Power to the people.

In my last post, I discussed the nature of “viral” media and how it is actually a misrepresentation of the concept. To summarize, media that “goes viral” does not do so on its own, as a virus in the classic sense does. “Viral” content requires a large, collective group of people to make an active decision to share the same media for similar reasons and interests. This decision making process is further supported by a distaste for things being done without the user’s express consent (think Farmville requests displaying in your news feed or applications posting to your social accounts because of misunderstood permissions granted) are actually considered very negatively by many internet users.

Using this as a filter, what I see is a shift in the power structure of media online. Many say “content is king,” but I’m not so sure that stands anymore. The best practice up to this point is a mentality of “build it and they will come;” meaning develop awesome content and people will share it. But the schism is in the “great” modifier — so much “viral” content that brands and people both are trying to develop is simply put.. a giant pile of crap.

Let’s talk about video content. The most watched, the most “viral” video content includes:

These are most certainly not value-adding in anyway. These are not “good content,” at least as I learned to develop. These are ridiculous, funny, kind of lame and pretty much terrible in all ways.

But they are incredibly shareable. These videos make you smile (or laugh in confusion) and make you want to pass that smile on to your virtual neighbor. That, my friends, is an incredibly powerful thing.

The power of media is very rapidly shifting to the power of the sharers, the curators, and the collectors. You can develop incredible, impactful, ridiculously awesome content, but if no one shares it, who cares?

This is not meant to encourage people to start developing terrible content that is weird or funny for no reason. That’s not really how it works. As content creators and curators, we have to start paying closer attention to the reasons why sharing happens and how those reasons correlate to our audiences. Developing good stuff for a specific demographic isn’t enough anymore. We have to develop and curate for real live people. Not just one type of person, either. For lots of different types of people. The content we develop as we create or support online presences has to be flexible enough to be happily consumed and shared by many different types of people.

Putting the power of message amplification into the hands of the sharer equalizes the content landscape: the person who understands the myriad behaviors by the many types of people who would be interested in sharing your specific brand of content and then actually executes on these idiosyncrasies successfully will win. Not just the person with the biggest budget.

So what does this mean, ultimately? It means: make it, break it, figure out why it broke, and then make it again. Run 15 different variations of the same content and see what works where and why. Don’t broadcast the same message across all your networks. Segment your list! Develop custom content! Spend time getting to know the people you want to talk to in a meaningful way! Develop a robust community of readers and sharers through great, specific content and understanding of their needs. Developing content like this will make your message spreadable and happily received by your current and prospective audience.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/martin.marty.smith Martin Smith

    I’ve had several posts go “mega-viral” with potential audiences approaching a million (several have gone over this mark). What is the secret? There is no guaranteed silver bullet, but there are some interesting asides including:

    * Shorter pieces written on Saturday are more likely than longer pieces written during the week.

    * Longer pieces receive more comments, shorter get more shares (in general and there are exceptions to this rule).

    * Newsjacking or surfing an already hot wave increases chances for viral support.

    * Including gurus or experts with big followings such as Scoop.it is very important (no matter how many followers you have you need the support of others that is the democracy of viral content).

    * Humor can help, but your humor may be my nightmare so this using or building “humor” in can be very hit or miss.

    * Arresting visuals help tremendously.

    Scoop.it is championing the “Lean Content Movement” and I see that trend in the kind of content that gets the most Re-Scoops, shares and Retweets. Content that is visually stunning, provides deep understanding FAST and is being shared by others has a better chance to “go viral” than other content.

    All of that said, do I sit down and say, “Time to write viral content now”? No because that motivation feel disingenuous and manipulative and neither of those motives are consistent with how I feel about Internet marketing, I love it, or what I’m trying to achieve – SHARING and LEARNING.

    I share because the conversations sharing promotes help me get better and I am committed to paying that cycle forward. This means I am always “in debt” trying to “pay back” an impossible debt, but that is the nature of the game we play.

    Can and do I make mistakes? Sure, but I would rather make mistakes of commission instead of omission. I trust that since my motives are PURE that everything will work out, that the content I create and curate is helpful and organic so constantly in motion and spreading out to help friends and friends of friends.

  • http://freeaudionetwork.wordpress.com/ Secular Antitheist Liberal

    viral seems to happen when the content is less threatening to any social, economic, political or religious status quo. Sharing a goat that sounds like people video is the modern day for of olden days chit chat we engaged in. It’s much like talking about the weather, sports, a TV show, a movie, a work of fiction, etc.

    We all have people who are constantly emailing us mostly “jokes”. It’s a safe way to communicate. Most people spend very little time talking about the important things in life then wonder why our world is the way it is.



    The only real time we engage in meaningful sharing is when we’re in our own little cliche that assures us our thoughts and ideas will be welcomed. Nobody wants to be the cat lover in a group of dog owners. 😉

    I thought Internet would allow us to explore different points of view and ideas. Instead we seem to have once again built for ourselves a data bubble where only data that supports our established thoughts and ideas are allowed. We surf the web to validate our established point of view instead of challenge ourselves and our worldview.

  • MCrompton

    Sounds like you’ve been reading “Shareable Media” by Jenkins, Ford and Green. If not, you should! Great book on this topic.

  • Hans Konstapel

    So we are not sharing memes (ideas) but screams (emotions).

  • http://drndark.blogspot.com/ Android Dark

    This is true, there’s a right way to share and a wrong way to share, and i choose the internet 🙂

  • http://www.facebook.com/abarlay Andrew Barlay

    In the very least, this is all so true! Social media has a life and breath of it’s own. Things, topics, and content that would serve a greater good tend to fall into the cracks. Not surprising when one form makes you chuckle, another makes you laugh till your side splits, and the last and usually the most meaty and useful tends to fall on deaf ears as it strikes a loud and often familiar chord with many who are not willing to identify with it socially or publicly in fear of what their image, suffering or damage will be… People in general want an instant felling of gratification or accomplishment. The truth about all social topics good or bad, is this… We as human beings are Hell bent on looking and feeling good right now, If we all just stop, think, feel, and breath, for just a moment; clarity in our minds eye does creep in, and offer us a positive and useful mechanism in which to act on, and build upon. In summation: Slow down, Take it in and digest the information. Be able to react or act positively to it or on it, For Heavens sake…
    Andrew Barlay, Barlay Industries http://www.ergofloss.com

  • http://sarahpdx.com/ Sarah Buchanan

    “Don’t broadcast the same message across all your networks. Segment your list! Develop custom content! Spend time getting to know the people you want to talk to in a meaningful way! Develop a robust community of readers and sharers through great, specific content and understanding of their needs.”

    It is great to see an increase in volume of shares and conversation around your brand. And yes, there are variables such as timing, length and topic that will help optimize your contents reach. But we need to look at the primary drivers of conversation not the outcomes and the primary variables. If we can build relationships with the right people, we can maintain a high volume of reach within our target audiences. It is a combination of relationships built on shared passion and growing your community at scale that will bring a great return.

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