I want this to go viral…
If I had a penny for every time somebody says the phrase ‘I want this campaign to go viral’ I would probably have Â£2.52. It’s very easy to fall into the fallacy that the idea behind a viral must be good, rather then to ask the question was it executed successfully. Through the next series of blog posts I’m going to determine some of the key factors to consider when propagating ideas through social media channels and debunk the myth of so called ‘viral’ ideas.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, a whole chapter is dedicated to the techniques and dedication of paddy farmers to grow sufficient rice to support their families. Gladwell offers the following insight in an interview for NPR in November 2008:
Rice farming is the most labor-intensive form of agriculture known to man. It is also the most cognitively demanding form of agriculture … There is a direct correlation between effort and reward. You get exactly out of your rice paddy what you put into it.
Why not extend that concept of providing a rigorous framework when planning out a digital or social media campaign?
Our Online Motivations
The first question to ask is what causes people to spread ideas, concepts, and memes to others? To borrow from the ever insightfulÂ Patricia McDonald there are 5 key motivational touch-points
The internet and the social media channels that sit on top of it have set the conditions for our messages to be propagated in real time and to an audience of billions. This is a seismic shift away from the communication and propagation of ideas by governments, big business, and advertising firms. Instead it’s never been easier to create and share an idea online with our peers. To broadcast as well as consume online content.
Reach and Influence
Given the framework the internet has provided in enabling us to reach a mass audience, the propagation of those ideas is influenced by two factors: reach and influence. Griffin Farley’s presentation asks that you ‘Plan not for the people you reach, but for the people they reach‘. Griffin also down plays the role of the influencer in the transmission of Â ideas, and illustrates the point with the analogy that it isn’t the influential cigarette that burns down a tinderbox forrest. The point being that you need to target and plan the right channels rather than the right influencer to influence those channels.
However taking the idea further, if you have a close-knit online community, with a clear understanding of the motives and patterns of behaviour that operates within that community, the more likely that the concept of influence transcends the select few and becomes endemic within that community. The social reputation service Peerindex seems to have the factor of context in mind when it comes to applying a measure of a person’s influence within a particular field.
Rinse and spin your Marketing Campaigns
In his video presentation – The Science of Social Media, Dan Zarella of Hubspot explains that our time and attention is the scarce resource with which viral ideas need to compete and evolve in order for us to engage. There is no magic formula for a viral idea, rather ever evolving marketing campaigns have to applied in order to determine what resonates with the audience.
Lifespan and the f-word
Another key factor Dan addresses is the level of commitment required by the user to interact with an idea. On a sliding scale you could have retweets, that take up a fraction of a person’s time, compared to say to the level of time and attention a person invests in writing an informed article for Wikipedia. Similarly the fecundity – how quickly an something grows – of a tweet in inversely proportionate to it’s lifespan. So tweets have a short life span compared with a published article. Planning for propagation has to factor in the attention span and level of commitment required by both broadcaster and the recipient and the likelihood of them passing it on.
There is no such thing as a guaranteed viral campaign. I’ve been in meetings with some very senior social media ‘Mad-Men’ demanding the next great idea is guaranteed to go viral without discussing how the campaign is going to be executed against. But in part 2 I will try and illustrate techniques that will increase the likelihood of something being propagated.