Going Viral – an Inside Look

Over the past few days, life has been chaotic. As everyone knows by now, I was able to secure the domain scottmorrison.com.au in an expired domain auction. It went viral reaching every major news outlet in Australia and several around the world. My domain purchase was featured in places like Life Hacker, News.com.au, Herald Sun, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Triple M, Buzzfeed, Vice, SBS, ABC and GQ just to name a few.

I’ve recapped exactly what happened and what I was thinking below.

9 am Thursday

It started as a normal day in the office. First activity was to quickly check over expiring domains for the day. As usual, I put all the domains through a bulk checker tool to see if any were worth re-purposing. On this day, scottmorrison.com.au was at the top of the list as one of the most powerful domains expiring. I thought perhaps the Prime Minister’s official domain may have been something else, as the idea of the Prime Minister’s actual domain expiring was a bit far-fetched.

A few quick searches showed that it really, actually was the Prime Ministers domain, and that it was, in fact, up for auction. After being automatically outbid at $25, I upped my bid to $50 without plan of bidding any higher than that for something that may potentially put me at risk for owning it. At the same time, I thought I would surely be outbid by any other of the hundreds of other people who bid on expiring domains every day. (In hindsight, perhaps everyone else was too scared?) From here, I turned to other work tasks for the day and completely forgot about the auction.

2 pm Thursday

At 2pm, I received an email notification on my phone. It alerted me that I had actually won the auction and the domain was now mine. I quickly remembered I had bid on a domain for the day and was shocked as to how I had not been outbid for such a high-profile domain.

I spoke to a few colleagues and started frantic discussions around what I should do with the domain, and the website. Would we put up a political news website all about the PM? Would we repurpose the website? Would we rebuild it as it looked? These are some of the ideas that would have also crossed the mind of someone who could have outbid me and done something potentially damaging with the site. Some of the things they could have done:

  • Set up a catch-all on potential email addresses, therefore reading any incoming emails, and potentially accessing sensitive information, doing password resets, etc.
  • Rebuilding the website exactly how it looked before – meaning no one would have noticed that the owner had changed. The new owner could have slightly adjusted the content of the website so that visitors would have thought that he had written those things. For example, completely flipping his opinion on any topic in the ‘Current Issues – F.A.Q.’ section or
  • Porn, gambling, or other crude representations of the P.M.

What would I opt to do? Nothing for now.

4 pm Thursday

Around 4pm I decided to install a fresh WordPress installation to prepare for whatever I decided to do with the website. 10 minutes later I logged in and was faced with the option to simply change the big background image of my choice. I opened Google Images and scoured for a good photo of Scott, stumbled upon a cheeky grin which I thought would be perfect to fill the entire computer screen with and uploaded the image.

Now that the image was there – what else could I do with this?

My first thought was obvious, I thought: put Sandstorm by Darude on auto-play in the background. Perfect. The site was great now.

While looking at his name on my screen, and wondering if anyone called him Scotty, the song by Lustra out of Euro Trip suddenly sprang to mind. It’s a great song from an iconic movie and I just HAD to replace Sandstorm with “Scotty Doesn’t Know” considering how well it worked with his name.

Do I follow politics at all? No. Did I know there was a by-election coming? No. Did I even know what a by-election was? No. Do I now? Still no. (I had to look up the spelling for this post … “is it a bi-election? Or a by-election?”)

Being in digital marketing, what I do know is the importance of securing your digital assets and how much damage could have been done had this website been in the wrong hands. Luckily(?) it was in mine.

I just thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up and had to share it on Facebook for my friends for a laugh, purposely leaving the post on public privacy settings on the off-chance it would be shared.

9 pm Thursday

The post started to gain some traction. By 9 pm the post had several hundred likes, around 100 people had shared, and it had a fair number of comments. A flurry of messages from friends came in ranging from laughter, to concern, to ‘how the’s?!’.

Messages to my inbox and friend requests from the general public had started to flood in.

I installed a Google Analytics code on the website from the minute I published it. I logged into the Analytics account to check what kind of traffic the website was receiving. There were a couple hundred people on the website at that very moment and total traffic had already reached 20,000.

The thought that this was going viral started here.

7 am Friday

I woke up at 7 am for work as usual and rolled over to check my phone. The post on Facebook had more than tripled in all figures overnight. Messages, friend requests, text messages, and missed phone calls had taken over my phone notifications.

It took me half an hour just to catch up on the Facebook post, messages, and text messages. Several radio stations messaged wanting interviews on their morning shows. All I could think about was coffee after staying up late the night before trying to keep up with it in amazement.

I got up and drove to work.

9 am Friday

The office was already buzzing by the time I had arrived, with everyone eagerly awaiting my arrival to chat about how insane the whole situation was. We all spoke and as a team started to address everything that the situation would bring about. Media articles would soon spread, and Matt was super quick on our own blog post which would address a lot of comments about the site being ‘hacked’ or ‘taken over’ which simply wasn’t the case.

My phone had started to ring non-stop and I would start to address 20 to 30 media interview requests between now and 12 pm.

Between Facebook messages, text messages and phone calls, I had several reporters from Channel 7, Channel 9 and Channel 10 contact me. Along with TV show The Project, and over 15 radio stations. All seemingly wanting something from me – whether a TV interview, radio interview, or a simple quote to go with their article.

The first thing I decided to do was to try and contact the Prime Minister to offer the domain back in good faith. I emailed through on the official https://www.pm.gov.au/ website, and then called his office, where I spoke with 2 people until being told that someone from IT would get back to me.

12 pm Friday

By 12 pm no one from Morrison’s office had gotten back to me, and I was unsure whether anyone would. I had addressed nearly every media enquiry, having done a number of interviews along the way. I would continue to receive and address messages and phone calls for the rest of the afternoon, all the while trying to keep up to date with the Facebook post, website, and the kind of comments that were being written about me/the website – seemingly, nearly all positive which was great to see, as from the very start the intention was only to have a quick laugh, and in good faith. No hijacking, no political agenda.

By the afternoon it had become exhausting keeping up with everything, and at this time I finally received a call from the Commonwealth Government thanking me for offering to give the domain back, and with the details that I should transfer it back to.

We spent a few more hours tracking, replying and interviewing. It was exhausting and unfortunately, I ended up having to say no to some requests.

5 pm Friday

By that time, I was on my way to the pub to celebrate, of course! Was I worried that the Australian Federal Police would be banging down my door harder than I was going to be at 4 am that morning… Unlikely.

Saturday

By Saturday, the Facebook post had started to reach maximum numbers with nearly 2,800 likes, 1500 shares and nearly 1000 comments.

Higher powers had obviously begun contacting my website host, and the auction website the domain was bought from, as I’d started to receive calls and messages saying that there was a ‘3rd party mistake’ as to why the domain had become available on auction, and that the domain was to be returned to its previous owner, which we’d already agreed on.

By Saturday night the domain had been returned to the Prime Minister and was redirecting to his new website.

Having kept up with the traffic to the website via Google Analytics, the website ended up receiving 340,000 visitors (370,000 sessions) over the 48 hours that it was live.

9 am Monday

It started as a normal day in the office. First activity was to quickly check over expiring domains for the day …