25 April 2011

Going Viral AND Staying Viral

Friday, March 11, 2011 is a day that will live forever in Internet history.  On that day, the Comedy Central blog dedicated to the show Tosh.0 posted a video for the song “Friday”, by 13-year-old Rebecca Black, as part of a post called “Songwriting Isn’t For Everyone”.  I won’t be taking shots at young Ms. Black’s performance –many on the Internet have – but the song, as written, is awful.  At one point, the lyrics slowly explain the order of the days of the week.  A big conflict in the song is whether the singer will be sitting in the front or the back seat of the car.

For the twelve readers who might not have seen the original video, here it is.

In the four days following the Comedy Central blog post, more than six million people viewed the Rebecca Black video on YouTube. As of this writing, there are almost 120 million views. Several cover versions, remixes, parodies, and copycat performances have been released. The song has been released to iTunes, to great success.

“Friday” has become the latest in a long line of things on the Internet to “go viral”. That term for rapidly-growing, short-term, word-of-mouth marketing, coined in the mid-90s and popularized by a Fast Company magazine article in 1996, has been used to describe several quick-flashing fads, from  the infamous Double Rainbow videos, to Charlie Sheen’s Twitter account,  to Larry Platt’s famous “Pants On The Ground” American Idol audition. Most of these have been very short-lived and quickly forgotten.

I have personal experience with going viral.  I created a Facebook page in February 2010, during the Winter Olympics, in tribute to the colorful trousers worn by The Norwegian Olympic Curling Team. Within a week, over a ½ million “Likes” were registered on the page, which peaked at about 660,000 fans during the Olympic Closing ceremonies.  Click-through traffic from my page crushed the manufacturer of the pants.  Curling clubs around the world were packed with fans wanting to learn how to curl, many of whom where only fans of the pants previously.

After that, the fans started to go away, and I struggled with retaining as many fans as possible and sustaining the site.  I was successful.  As of 15 March 2011, I still have 598,896 “Likes”. I know by statistics that people are still interacting with my new posts, and are still following links.  I have a link on the page, provided by Loudmouth Golf (the makers of the pants), which drives traffic to their site (and generates quite modest revenue for USA Curling’s Katie Beck Memorial Fund for junior curling).  A 90% retention rate over a year is good for a business, and fantastic for something viral.

How can you retain your viral customers, as I have?

Stay As Close To On-Topic As Possible, Without Sounding Like a Broken Record. Your customers came to you because you offered something that was entertaining in a different way, or because something you offered was attractive to them.  Don’t abandon that attractive component; rather, expand on the subject, while offering something new.  In my case, I followed Loudmouth Golf’s pants and the Norwegian curling team post-Olympics. 

Be Persistent. If you aren’t offering new content, people will move on.  This rule applies not only for viral content, but any published content in general. My times of greatest loss have come when I have not posted for more than a week.

Don’t Try To Duplicate Your Success. You got lucky once by being yourself.  Don’t try to catch the same lightning in a different bottle.  You will miss and it will tarnish what you did with your original content.

Don’t Sweat the Haters and the Bandwagoners If you have gone viral, there will be a backlash.  There are people who are going to get sick of you.  And they will tell you this, in no uncertain terms.  In some cases, they will tell you in truly vile terms.  And there are people who will just leave, and not come back.  Those are not your customers.  Put a positive spin on their comments if you possibly can, but do not chase them down to recover them. 

Broaden Your Audience By Using Other Avenues I am amazed to still find people who never had any idea about my little Facebook page.  I’ve used a 2nd Facebook page to drive some traffic to this one; I have also used my Twitter account and my curling blog to bring new people into the conversation.  If you’ve got something viral you are trying to sustain, don’t be afraid to reach out and tell people about it. Use other methods to reach this audience. This new audience will help drive the conversation further, in directions you never saw possible.

Going viral can be a very good thing for your brand.  How you react in the aftermath will determine if it remains an asset or become a liability.

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