Last week was Social Media Week in San Francisco, organized by our good friends at Beyond with some help from Text 100. And among the tons of fantastic conferences that took place over the week, one especially grabbed our attention: “The Truth About Viral.” It definitely seemed like one of the most ambitious panels of the week, but since it was presented by Andy Wiedlin from Buzzfeed (and since Buzzfeed definitely knows a thing or two about viral), we thought it would be a good thing to share a few of our learnings.
1. People just want something easy to share that allows them to connect
First things first – make sure your content is shareable (embeddable, easy to copy and duplicate, to make sharing as “frictionless” as possible, as David Hargreaves would say).
Viral content also needs to be super quick. The quality in end doesn’t necessarily matter, and sometimes a quick and dirty – but excellent – picture is far better than an overproduced video.
Look at for instance this “razorbombing” campaign for Schick. A simple idea, with simple pictures (most of the pictures are in fact taken with a smartphone). The idea is so strong that it took off and people not only shared but also participated, even outside the platform. Lo-Fi still works!
Visual content is more likely to go viral than text or written content, and if you plan to include text in your viral campaign be sure to keep it minimal. In some cases, a list format (e.g. “The top 5 solutions for XXXX”) can be successful in helping text content go viral, but be sure to get straight to the point.
2. Timing and relevance make the difference
It sounds pretty obvious, but viral content takes off because of certain factors that align in terms of time and relevance. Timeliness is a key element in the success of a campaign. Look at these campaigns for instance:
Their virality is related to the events that took place. After a while, they also have a life of their own and become memes, but the initial take off is directly related to precise timing.
3. Make people look clever and cool
Sharing is an action where people can project their personality. They want to share something that will make them look “cool” with their contacts. Sharing says something about the people taking the action, who they want to be, and what tribes they belong to. Identifying groups, tribes, and communities to target also helps (ex: targeting Star Trek / Star Wars fans, the Lolcats fans, the Loldogs fans, etc. to leverage their sharing power).
4. It’s all about remixing
Great ideas are just remix of existing concepts. Not copies, but adaptations and transformations in a new environment. See for instance the memes. For more details about this, have a look at the Everything is a Remix video no3 by Kirby Ferguson.
5. Your goal shouldn’t be to hit numbers but to influence your culture
You don’t decide to make a campaign successful – people do it for you. Do something interesting first, and the click will follow. In the end, it’s not even about your content, but about relationships.
6. Want a big snowball effect? Then you need a big snowball
If you want to maximize the chance for your great content to go viral, and it fits the conditions of timeliness, group relevancy, creativity, etc. to take off, then you also need to think about the distribution. Great content still needs some help at the beginning by doing some outreach and having a strong distribution strategy.
7. The methodology is in fact very simple
1. Understand what people will care about
2. Think about great / creative / funny / shocking content
3. Think about distribution
There is often a lot of misconceptions and fantasies about “viral,” but in fact it all relates to authenticity and the relationships within your community. Andy’s full amazing talk (video) is available online. Disclaimer – Lolcats and ponies inside.