The concept of creating a viral video for a viral marketing campaign has been a bee in my bonnet ever since I started in social media marketing. The truth is: it’s impossible to develop a video and know, with 100% certainty, that it will go viral. You could have a million-dollar budget, the best creative minds in the industry and still not achieve true virality.
But, in order for me to make my point, we have to take a few steps back and examine the nature of viral marketing, its history and why everyone seems to think there’s an ‘art’ or a ‘formula’ in creating a truly viral campaign.
A viral video is typically uploaded to a platform like YouTube or Vimeo and becomes popular because thousands, even millions, of people share it, interact with it, talk about it, and love it. Check out some popular examples here:
Virality is a digital extension of word-of-mouth marketing, which has long been considered the most powerful form of passing information and generating ‘buzz.’
This commonly held conception isn’t wrong! And, there are definite ways for an organization to take advantage of online word-of-mouth buzz in their marketing material. In fact, it’s what every campaign should aim for. Collective interest in a digital recapturing of word-of-mouth marketing is the reason why social media for business has become so widespread over the past five years or so. It’s the new word-of-mouth.
Creating a viral video is very attractive for a number of reasons, all boiling down to two key motivators: fame and money.
A handful of the most famous celebrities in popular culture today were born out of YouTube success. This, in turn, made them very wealthy. Even YouTube celebrities who don’t extend their act into other forms of mainstream media can be remunerated for their stroke of luck. YouTube compensated the parents of “David After Dentist” about $100,000 for their video’s success.
From a marketing standpoint, being the mind behind a viral campaign is an alluring prospect. In effect, many creative marketers use it as a benchmark for having championed the Internet, so to speak. At their core, most online platforms exist now to sell us things.
Whether we’re buying them by actually, physically purchasing them or buying into the idea through sharing it with our network of connections…we’re all digital consumers. Actualizing a viral video means whoever created it manipulated the selling power of the Internet to the highest degree. This is why a viral promo video is the digital white whale for so many creative marketing departments.
YouTube, Facebook, Twitter…these platforms all have advertising. You can create a reasonable facsimile of a viral video by promoting it through social advertising. This has its benefits. If you pour enough money into advertising, you can generate thousands of views for your video and that looks really good when organic viewers stumble upon it.
It lends your brand credibility and brings a certain caché to your campaign. However, in my opinion, true virality is an intertwining of organic and viral: videos that take off on their own steam, with minimal promotion, simply because they speak to a majority of people…those are the truly viral videos. They have the most impact, create the most buzz and are the most elusive to content creators.
The Viral Myth stems from the widely held belief that you can harness the power of social networking and word-of-mouth marketing to blast something into cyberspace on an instantaneously global scale; that, using state of the art technology, psychology and creative juice, you can tap into people’s emotions, their will to learn, their very idea of themselves to catapult your YouTube video into astronomical success overnight.
Viral videos are successful because of certain compelling elements—aspects that tap into viewers’ need to share, their sense of common experience. No one can predict these hooks. If I were to guess, they’re most dependent on the widespread climate according to current affairs; what the major, international news stories are and how people are reacting to them. To forecast this type of sentiment requires more intuitive tools than I (or, I’d venture to guess, ANY creative digital marketing person) have in my arsenal.
A more realistic, attainable goal is, instead of setting out to make something viral, aim for impactful. You can still incorporate creative, emotional, and educational elements…just don’t do it for the sake of going viral. The worst thing about so many marketing campaigns now is that you can just tell they’re only making promo videos for the sake of going viral.
It’s as predictable as some of Stephen King’s more recent work…. you know, when he started writing books with movie scripts in mind. Let’s be honest–’Dreamcatcher’ vs. ‘Shawshank’? The quality is incomparable.
Lately, the message is secondary to the viral potential. Believe it or not, when you’re trying to predict which psychological triggers, which lame jokes and which crazy graphics will resonate with millions of people, you aren’t focusing on strengthening your brand. Like the Brad Pitt Chanel commercial, for instance:
I mean, obviously they would get a ton of views because A) It’s Brad Pitt and B) It’s Chanel. But is this a truly viral campaign? I don’t think so. I really don’t. It was discussed on popular talk shows. But, that’s because it was ridiculous. They weren’t on message and they were reaching. They were trying to create something dauntless…a testament to their company’s insight, their ability to gauge what gives people the shivers. But, his looming, vainglorious face was just unsettling. And it was so obvious they were just trying to go viral! They’re selling a woman’s perfume, for God’s sake and they used a man! Perhaps the most recognizable man in the world. Instead of skillfully crafting a message embedded in a clever, resonant ad campaign, they went for broke and artistically flopped.
