MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Wednesday, September 4th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. In the mysterious world of internet marketing, going viral is a white whale. Even though companies pay big bucks to attract attention online, no one really knows the secret recipe that can make it happen.
Often it’s not a retailer or major brand that goes viral. It could be someone who just posts a photo or video and it takes off. Then comes huge publicity, ad revenues, and even careers in entertainment for some people.
BASHAM: It can also lead to a major loss of privacy.
WORLD Radio’s Maria Baer spoke to a family who accidentally went viral.
LILY: I like to make crafts…
MARIA BAER, REPORTER: Lily Blair has high energy and a short attention span.
LILY: This is how much I love everyone… love love love love!
She’s like any other five-year-old in that way. She’s cute and spunky, with thick purple glasses and a bouncy ponytail. Oh and also, as she’ll tell you, she’s pretty famous.
LILY: I’m on everywhere, I’m on YouTube…
Last May, Lily was performing in her Christian preschool’s graduation ceremony in Lebanon, Ohio, when her grandmother got out her phone and pressed record. Lily’s class started dancing to the Tooty Ta song, a popular sing-along for kids, when Lily started breaking it down. Like, really breaking it down.
AUDIO: [Sound of Tooty Ta music and singing]
Lily’s Grandma, Marty, can be heard laughing throughout the video. She and her husband, Shane, are raising Lily. Marty shared the video on her private Facebook page later that day. A friend asked her to make the post shareable. And that’s when it happened.
BLAIR: Friday morning we get up to people blowing our phone up with texts, saying I just saw your granddaughter on Fox & Friends.
FOX AND FRIENDS: How about this video going viral for all the right reasons…
The video went viral. First there were thousands of views. Then, millions. Then tens of millions.
BLAIR: She finally took that video down at first that Saturday night after 30 million views. Because I panicked!
Marty started receiving messages from viewers all over the world. People in Las Vegas, Australia, South Africa. Soon every local news station in the area was calling her for an interview. Lily started being recognized.
BLAIR: And what happened, towards the end of May we went on vacation. And at this point we’ve taken the video down, but you can’t, it’s out there, there’s nothing we can do about it.
We sit down and have lunch, and a woman sitting next to us – is that the little girl from the Facebook video? They were from Minnesota, and they recognized us as we were going to eat.
It kept happening. Lily had her own paparazzi.
BLAIR: Her and I were sitting at a couple rocking chairs and – oh it’s the girl from the video! Everywhere we went. Somebody recognized her.
At first, Marty and Shane were delighted, if shocked, by the response to Lily’s video. Soon the Blairs were contacted by producers from the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Good Morning America. Kids Say the Darnedest Things. Another reality TV show called Little Big Shots. Each time, producers interviewed the Blairs. But Lily hasn’t been officially invited on any of the shows yet.
The Blairs eventually signed with a media managing company and copyrighted the video. That means they can file copyright infringement complaints against anyone who posts it without permission, and they’ve done that.
But they’re happy to have brought a little joy to the world, even if it was unintentional.
BLAIR: Some of the messages that I got though, and this is what kind of made it worth it to me, was like…one lady whose husband had just passed away from cancer.
She had just buried her husband four months ago, she saw this video and it was the first time in four months that she laughed, or even smiled for that matter.
Marty said she’s making a scrapbook of the messages they received to show Lily when she’s older.
LILY: I even got into kindergarten on the school bus…
Still, all of the attention has had its drawbacks. While most commenters were kind, some have been cruel.
LILY: But it’s hard not to take it personally when you see something saying something negative about your baby.
And the sudden fame made Marty very nervous.
BLAIR: Obviously we did not do this for the attention. Like I said, at 30-million I’m yanking that sucker down, I want no part of it, I actually went back through all of the newcasts, channel 9, channel 12, ABC, CBS, NBC, we were getting contacted from people in NY – I actually went through and actually asked everybody – could you please kill this video. Because that’s how much I panicked.
She had reason to be wary. In fact, when they got back home after vacation, they got a letter in the mail that set alarm bells ringing.
BLAIR: We get home, and there’s a letter addressed to Lily. and granted it was from a little ice cream shop in town. But all you have to know, there’s not very many Martina Blairs in Lebanon Ohio. You put two and two together and all you have to do is go looking and you’re going to find where we live.
It was just a gift certificate for free ice cream, but the Blairs took it seriously. Marty says she won’t take Lily to the park alone anymore unless Shane can come along. And they’re careful, too, that her newfound celebrity doesn’t affect her social life.
BLAIR: I mean I took her to kindergarten, orientation, she starts school Monday – and I said no matter what you do, do not mention that video, because Lily it’s important that people like and love you for who you are, not because of the video.
She might be YouTube famous, but Lily doesn’t seem to have let it go to her head. She’s happy today just showing off her toys, drawings, and dance moves. And when she needs to get some wiggles out? She takes to the mini-trampoline in the family’s basement.
LILY: [Counting on trampoline] 1, 2, 3, 4…100! Did I count all the way to 100?
For WORLD Radio, I’m Maria Baer reporting from Lebanon, Ohio.