Tag Archives: virality

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?


Shoot the Messenger, the Media or the Originator? Social Media can do Good..

21 Jan

Last weekend saw the tragic death of a fairly high profile socialite/ businesswoman/ minister’s wife in India. Cause of death is still uncertain – but it followed a fairly venomous yet convoluted debacle on twitter, followed by retractments/ clarifications by husband and wife on Facebook.

A long debate followed – on the role of social media, twitter specially, in her death. Leading newspaper Hindustan Times actually carried a poll on whether Twitter was to blame for Ms. Tharoor’s death. (Results: 52% agreed that SM was to blame for her death!)

I say this is BS (pardon the french) – all that Social Media has done is allowed everyone an easily accessible/ easy to use/ free/ and increasingly popular medium for self expression – the presence of this medium in no way controls emotions/ behavior – except ofcourse allowing for an increasing need for sharing these emotions and behavior (and yes, in consequence making these same emotions/ behavior more share-worthy). It cannot be held responsible for what may be infidelity (except maybe give a means for communication of infidelity), and by no means is it a trigger for someone to pull a figurative trigger on oneself!

A now fairly viral article agrees with me – it looks like traditional media (read print and TV journalists) are those making the strongest allegations that Social Media was to blame; while, interestingly, post this article, Social Media is loudly saying that traditional media was to blame! (the lady had reached out to many journalists to “tell her story” – most were too busy to grant her a hearing!)

What Social Media is doing, is putting the onus on most of us to learn some new etiquette, and a newer/ maturer way of handling it. Celebs are most vulnerable (An interesting related article on Social Media savvy politicians mentions an interesting website Politwoops – check it for some fun stuff!). By the way, an Analysis of twitter behaviour for Mr. and Mrs. Tharoor shows that the politician was far more savvy than his wife.

There is a lot of good that Social Media is doing – look at its impact on Healthcare, with advocacy groups on most conditions bringing support and relief to millions of patients to state one. Or, as an example, my ex co founder’s initiative Let’s Do Some Good , and my husband’s proposed body for investing in Uttarakhand (yes yes, shameless plug!) that she is primarily promoting on Facebook. Or, just the pleasure that Facebook gives to the silver surfers – my mom and aunt being two avid proponents! It is really silly to state that the medium or the messenger is responsible for people’s stupidities.

I could go on and on, but just as I was writing this (reasonably impassioned) piece, I came across a new short film made in collaboration with…yes…you guessed it – Dove! It’s the perfect ending methinks to underline this message – the medium is not to blame! It can be used for a lovely reason as well…enjoy….

Facebook Etiquette and Virality

11 Feb


I see these all the time – a photo or link posted by one friend and then another and then another…not “shared” btw, coz these friends don’t know each other – but obviously seen at the main source – and then posted on their own pages.

If I feel something for that photo or link, I “like” or “comment” on it (rarely, i also “share” it). But, that is the FIRST time i catch it on my newsfeed. Then, when the next person uploads it on his/ her timeline, I don’t repeat that action – but each time I do feel a stab of guilt – that friend of mine will never know that I DO like that post! (Afterall, self expression notwithstanding, its true that most of us check facebook multiple times after posting someone to see what reaction we got! – even my 7 year old Achchu, who has taken to posting “restront reviews” – her spelling and “ossum recipes” on my friend Shoma’s website, asks me – hey mom, who “commended” on my recipe?). So, that’s my question on etiquette – should I like again and again and again? if only to keep my conscience clear, if not to make my friends happy?

But see, its interesting – is that piece of content coming again on my timeline because:

a) It is a hugely topical post, and therefore of interest to all? I.e., is this going viral? – ofcourse, “what makes viral” is a whole topic by itself – from “let’s go to Tahrir!” to “Four more years” to gangnam style (on that note, have you seen the latest gangnam style video to hit viral – the sleeping baby one? Hilarious – not so much for the baby’s actions, but for her sister’s reactions! if not, watch here… to the story of the two girls who got their puppy when they got a million likes on facebook (see site) thus prompting many clones..


b) My newsfeed originates from my “friends” who are all “people like me” and hence the same kind of content will appeal to all of them. This is an intriguing and scary idea – coz, networks notwithstanding, many of the folks I know and befriend really really have NO way of knowing each other, and yet they are posting the same stuff. So, 2 concepts arise from here:

b1 – STP – NO NOT the Sanitary Treatment plant for water!!! but “Segmentation Targeting Positioning” – thats what helps marketers cluster like folks similarly and then manufacture stuff to appeal to them – it really is bringing a set of people down to their lowest common multiple and deriving the commonalities amongst them. So, we are all the cluster of the funny stuff likers, the women rights upholders, the music lovers

b2 – Social connectedness, virality and influence. This is the concept on which all social networks are built – but I think Linkedin shows it more than others as that typically is not always friends/ family but professional contacts. This is the stuff of which “influence” algorithms like Klout/ Kred etc made. Its also the science/ art that manufacturers are exploring in a bid to get their messages out – specially in healthcare, where traditional marketing is highly regulated.

Maybe that’s the reason why “influence networks” and “virus” have pictures looking the same!

infnets virus

As Brian Solis said: “Social Media is about sociology and psychology more than technology.”