Of course, Chanel isn’t the only guilty company, but this is a good example of how even huge multinationals can miss the mark when their only marketing goal is creating something viral. I think the most effective marketing campaigns, the ones that really deliver, are the ones that are tailored to a specific audience for a product. Well-rounded market research and thoughtful, targeted creative will yield the most impressive results. If the message is genuine and people relate to it…I think you may have a better chance of appealing to a larger common denominator, thus increasing your viral potential. A classic case of finding something when you aren’t looking.
Image Source: Gilbert Wilson, Moby Dick Arises from the Deep
Two things I’ve noticed getting more and more pervasive on the web recently:
Call me crazy, but I feel like these two trends are inextricably linked.
The allegations of a social media-addicted generation conjure images of pathetic, friendless technophiles, huddled alone in basements, ardently refreshing their Facebook news feeds for a glimmer of interaction. Countless articles and studies make it seem like social media addiction is a sweeping epidemic, all but inescapable. One even goes so far as to claim that addiction to Facebook and Twitter is direr an affliction than addiction to cigarettes.
Well, I beg to differ. I’ve proclaimed myself “addicted” to social media at various times in my life and I don’t even have a basement…
More to the point, I think Millennials are dealing with a widespread digital addiction… it’s just been mislabeled.
It’s not an addiction to the social networking platforms themselves that’s becoming so prevalent. It’s an addiction to the immediacy of information. We’ve become accustomed to knowing everything right now. Not only do we need the content at our fingertips…we need to interact with it. We have a thirst for access and a desire for insider info. With more networking capability and increased transparency through the web, we’re becoming more and more fixated on manipulating our sources of information—or at least having the ability to.
This “addiction” isn’t one that’s exclusive to social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google + and platforms like them definitely allow us to share, promote and manipulate content to a greater extent. That’s why we spend so much time on them. But, our fixation is becoming more deeply rooted than simply scrolling through pictures of friends’ weekend escapades, commenting and “liking” as we see fit.
So many mass-media outlets are exponentially more accessible and transparent on the web than they ever were. All major newspapers have “comment” sections now– allowing anyone and everyone to weigh in and express their opinions. Most multinational corporations have Facebook and Twitter platforms. If we disagree with one of their decisions, we just need to post it on their wall. Chances are, that post will be seen by thousands, and either supported or trashed publicly depending on the viewpoint. We feel powerful on the social web. Like our opinions are seen and responded to…respected. So, when we are denied accessibility, or feel as though a particular company or platform is trying to keep the digital proletariat out, well…
“Hacker” used to be an overwhelmingly negative term. Hackers were the people who promulgated my above characterization of lonely technophiles in basements. They existed to procure information nobody cared about or needed. Obscure website codes and passwords. They were a little dangerous; some inexplicably had the ability to access our emails addresses and sent countless emails from Arabian princes who were looking to rid themselves of piles of cash. Mostly, we saw them as eccentric little geeks with nothing better to do.
Has that changed! Hackers are the mavericks of Generation Y. They have the ability to manipulate information and the platforms through which it’s delivered. They’re the new activists; in the ‘70’s, they would have been the radicals marching up to the White House steps to violently protest the Vietnam War.
Now, they get up in the morning, French Press a cup of coffee, crack their knuckles and make a mockery of Burger King’s Twitter account, jeopardizing a multimillion dollar corporate culture.
Or, they tried to. They changed all the branding on the BK Twitter page to McDonalds’ branded content. They tweeted things like, “We’ve been sold to McDonald’s!”
The reality of the situation? Burger King got 30% more followers from the recent hacking scandal.
What does that tell us?
People crave drama and want to be in the know. Realizing Burger King was a target for hackers made more people want to tune in and, whether we realized it or not, strengthened the BK brand. Probably not the overall goal of a hack job that consisted of changing BK’s Twitter handle and background art to McDonalds’.
Nevertheless, hackers are endeavoring to realize a collective dream (read: obsession) of completely free-flowing information on the web. One commonality throughout most of the coverage of recent hackings is a tone of admiration for the hackers and a scoff at the hacked. In a way, the collective strive for transparency and open channels between consumers and corporations is a positive thing. But, it’s definitely reached the level of a frenzied clamour for more information, faster, on a minute-to-minute basis.
So, where is all this leading?
Inevitably, the culmination of each and every article on our addiction to the social web is a frantic call for a social media “diet.” We’re implored to purge ourselves of our need to interact with a network of connections via an online platform. We’re begged to turn our backs on the instant gratification of the Twitter feed and the Google alert.
