Sometimes I wander Facebook and click on a share and wham! I am treated to something really cool. Other times, the ending is far less exciting, and I raise my eyebrows at a virtual wonder that has gone viral, but is total poo. A week ago, I stumbled upon something that was really neither, just slightly entertaining, and it made me smirk but not quite through the whole thing. On this particular journey into the viral side of the internet, the mediocre post got me thinking about attention-seeking on the web and how virality is accomplished. Here are my thoughts.
- The secret ingredients (when they even apply) seem to be talent plus something immediately appealing. So maybe you should determine first where your real talent lies–the more dramatic and outstanding, the better–and then twist it together with something immediate, something to catch the viewer right now (making sure production is also dripping with talent). That can be something relevant (trending), it can be something eye-popping (in a short phrase or a still photo), and/or it could be something else, like nostalgic or edgy, or popular. And you can appeal to various instincts in people, just go for the broadest; horror, romance, disgust, amazement, curiosity…
- Another part of the equation is to pick something that makes a connection to the viewer, the person behind the device. You can pull this out of their past, their present, or some hope or fear for the future. Of course, if you want to go viral, we’re talking universality here. We all have pretty similar hurts, habits, hang-ups, dreams, aspirations, cultural memories, etc.
- Now here’s an important one: they can’t say no. When you whip something out onto the internet, what you have presented is in competition with an impossible amount of other stuff. So should someone trip across it, they CAN NOT say no. It has to be that compelling, that tempting, that interesting.
- Haha, good luck. While a huge part of me thinks that if I sat down with a group of smart people, I could come up with the prefect viral idea and then use more really talented people to implement it. It’s just a matter of time and talent, right? Wrong! Like everything else in life–especially the modern life–it’s largely a matter of luck. Go ahead, it’s best for you if you line up all your ducks and study all the best practices, but there is absolutely no guarantee–in fact, not much of a chance–that you will go viral. In the writing world, we are often referring to this most discouraging of principles (it’s the same in publishing), so our reaction to it has been to tell authors to keep producing. (In other words, keep playing your cards and perhaps one day you’ll get a royal flush.)
- Going viral almost always results in a quick peak and then a fizzle to nothing. So don’t make going viral a primary goal of yours if your long-term goal is to stay visible as an author or artist. I suppose that occasionally virality results in a flurry of sales and reads and follows, which then results, in the future, in more reviews and shares and more sales and reads. The problem is, attention in America (and spreading outward) is very short, and there is too much vying for that attention. So keep publishing, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, pinning, making book trailers, etc., but don’t change what you’re doing to appeal to the fickle, general public. Target your readers.
- Don’t beg. I don’t know, plenty of people seem to click on posts that ask them to share, but I don’t. If it says “Share me!”, I hardly ever even look at it.
- Make yourself visible. So you’ve gone viral. It happened so fast, you hardly even knew it before you hit 1,000,000. What now? You better be darn sure people can find you (like already, before virality happened), and ways to purchase books (or art or whatever) should always be visible and easy. Now, your blog might not be linked in that HuffPost article, but when someone in India Googles “Devon Trevarrow Flaherty” or “awesomest book trailer ever,” you want all lines possible to lead back to you. Money is king, right? You want this to translate to sales, either immediately or down the road. Don’t feel dirty about it; this is your job, so you have to get paid for it or stop doing it (unless you are independently wealthy. If you are independently wealthy, stop all attempts at virality and contact a major network about a reality show.)
And, just for kicks, here are some of my favorite viral posts:
Duck Tales Rythm and Blues – This is the one that got me thinking. It’s fairly cool.
Gymnast Routine with Ball – This is the one I would use as an example, even though it hasn’t gone crazy viral, probably b/c it has no production slickness.
Photos of Famous Places from New Angles – This is the most recent one I have really enjoyed.
Sidewalk Art – One of the first Facebook share clicks I ever really loved.
Shadow Art from Junk – The last one reminded me of this one. Maybe we could contact the artist and see if all the online attention has changed his life?
The Crowd Principle, or Something Like It – An example of social issues and virality. Does it help? Are there more people stopping to help downed people? No idea, but I’m gonna guess not too many.
Scariest Trail in the World – Maybe it’s the adventurer in me, but I always remember this one.
What Does the Fox Say? – And one that followed all the principles I can think of, and actually worked. Of course, music talent is one of the most amenable to the internet and transfer to purchases, but this has turned out VERY well for Ylvis, which is fun because he is clearly very talented.