrity, Trust, Respect. Our mission is to improve quality of life by radically reducing chemicals in our homes. Our business model is based on sharing, rather than selling. Norwex is tremendously generous with consultants, team leaders, and party hostesses. The customer service department is consistently helpful. Every product is backed by a solid warranty and the return policy is transparent and consumer-friendly. Norwex products are safe. They work great. And they last a long time. The company culture at Norwex is inclusive and tremendously supportive of women. Everyone, from a brand-new consultant all the way up to Chief of Global Sales, Debbie Bolton, is respected and valued for their contributions.
So, when I read the disparaging comments about direct-selling, I wasn't shaken or offended at all, because I know, with every fiber of my being, that I'm part of an honorable mission that's good for my fellow human beings, and beneficial to planet Earth!
TROLL TYPE #4: Germophobes
Another contingent of viewers is petrified of germs, viruses, and bacteria. These germaphobes are so rattled by sensationalized news stories about flesh-eating bacteria and Ebola outbreaks, that they would gladly bath in gasoline to protect themselves (taken from an actual comment). In their minds, bad chemicals are good, because they kill germs— which are bad. This kind of logic was first articulated in Sanskrit in the 4th century BC, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Fear nearly always trumps logic and evidence, so my 8-minute video had zero chance of persuading them to boycott disinfectant wipes on school supply lists.
Don’t get me wrong, I promote clean households, clean surfaces, and clean living. My objection is allowing children to use chemicals while disregarding the warnings clearly stated on the label. As a side-note, one parent commented that she allows her son to wipe down his entire body with household disinfecting wipes after his wrestling matches. When I saw this, it became clear that our collective phobias about germs have become unreasonable.
TROLL TYPE #5: Chemical Fans
I also ran into intense brand loyalty. These viewers love their disinfectant wipes with the fervor of extreme sports fanatics. Their connection and affection for these brands was truly emotional. Personally, I haven't watched commercial TV programming for a decade, so I am largely unaware of the ads that have saturated these viewers with overt, or subliminal, branding messages.
The result, however, is clear. My video was like a dude in a Green Bay Packers jersey shouting at a dude from Chicago that "the Bears SUCK!!!" No one in this situation is going to say, "Thank you for that information, good sir, I have changed my position completely. Go Packers!!!"
TROLL TYPE 6: False-choice Trap
The group that pulled on my heart-strings the most were classroom teachers. These dedicated educators feel caught between a rock and a hard place. For them, it's a terrible choice: chronic absenteeism due to flu, bronchitis, strep, and the common cold OR red hands, cracked skin, burning lungs, watery eyes, and long-term endocrine disruption from disinfectant wipes. The fallacy of their position was that there were only two choices: germs or chemicals. What about all the other alternatives?
With good intentions and utmost sincerity, I responded to these comments by suggesting that they research cleaning products verified as safe by EWG.org (The Environmental Working Group). My Norwex friends also jumped in to recommend cleaning with microfiber.
Even though I wanted to recommend Envirocloths to these distraught teachers, I refrained from doing that because I wanted to be compliant with the Norwex social media policy. My role here was to raise awareness of the broader issue as a public service, not to generate sales. That's why I never provided a link to my consultant website or a link to the new Norwex catalog.
TROLL TYPE #7: Pseudo-Scientists
A very small minority of negative commenters came from people who were highly critical of how I quoted from the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS/SDS) published by one of the manufacturers of disinfectant wipes. Apparently, these critics believe that only chemists with doctorate degrees are qualified to read Safety Data Sheets. This was simply a way of side-stepping and avoiding compelling evidence. My point-of-view is straight-forward. The information published on Safety Data Sheets is legally required. It is available to the public at no charge. Anyone who comes into these hazardous chemicals in the workplace should read them. No PhD required. Knowledge is power. I don't think that's a controversial position, do you?
TROLL TYPE #8: Hard-core Haters
What motivates professional trolls? Perhaps their outrageous language is cathartic to them as a means of venting deep-seated inner frustrations? After all, an online "burn" doesn't get them expelled from school, fired at work, excommunicated from their churches, escorted out of restaurants, cuffed by police officers, or slapped by their grandmas. Their pretend "bad-ass" behavior has no real consequences in the real world, so they take their shots and move on. I can't imagine they feel good about being so toxic for hours on end, but that isn't for me to judge. I'm just grateful that those thoughts don't pop into my head, when I encounter new information.
Q: Did the trolls hurt your feelings, or shake your confidence?
GR: Let me start with your last question. No. My confidence was not shaken at all. First, I grew up with two brothers, so I acquired a thick skin early in life.
Second, my experience as a public school educator taught me to never take things too personally. Immature, frustrated human beings sometimes lash out with harsh or hurtful words. Their scathing insults simply reflect their own caustic inner dialogue. The truth is that I feel compassion for people stuck in toxic mental states. I find great strength in grace and forgiveness, so 17 year-old trolls, or 37 year-old trolls, never make me panic or cave in.
Psychologically, bad behavior is just a negotiation tactic, and a weak one at that. Bullies only have power in the moment. Their influence dissipates very quickly, because they can't win arguments in the arena of ideas. Since, they can't sustain their bluster indefinitely. Ignore them. Do not respond to their attacks. Take away their audience.
