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:
- Gangnam Style
- The Harlem Shake (and related mashups)
- Goats That Sound Like People (and related mashups)
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.