Positives of Going Viral

Story: Trevor Bell; Graphic: Berkley Iden

June 27, 2013

Going Viral Infographic

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In today’s digital climate, organizations and brands are trying to find ways to reach as many people as quickly as they can; thus, social media is seen as the perfect medium for spreading brand awareness. To fully take advantage of social media’s influence, there is often the desire to make something go “viral.” Viral videos and marketing can take social media by storm and generate a vast amount of buzz. Whether it is the latest YouTube phenomena or advertising coup, all of this viral content has a few similarities that resulted in consumers sharing the content and spreading awareness of the brand - for good or for ill.

While some YouTube videos may have gone viral because of their absurd nature (we’re looking at you, Harlem Shake), there still is an art to making something go viral. In a recent Inc. interview, Likeable Local CEO Dave Kerpen spoke with Contagious author Jonah Berger and identified the six ways in which content can go viral.

According to the article, the most strategic way of increasing the odds that content will go viral is through the use of practical value and emotion, especially for social networking sites like Twitter. Consumers are able to capitalize on social media by searching for information, thus allowing them to find something that has value for them. In the 2012 Nielson State of the Media: The Social Media Report, it was found that when people go online, they spend 22.5 percent of their time on social media sites. In regards to Twitter, research conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland Baltimore County titled, "Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities" found that people primarily use Twitter for information seeking, information sharing, and communicating with friends. For information seeking – which accounts for 40 percent of the Twitter population – people primarily use Twitter to find information pertinent to them. One such example can be tied to the 2008 Presidential Elections between Democrat Barack Obama and Republic John McCain where 49 percent of the young voter demographic stated they used the Internet – primarily social media – as their main news source. Thus, if a brand can give consumers what they’re looking for, the impact and ability for the message to go viral vastly increases.

Additionally, if a brand can tie its message or product directly to the consumer, the likelihood of adoption and spread of the message increases. One of the more recent and successful examples of a brand tying its message to the consumer is displayed in the Dodge Ram “Farmer” commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLVII. Not only was the advertisement ranked as the third best ad according to the 2013 USA Today Ad Meter results, it also connected with target consumers’ hard-working mentality. From an ABC News report by Suzan Clarke, Twitter was immediately overwhelmed with support for the advertisement. One notable example is actor Rob Lowe’s tweet, about the ad, which garnered nearly 2,000 retweets and 1,000 favorites:

Additional positive and sentimental tweets were posted by Twitter users across the country who hailed the spot’s message. While the Super Bowl advertisement was viewed on television, its reach was extended due to the power of social media and the conversation it generated online.

While going viral can help spread brand awareness, companies must also be concerned about the potential consequences that can result when negative news or embarrassing content or actions go viral. We’ll examine this further in The Outpost’s future post on the negatives of going viral.