What it Means to Go Viral in 2016


Look, we get it, and we’re right there with you; both the concept and the reality of going viral in the internet age sounds like the ticket to a marketing renaissance. A successful viral ad can boost internet traffic, conversions on site, and make it essentially rain customers.

The disclaimer we’d like to include here is that regardless of emotional connectivity, thoughtful shareability, or influence, going viral is mostly just about luck. Of course, timing and newsworthiness can’t hurt.

Here’s a little bit of what going viral in 2016 can entail--whether it takes a simple moment of luck or it’s part of a full-blown marketing campaign.

Pick the Funny Bone

A few months ago, our very own Web Developer, Matthew and his friend Bo decided they would attempt to sneak into a movie theater as one person. They put a recording of the prank online -- and it blew up. There was no formula, no emotional nuance--just a fun idea they just shared on Reddit, and off it went. Soon enough, they were featured on the Nick Cannon show and had celebrities copying their moves on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Be a Little Challenging

The saying, “any press is good press”, is not always something you want to follow to print. However, if you can provide challenging, controversial information in a way that can evoke positive change, you can really make waves.

As we all know by now, Tim Cook’s letter regarding the FBI back in February accomplished just that. By simply writing a letter, he completely pivoted the conversation about security standards, the government's involvement with data, and how we should further protect our privacy as a nation. 

But how much did publishing this piece specifically affect Apple’s website traffic?

We ran this URL through Moz’ Open Site Explorer and discovered that there were 19,124 total links to the web page alone, with 995 of those marked as “Just Discovered” in the last 60 days. Similarly, running the specific web page for the letter through Semrush revealed that the number of expected users to visit that page in the following month was at a whopping 20,100 visitors.

In a follow-up study gauging public opinion on privacy published by the Wall Street Journal, “About 42% of those polled said Apple should cooperate; a slightly larger number, 47%, said Apple shouldn’t. About 11% of respondents said they didn’t support either position or weren’t sure.”

Zombies, Cat Pics, and Tasty Videos

I hate to buy into the hype, but following, creating and sharing visual trending topics really does work. We really do live in a time where a blog post about a zombie-themed cruise can garner 400,000 comments, a Buzzfeed-owned 30-second food blog can get 50 million likes on Facebook in less than a year, and a blog about a stuffed-animal version of your pet can get over 680,000 shares. If it seems cheap, it’s because it’s probably not the best route to take when trying to promote real, actionable content and drive traffic to your website, but it sure does ignite that 15-minutes of fame.

Listen, there’s really no formula here. At its core, this is simple marketing. Sharing something that relates to people's emotions, sparks a new conversation, or just generally brightens people’s day has always been the key to great advertising. “Going viral” is not anything new or innovative, but is it the way we’re having online conversations today. Being able to say something in 150 words or less is a surprisingly successful tool for communication, for gathering people who wouldn’t have been able to meet before, for pivoting public policy or even for igniting protest. Whether or not you realize it - you’re already a part of the viral conversation.

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