The Unpredictable Nature of Virality

10 Feb


My household was in mourning on Sunday. Reason, the kids got up and saw that this year’s most popular game, flappy birds, was being taken down by the creator.

Looks like the boy is throwing away 50 million downloads and some 50K in ad revenue, coz he’s overwhelmed by the buzz (both positive, and negative) and wants his simpler life back. (Can’t say I blame him!). Unless ofcourse it’s a clever marketing ploy.

Really makes one think about this internet-spawned phenomenon of “virality”.

I googled for “how to make a video viral”. Guess how many hits it got? 306 million! (AND it auto-completed before i was halfway there – with other suggestions being – viral Facebook page (241 mil), viral Facebook app (108 mil), how to viral tweet 136 mil.)

Not only is this therefore a marketer’s dream goal – to have a video/ ad go viral (see some top videos of last year embedded roughly midway down this post) , it’s also their biggest nightmare obviously. We all know about the negative/ reputation busting tweets/ videos/ posts that went viral – some of them mentioned in this earlier post of mine.

Incidentally, I had posted a blog roughly a year ago on viral posts, and facebook etiquette regarding reactions to them. It mention some viral videos of that time.

So many PR agencies and marketing departments now make a living out of “listening” to what is being said about their brands out in the digital media landscape. Some 4 – 5 years ago, we spent many days and months attempting to educate clients on how this could be a “proactive” research tool – i.e., people mentioning your brands give you this mound of data that is attitudes/ usage/ behavioral etc – and all unsolicited. But, that use case for social media found far lower traction than the one which was “monitoring” for reputation protection. Basically, the Dell Hell/ Progressive etc PR disasters had instilled so much fear in people’s hearts that they wanted to be on top of any negative, “potentially viral” opinion. My company EmPower actually made a living out of this monitoring of media.

Even more than corporates, we had governments antsy – we had executed monitoring assignments for advisors of kingdoms and governments in the MENA region who were really scared by the social media trigger of the Arab Spring revolution.

Everyone asked us – can you predict what will be viral? That was the million dollar question – how can we ensure that we are not caught napping when a Tahrir happens, or United breaking guitar video happens.

And, I have to say, while we did a pretty good job of predictive analytics in general, this – predicting precisely what content where will go viral, and how, was completely beyond us!

After all, who in their right minds would think that The Fox would be the viral story of late last year!

Moral of the story – don’t overthink this. Controversy does help (banning – witness Sodastream Superbowl commercial), so do spoofs, but most often it is just pure unadulterated luck!

Finally, I think some of you will like a look at this : It lists 10 videos that went viral in the pre internet era!.

And, following a thread running through many of my recent blogs, and a story that has caught the imagination of India at large, this is a hilarious spoof on a much maligned-yet-watched TV show every night, interviewing the hottest young star of Indian Politics; that is now nearly viral. For those of you who havn’t watched it, enjoy!

I think the flappy bird issue also highlights that of success – how people handle it; and of simplicity – and how now many people activity desire a simpler life than the one they have. So good, more food for next posts :).

On Flappy Bird, my kids heaved huge sighs of relief when they figured nothing was happening to it if they’d downloaded it already! Their current high score is 6 – what’s yours?

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