Back in November I shared this image on Google+. Chris Brogan, re-shared it and then 370 others followed suit! It is by far the most popular thing I have posted on Google+. Also, in April I blogged about how a piece of my content went viral on StumbleUpon, which as of today has gained over 1.2 million visitors.
Every time a piece of my content goes viral its completely unexpected and leaves me asking, why? I could just ignore things and go eat hot dogs, but, as a marketer its my job to answer that question.
Recently Jared Keller tried to answer this question, and in my opinion did a great job. Keller tells us that the secret to virality isn’t structure or social tools but rather the inherent culture of the given online ecosystem:
In reality, the key ingredient to virality isn’t the number of share buttons or Twitter followers you have, but your sensitivity to culture, that body of nuances that go beyond demographic breakdowns. Each sharing ecosystem on the web has its own unique subculture, its own sets of rules of order and norms of behavior. The secret to going viral is seamlessly navigating these worlds.
If Keller is correct then we need to explore ways to leverage culture to move content on the web. Because I like painting with broad strokes, let’s break this down into two basic strategies.
The Hard Way
Promoting any piece of content online is going to be hard. But, this strategy tends to be harder than the next because it requires a lot of work. Essentially the way this works is publishing a lot of content that attempts to fit in a basic cultural vein, then structuring that content around different sharing strategies that make it easier to go “viral”. Publications like Huffintigton Post, Buzzfeed and others use this strategy everyday. The problem is that you have to constantly push content hoping that something will “go viral”. Its hard to run this type of business because you find yourself having to constantly look for cheap or free content to offset the cost of all the content that doesn’t go viral and just sits there.
The Not As Hard Way
I call this strategy the not as hard way because even though it isn’t as hard as the one above it’s still not easy. This strategy is to simply create channels for your audience to become an active participate in the content’s creation. Brands like Old Spice and OfficeMax have seen widespread success with this strategy. Their campaigns went viral by tapping into their audience’s culture by making them a featured element to the campaign’s production. In a way they “meme-ified” their content!
As Lada Adamic points out above, memes can be a power tool to spreading information. However, they are also difficult to control.
Remember that there is no master strategy to making things go viral, but if you stick close to an ecosystem’s culture you have a greater chance at seeing success!