How Not To Go Viral

Ed Goodman
4 min readOct 16, 2020


Wait, what? But every brand wants to go viral, right? Read on…

Social media virality is a question I am frequently asked by clients, the detail of which is for another post (e.g. what is virality, why do you want it, etc.), but one answer could be this.

First, how would you feel if your business was accused of racist behaviour for a post you didn’t share nor commission?

This situation was played out on Instagram (initially) in early October 2020, when a personal fitness instructor, Matt Simpson, shared a new workout that he was launching in the Luton & Dunstable branch of the gym.

This was his post…

“Entitled ‘12YearsOfSlave’ (after the epic movie) this is our workout of the month designed by @MattSimpt to celebrate black history month.”. He added, “Slavery was hard and so is this”.

Whether this was posted during Black History Month (which it was) or not, this is clearly a very ill-judged post and the fall-out was unprecedented for PureGym.

To add some context to this, PureGym has 294 branches across the UK, supporting over 1 million members, and their Luton & Dunstable branch has (at the time of writing) 2,028 followers. It only takes one person to see it and share it for it to (as is the case here) cause outrage. This became news across mainstream media too, including BBC, Daily Mail, Ladbible, and more. across their main social media channels, PureGym was forced to make this following apology…

The Personal Trainer, Matt Simpson, also took to Instagram to issue this unreserved apology…

A week later and Matt Simpson still continues to receive racist abuse as detailed here in this BBC story: PureGym trainer received racist abuse after slave post. Back to the situation PureGym now find themselves in and…

What Should Have Happened?

PureGym have 2 clear options

1. Run the social media channels centrally

However, given the number of branches and channels in use, this would require considerable human resources and cost.

2. Allow each branch to run their own

Given that each branch positions itself as helping the health of their communities, I believe this is the best option. However, as highlighted above, it comes with challenges. (Technically, there is a 3rd option where PureGym could outsource their social media, but I don’t believe this would solve the problem even if they did it at a local level)

These challenges include ensuring those who run the local social media channels have the skill to do so, which means knowing how to use the channels and how to use social media. Assuming that most people won’t tread the path that Matt Simpson chose, even if each branch uses social media to self-promote themselves in an over sales way, then they’ll struggle to succeed and get any return from whatever channel they use.

In 2017, PureGym wrote a blog about this very topic called “SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE GYM: SHOULD I BE SHARING?”, in which it says:

Of course, the gym was never going to escape the digital era, and an entire industry has grown up around Instagram and YouTube fitness celebs, with many trainees feeling the urge to get a snap of their abs for the world to appreciate.

Question is — should you be sharing?

As good as this article is, a clear social media policy needs to be created and adhered to by any organisation that has employees, or third-party individuals or companies, represent themselves on social media.

The purpose of a Social Media Policy is to:

  1. Explain the new workplace reality
  2. Protect the company
  3. Help raise awareness
  4. Outline what is considered confidential or private information
  5. Who to refer online questions to?
  6. Discuss the proper way to engage with others online
  7. Remove any confusion about legal issues

I’m not saying that PureGym doesn’t have a social media policy, but I do question how well it had been communicated or known by those within it’s health clubs.

Action Point

This was a harsh lesson for PureGym and I hope they have been proactive and supportive to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

What about you?

Who runs your social media accounts?

How comfortable are you that they truly know what social media is for, what channels to represent your company on, how to engage with your audience, etc?

Social media may forgive but it certainly does not forget, and if you do not have a policy in place, then now is the time to write one and ensure that everyone is working together to support the needs and goals of the business.

If you do have one, then now is the time to review it for exactly the same reasons.

As the late Arsenal and England footballer, David Rocastle, once said, “Remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent”

If you need support, get in touch.

This post originally appeared at

Thank you for reading.



Ed Goodman

Social Media Trainer, Consultant, and Strategist 🚨 • Co-Founder #FreelanceHeroes 🤜🤛 • Podcast Host 🎙️ • Author 📖