Social Media Groundswells are all about People Goofing Off

Let’s all just face it: Social media makes weird things happen.

Betty White is set to host Saturday Night Live this week. Why? A Facebook Page titled, “Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!” The page has over half a million fans now, most of whom got on board before she was announced to host. The show’s producer – knowingly or unknowingly – called the surge of interest in her hosting a “groundswell,” which is the title of the Josh Bernoff book about just this sort of thing happening with social media.

The thing is, it’s an awfully odd thing for there to be a groundswell around. The same, I think, is true of the “Leave Brittney Alone” video, the Shibu Ibu Puppy Cam Show, and everything about Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. These things that gain our attention, and make us giggle as we become participants, all feel like some bizarre practical joke.

“What’s the weirdest thing we can possibly do with all this media?” someone asks.

“I know,” someone says, “we’ll take pictures of cats doing strange things, then insert what they’d say in strange syntax! And they’ll all think in Bold Impact font!”

When people start talking about how to make viral content or something like that for their company, you know they’re hoping for a similar mad craze over their car insurance or cell phones or whatever. I think that’s the first mistake. Why?

Viral Content is Anti-Establishment

All of these examples are big because they are decidedly not mass media or helpful to anyone’s brand. People don’t sit down and think, “boy it sure would be fun to help out Samsung’s North American Telecommunications Division!”

No! At best, they’ll think, “can I make a multi-national, multi-billion dollar company really uncomfortable by talking about how awful they are?” Which leads to the second mistake of industry,

Viral Content cannot be controlled

People think they want to be mentioned in something hip and widespread, so their brand can become famous.

What they really want is for everyone to spread the word that their company and product is great, for free. (They don’t say that, though – not even to themselves. When you admit that out loud, you can hear how silly it sounds.)

What’s more likely to happen is someone videotaping one of your employees doing something… just bad.

I’d post for you the original video, but Domino’s had the video banned from everywhere.

Why, Domino’s!?! It made you guys famous! Why wouldn’t you want something all viral ‘n stuff making the rounds?

Because they learned the hard way that average people don’t CARE about pieces that are complimentary and nice. Just the helpful nature of a viral “campaign” is enough to turn people off. If people wanted safe and nice, Howard Stern would have never happened. (In fact, Howard Stern pulled off one of the early social media pranks, before there was any social media. If you know anything about Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf being voted People Magazine’s, “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1998, you know what I mean.)

Betty White got a nice surprise out of the Facebook campaign, but ultimately the joke was on Saturday Night Live. (Though they’re smart to play along.)

When you try to get people to do the same thing for you, remember that you are “The Man” simply because you’re not creating content to be odd or entertaining, but for promotion. Creating “messaging” to be used on Facebook or YouTube won’t do you anywhere near as much good as allowing others to make funny videos about you, and having a sense of humor about it.

If you can’t do that, you have been warned.

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One comment

  1. This is a great write-up of viral-ness (for a lack of a better word). There really isn’t any formula for creating something viral, but these are good points to keep in mind. Thanks!

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