While it’s been a hot topic since Hotmail went huge, the buzz about viral marketing has never been stronger thanks to both social media and ubiquitous online video. No doubt every MBA with an emphasis in marketing is talking about “viral stories” in between latte slurps.
As a painful example of a story that went viral big and fast, think about how many people knew the name John Mark Karr prior to two weeks ago.
A successful viral campaign:
1. Gives away valuable products and services.
2. Provides for effortless transfer to others.
3. Scales easily from small to very large.
4. Exploits common motivations and behaviors.
5. Utilizes existing communication networks.
6. Takes advantage of others’ resources.
Scott says (and I agree) that the “valuable service” was Karr’s confession, because it was a story we wanted to hear.
It’s no surprise that people are let down that it was all a lie. And while there’s no doubt that Mr. Karr is a disturbed individual, the signs that he wasn’t the killer were there from the start.
Still we wanted to believe, and the story spread, because people just don’t like the fact that JonBenet’s killer remains undiscovered. That intense desire to believe always makes the backlash worse when things turn out differently.
That’s just the nature of powerful stories.
Elsewhere, with much less dire circumstances, YouTube sensation LonelyGirl15 is being called out as a shill. If you haven’t been keeping up with her saga (and who could blame you), teenager “Bree” has made 23 videos mostly about her infatuation with Daniel, her home-schooled life, those mysterious family religious beliefs, and the “purity bond” pledge she’s made to her father.
From the Alternate Reality Gaming Network:
Buzz has it that the videos are too pat, too scripted, and too professional looking to be anything but some sort of viral campaign. Indeed, the clues are there. Bree initially gained an audience by making engaging and humorous videos featuring popular YouTube users. She’s very cagey about revealing any personally revealing information about herself, often completely dodging uncomfortable questions. Perhaps more telling is the fact that a vanity website under her name was registered on May 12 – almost two weeks before she showed up on YouTube.
Some are pointing fingers at my storytelling doppelganger Brian Clark of GMD Studios, who, among other things, creates marketing-motivated alternate reality games for companies. I have my doubts that Brian is involved; fans of ARG willingly suspend disbelief in order to play a game that appears to be real. YouTubers have stated no desire for that type of thing, and couldn’t be blamed for being upset.
Brian strikes me as too smart not to get that. But interview comments by Clark like this make one wonder:
What new technology or ideas would you like to include in future ARGs?
Video community. I’m starting to think that discussion boards are an interesting way to do community but not the penultimate. I’m really looking forward to doing an ARG project where the basis of player community might be more immediate or visual, auditory. Look at what people are starting to do with video blogging. I start to wonder if there are ways for the community of players to communicate with each other beyond just the written word.
The question is, does it matter if you lie, as long as you get attention?
Out of the many strategies for going viral, I like to stick to more mundane things like resources to get a bit of attention traction. But my storytelling side comes up with wild stuff all the time that might well break loose in a big way.
What keeps me in check are two simple realities:
1. Not all traffic is created equally.
2. It matters how you end up being perceived when the dust settles.
But branding philosopher Ze says it much better than I do. Make sure to think carefully about what he says at the end, because the answer you come up with will determine a lot about where you go from here and how people perceive you.
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