I’ve written many times over the years about how I make the most of “Taint Week,” the editorial dead zone between Christmas and New Years. Since it’s one of the slowest news weeks of the entire year, I noticed back in 2012 that we seemed to have our stories picked up more frequently by the mainstream media when there’s nothing else going on.
“Hmm,” I thought to myself.
Last year, I tried to see if I could take advantage of the phenomenon, so we strategically saved a post we thought would perform well until December 30th — it was that gender-flipped engagement poses post, which ended up resulting in the highest traffic spike we’ve ever had. The couple ended up on television. It was a whole epic media explosion.
Two years in a row of mainstream press picking up our stories the last week of December? That’s enough of a pattern to bank on, so this year I started planning taint week with the editors several months in advance.
The strategy is admittedly a bit cynical. The ideal taint week posts are:
- General interest enough that you don’t need to be planning a wedding to care about them.
- Just negative enough to get the drama-hounds on Facebook sniffing the air and baying into the wind… but not so negative that it’s out of line with our mission — which is all about empowerment.
- Appealing to a key sharing market I’ve talked about for years: wedding photographers. Basically, we want a post that appeals to both couples and vendors. (Or to get jargony, a post that’s both B2C and B2B.)
We fired our first taint week cannon on Monday at 9:45am PST, and if you’ve been on the internet this week, you’ve seen it: I got left at the altar: turning heartbreak into artwork. This post hits all our sweet spots: general interest, a combo of negative but empowering, B2B and B2C. The photos are now all over the internet including:
Based on what I’ve seen in years past, Shelby and her dress will probably be on national morning television next week. Shelby’s dad emailed me asking what he could to do “help the story spread,” and I was like “Just be patient and wait for the Today Show or Good Morning America to call.”
Updated to add: Shelby was on the Today Show 4 days later.
Of course there’s always a tiny hint of bittersweetness when a post like this goes viral — yep, Buzzfeed essentially stole all the photos and republished our post with a tiny “h/t” at the end sourcing us. This kind of thing happens every time we have a post go viral, so much that when readers email us all outraged (“Did you know Buzzfeed is ripping off your story, right down to the headline!?”), we’re just like ¯(ツ)/¯
Maybe part of that shruggie is that despite all the questionable syndication of our content, we still get traffic. Here’s our hourly traffic for the last week:
…and oh, taint week isn’t done yet. That’s the best part of this strategy: traffic is this high when half the internet is on vacation, so the spikes are long and sustained as people get back online.
The real strategy behind taint week isn’t just about pageviews, though. Thanks to the way Facebook’s algorithms work, we gather engagement during taint week with more general interest/cynical content than we normally publish, get a ton of new followers, and then next week when we get back to our usual non-tainty awesome content, our posts are shown to way more people than they would be otherwise. Thanks to taint week, we build significant social media momentum that fuels the engagement season of January and February.
All part of the plan, all part of the plan.
Amusing aside: I’m experiencing taint week not only as a publisher, but also as an interview subject. A throw-away interview I did last week with an old friend ended up on the front page of the Seattle Times on Monday. Why? Because it’s a slow news week and there’s nothing else to talk about.