Viral Marketing / Good or Bad News

There are two ways to approach social media marketing:  Long term, and Short Term.

The long term way of increasing the level of engagement that a business has with its consumer base, and the goal of increasing lifetime profitablity of customers through greater understanding and a deeper relationship.  This is the type of social media marketing that is concerned with building a strong network of influential advocates and monitoring long term trends and opinions that can be built into product development.  Long term social media marketing is all about having a strategy to communicate, and build a brand through advocacy at

The short term approach to social media is viral marketing.  Getting a piece of content to become popular through external social networks – ie people who you haven’t recruited or who haven’t made a considered decision to follow your brand.  Viral marketing is about creating content that resonates with users enough to make them see value in sharing it with their friends.  Viral marketing is about making yourself look cool by making other people look cool.

Dispelling the myth of Linkbait

Linkbait is where viral marketing meets SEO, the idea being that a piece of really cool content will generate a shed load of links to its source, which in turn will help a website to rank well.  This would work in the past because the sheer number of links to a page would have a significant impact on the ability of the website to rank well.  Linkbait is particularly effective where the content itself is what you want to rank.  An example might be if you wrote a blog post discussing the benefits of whether viral marketing was a good or a band thing and then promoted it through social media.

You would hope that a lot of the Tweets and blog links that people would create would include the phrase “viral marketing” as either anchor text, or as text in close proximity to the link and create relevance that would help Google identify that page as a trusted resource on the subject.  Enough interest, and the post would start to rank for search terms like “viral marketing”.

That’s what works, and it works well.  Where linkbait fails is when the content being linked to is unrelated to the website it is being used to promote.

Unrelated Meme is … Unrelated

I was in a meeting once where a normally intelligent and clued up marketing manager asked whether we could do something along the lines of a Lolcat to gain links for their brand.  Here’s my response:

You want a what?
You want a what?

This marketing manager thought that simply by stepping on the band wagon of a then popular meme, they would automatically generate loads of links to their unrelated website.

Two types of viral content

Content always goes viral in the same way, through people sharing it in an ever increasing circle, however there are two types of viral content, lets call them grass and astroturf.  From a distance, both look very similar, but up close, you can see the difference.

Grass grows naturally through every available crack in the pavement, and unless it’s carefully tended, it gets out of control and defines its environment.  it doesn’t need much help, just an initial seed to get it going, and then it will pretty much look after itself.  A hallmark of “natural” viral content is that it tends to arrive spontaneously.  Someone will post something pretty funny somewhere like 4chan, and by Friday, it will have been torn apart, re built, tweeted, Facebooked, and Dugg to death:

Astroturf is manufactured to look similar to grass, and often seeded in similar places, but rather than being an end in itself, it is a means to an end.  Astroturf memes do not come from the twisted minds of the anonymous, but from airy break-out rooms in creative agencies where trends are scanned, and appropriately chosen focus groups select the most resonant image from a bank of options and create a macro to suit it:

You can tell the difference when you get close enough – in the case of “Friday”, The Astroturf is the video, the grass is growing through the cracks in the comments and in the 2 million dislikes.

The Danger of Going Viral

I wish Rebecca Black all the best.  Her parents did what all parents want to do and give her an opportunity to do what she enjoys.  she’ll do OK over the next couple of years, but because the method by which her fame was engineered originated as a cynical attempt to “do a Bieber” her fame will always be tainted by the idea that it was a bit of astroturf.

It’s the same for any business that makes a conscious decision and tries a little bit too hard to become a viral success.  There are always going to be successful attempts at viral marketing, like Cadbury’s Gorilla playing drums, or Compare the Meerkat, but if you get it wrong, and rather than being original, you simply try and ride the coattails of a previously successful meme, your viral content will either fail – a big problem if you’ve invested very heavily in getting a creative agency to produce it, or result in a lot of negative sentiment in the long run.

Viruses Can Have Side Effects
Viruses Can Have Side Effects