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The Fallout of Going Viral


Going viral. Ever since the dawn of the Internet as we know it today, it’s been one of the holy grails of online marketing. The most successful of viral campaigns find their way into news articles, television references, and even our day-to-day conversations. So how about that Old Spice guy? You know, the man your man could smell like?

Anyway, the point is, going viral is often a thing for marketers to aim for. However, a recent event suggests that there is a line with going viral that should not be crossed.

On Tuesday, August 17, 2010, a little application called Twifficiency rocked the Twitter world. The phrase “my Twifficiency score” topped the day’s trending topics and feeds everywhere were full of tweets that resembled this:

By now we know that the application owed its extreme viral power to a small programming error — which caused it to automatically tweet from the account of each user that allowed access. As a result, all of our friends were inadvertently tweeting about their scores, and many of us, including myself, couldn’t help but click it too.

Imagine this happening with your (or your client’s) product. Sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want to be a trending topic on Twitter? Unfortunately, this didn’t impress users of the application. Speculation started to spread that the application was really just a huge scam by some evil hacker. Anger and finger-pointing ensued. What had this application really meant to do?, people wondered.

Luckily for all of us, it turns out it wasn’t a scam. But does that make any of us feel better? What if it had been a scam?

While his endeavor was hardly a marketing one, the developer of Twifficiency has, all the same, reminded us of a sobering fact. As the Internet gets older, we as users seem to be more easily spooked than ever. This means that marketers need to continue taking this into consideration while planning their campaigns — especially when they are primarily online.

A good viral campaign can engage its viewers and get them to share without making them feel like they’re being metaphorically Rickrolled.™ What can one do to make their next online campaign go the way of the Old Spice Guy, and not that of Twifficiency?

1. Create content that meets the expectations of your users. Be it humor, narrative, or innovation, today’s consumer needs a reason to pay attention to your message.

2. Make sure the user immediately sees value in sharing the content you have to offer. If you do this, you have already earned a measurable amount of the user’s trust.

3. Reward your consumers with more. When Old Spice Guy became a success, the advertisers didn’t stop there. They knew consumers would be looking for more, like downloads, custom voicemail recordings, and even swag.

I believe that viral campaigns will continue to gain speed as Internet advertising becomes more and more sophisticated. We as marketers just need to remember that our users will become more sophisticated and savvy as well.