Oh, and "never feed a troll," so don't try to trade insults or get even. They are way more practiced in the dark art of offensiveness than you will ever be.
It took many hours and great persistence, but I successfully deleted 1,300 trollish comments. It wasn't that hard because most trolls are kind of lazy: couple of emojis, maybe a gif, some one-liners (with very poor spelling!) Even the evil wizard trolls reveal themselves with grandiose comments that are unusually long and convoluted.
Hate speech? DELETE.
Personal attacks? DELETE.
It was comical when some especially dedicated trolls returned to write new comments attacking me as a "Dirty Deleter!" My response? DELETE.
There were even trolls who recruited minions to write negative comments. They showed up in groups and were easy to spot. The minions didn't have a very good work ethics, though. Their comments were shoddy and uninspired.
I was amused when I spotted some troll-on-troll action, when they started going after each other! I didn't take sides though. It's always a mistake to pick troll favorties, so DELETE and DELETE. Bye guys.
Think about it like changing channels on your TV. If you are seeing an awful show, you don't shout at the remote control or start crying, you just press another button and move onto a more enjoyable program. It's not a crisis of confidence for you, is it?
Q: Did social media managers from the chemical companies get involved?
GR: No, not at all. My remarks addressed the well-known health-risks of exposure to generic chemical ingredients. And, that was intentional. So, I was very careful not to mention any brand or company name specifically. I even put a white label over the name of the container that I used as a prop. I wanted to steer clear of any possibility of triggering legal action from these manufacturers. In a case like this I believe that "discretion is the better part of valor." I don't think my video ever got on their radar.
Q: Let's end on a positive note. What was the nicest comment you received?
GR: A few people asked if this was a skit from Saturday Night Live! One person said that Amy Poehler should play my role. I take that as a high compliment. Parks and Recreation was one of my favorite shows. I admire Leslie Knope's earnest enthusiasm.
That's the moment when I realized that my video didn't belong to me anymore. It had taken on a life of its own.
Q: Can you explain what you mean?
GR: This is how I think about it… once a book is published, a song is recorded, a painting is sold, or a movie hits the theaters, the creator of that work has very little control over how other people are going to react; and those reactions belong to the new audience, not to the original creator. I can understand why so many authors, actors, musicians, artists, and even professional chefs struggle with depression, though. It can be painful to see one's beloved creation get misinterpreted or maligned by strangers.
Luckily, I taught a course in Eastern Religions, so I understand, accept, and embrace the concept of impermanence. Posting my video released it to the universe, and the universe is a big place, with all kinds of things going on in it.
No one was going to watch the video forever. No one was going to love, or hate, the video for all time. My ego didn’t crave a million views. 44 hours seemed like a natural life-span for a project like this. So that's why I said that it had taken on a life of its own. Does that make sense?
The concept of impermanence also gave me some psychological protection from my new-found critics and detractors.
Q: Now that your moment of fame has passed, and the trolls have disappeared, who do you normally hang out with on Facebook?
GR: I'm originally from Chicagoland, so I have a ton of family and long-time personal friends out there.
I retired from teaching in 2015, but I still keep in contact with my former students and colleagues. It's so cool to see how kids who once sat in my classroom have evolved into accomplished musicians, artists, professionals, business owners, social media celebrities, and world-travelers. My teaching friends are some of the best people on planet Earth.
In the past, I used Facebook as a forum to discuss politics, but those discussion became so highly polarized and toxic that I've put myself on a news-break. Maybe, I'll jump back into the fray in 2020, but for now I'm trying to stay in my own Zen zone.
I co-manage a Facebook page called "Girls Going Green," where crunchy moms like me post about making our own all-natural DIY recipes, stories about bees and wildlife, rants against plastics and toxic chemicals. We also communicate about matters related to good health, personal wellness, and protecting the environment. It's a fun and passionate group!
On top of that, I'm tuned into the world of direct-sellers, so I know girls who work their businesses selling tea, essential oils, cookware, clothing, and so on.
Then, of course, I'm a Norwexer, so I'm connected to all my fellow consultants, who are sharing ways to clean with water and microfiber. We have about two-hundred people on our own team, but we have great relationships with our Planet Green Team up-line members, so I go back and forth with hundreds of my Norwex "cousins" and teammates.
Q: Gayle, thank you for taking us behind-the-scenes of your viral video experience and for sharing your perspective on becoming a surprise celebrity. Two final questions: Why did you delete the video? Would you ever want this to happen again?
GR: You are most welcome. Ah, good questions…
My friends seemed really concerned about all the harsh comments from the trolls and haters. I sensed that they had the perception that I was surely suffering from the intense criticism, and it pained them. Then, a friend confided to me that she was worried that the negative comments would reflect badly on Norwex. Finally, a woman who sent me a friend request on Facebook, told me how she was involved in a law suit related to things she posted in her blog, which gave me cause for concern. That’s when I pressed the delete button. No regrets.
I care most about our mission to radically reduce chemicals in our homes. So, if one of my future videos serves that cause, and goes viral again, then I am truly unafraid!