Viral Marketing

Last night I went to my first Meetup event EVER! I was really nervous, not knowing who would be there and if they would appreciate a grad student showing up.  Plus my car was low on gas, I couldn’t find the right building and it was raining.  Full-on freak out mode, achieved.  Luckily the experience was so great and I can’t wait for next time!

NC Tech4Good hosted Arik Abel from French, West, and Vaughan, a marketing/branding company that has offices all over the US.  He talked about viral marketing, what a viral video is, what it takes for something to go viral, and examples of viral marketing.  In the world of online popularity, there is a distinction between something going viral, a meme, and evergreen content, which I didn’t really grasp before.  Evergreen content is content that has a LOT of views because people are always searching for it, for example, this tutorial on how to fishtail braid has 2.3 million views.  But clearly it isn’t viral since we all aren’t going about our lives talking about “that girl who can fishtail braid really well on Youtube.”   On the other hand are memes, which are viral, but in a different way than traditional viral content because they are shared by many people to many people.  For a great meme that has been spreading across internet-land since April, go here.  One of my classmates, Chris Kirkham, gave a great pecha kucha presentation on memes:

(it starts in the middle, sorry!)

So now that brings us to the definition of “going viral.” This content is shared from one person to many people; like the domino effect of the internet world.  To be viral, content does not actually have to be shared by people all over the world.  Rather it is shared within a specific community such as a leaked trailer going viral for the sci-fi community, a campaign against a specific company going around the animal rights community, and so forth.  According to Abel, there are 5 things that help something go viral: Topic, Technique, Talent, Timing, and Tension.

  • Topic refers to what is relevant now to the audience you are trying to reach.  Hot topics now are Occupy Wall Street, Gaddafi’s death, and if you are in to Latin American events the TIPNIS protest (this is all according to my Twitter feed).
  • Technique is how the viral content is actually delivered: a mash-up, a parody, a cool string of events that is recorded in one take, etc.
  • Talent is who is in the content: a cultural icon, a famous actor, or just a really emotional guy freaking out at a rainbow (see here).
  • Timing is the ‘right place right time’ effect.  Going viral capitalizes on adding to an event going on in the world.  This is measured somewhat by the 3x a Day rule- if you hear about something three times in three separate places in one day, it’s probably going viral.
  • Tension is the polarization effect viral content has.  Good examples would be advocacy campaigns on topics like abortion, partisan politics, human rights, etc.
The other main contributing factor to the viral-ness of content is what Abel calls the Law of Distributed Influence.  According to this theory, going viral means a lot of people are partaking in a shared experience.  To me, this sounds a lot like ARGs, the popularity of which depends on popularity within a large group of people working together.  McGonagal we meet again!  Gamification is a great way to get something to go viral since it is a clearly defined, LARGE community of people and has the great element of wanting to win or complete the game (tension).
I hope this has been a useful introduction to the idea of going viral.  I really learned a lot from Abel’s talk and can’t wait for the  next NC Tech4Good meetup!