I don’t think the answer is to disengage completely.
I think the answer is to be more judicious in the kind of content we willfully ingest. Instead of blindly undergoing osmosis each time we fire up the RSS feed and deifying hackers who manipulate content and platforms, we need to take a measured approach and see hackers for who they are: a subculture of intuitive problem solvers, comfortable outside the law, who have set out to make a statement. We don’t need to respond and react to every piece of content we receive, and we don’t need to assume conspiracy and corporate manipulation just because multinationals are present and active on our social media platforms. It’s exhausting, feeling obligated to weigh in and develop an opinion on every Tweet, blog post and SubReddit. Measure yourself: react to content that has meaning for you.
Or, take a few hours off. I do it all the time. I leave my phone and my laptop behind and I sit in a coffee shop with a book or a newspaper. I know that might seem like a facile suggestion. But when I tell my friends I do this from time to time, they all seem pretty flabbergasted that I could last three or four hours without my phone or laptop. And, I definitely couldn’t every day. I live my life in social media and interactive content—all us Gen-Y’ers do, to a certain extent.
We’ve always had the freedom to to moderate our relationship with mass media. That hasn’t changed. It’s just become more difficult with constant bombardment. Taking a measured approach will require a shift in thinking and a step back– these are things that aren’t always easy to put into practice. Especially with new media and interactive development being the fastest growing industries in North America. We can’t purge ourselves of social media and we can’t ignore a collective fascination with receiving and interacting with content immediately. We can temper ourselves, however. We can appreciate hackers who attempt to make online corporate culture an open forum and we can definitely weigh in on timely news as it’s delivered to us. But, we can decide whether or not to let the immediacy of online content and the ability to interact with it overwhelm our lives.
Policies and procedures are boring. You know it. I know it. Just the words “policy” and “procedure” conjure images of red tape and notions of bureaucracy—all things NOT creative.
Yet, stifling as they may be, policy and procedure are necessary evils. Especially when it comes to social media. Running a really creative social media campaign is essential for it’s success— nothing’s riskier than running a campaign with no creative content, a stale Twitter strategy featuring Tweets with no voice and a Facebook page with no semblance of company culture. If you don’t have the right people planning your campaign, you run the risk of spending money on a social media program that yields little to no results, simply because your social media managers didn’t inject enough creativity into the plan.
That being said, it’s so important to realize the policies and procedures of each social networking platform you’re using, and stay within the boundaries. Probably the most tangible example of this is the Facebook contest.
Here’s a scenario faced by many social media-literate business people:
You want to run a really great Facebook contest for your company. You want it to really wow your audience, and you want the numbers to be good. A lot of engagement, a lot of traffic for your site and ton of likes for your Facebook page. You want the contest to be something few companies have attempted, something beyond the facile “Like us and win!” concept.
Great! So, now you set forth planning. You devise a scheme that makes use of the tagging and sharing functions. It’s perfect. It’s easy; it’s engaging…there’s just one problem: you haven’t read Facebook’s policy on promotions.
It’s an innocent mistake! No one told you that you needed some sort of permission to promote your business…you thought that’s what Facebook was for! Why have the option to create a page for your business if there are strings attached to how you promote it to the community?
Thing is, Facebook is stepping up its game when it comes to protecting the privacy of it’s users. So, if you’re going to be collecting personal information with the intention of contacting them if they win, Facebook wants everyone to know that THEY aren’t the ones soliciting this information, and they won’t have access to it. Also, those awesome functions you want to use for your contest? You know, tagging, sharing and all that great stuff? They belong to Facebook. Now, you can’t use them as a mechanism for entering a company contest. In fact, the only Facebook action you’re allowed to use as a condition of entry to your contest is the “Like.”
I know all of this sounds like a major damper on your creative ability…but, it doesn’t have to be. There are solutions:
1/ Familiarize yourself with the Facebook guidelines. You can find them here.
So, now you know you need to develop something called a Facebook application in order to run your contest.
2/ Look into Facebook app development. There are some great DIY sites. But, if you don’t have the time or the proclivity, no problem! You can outsource all your contest development needs to independent developers or a creative marketing agency.
3/ Research some successful Facebook contests. Take a gander at a few right here!
The upshot of this Facebook contest policy lesson is: if you don’t make sure you’re within the guidelines, you run the risk of having your contest shut down and potentially being banned from Facebook for a while. That’s disappointing and detrimental to your overall strategy.