Engineering Virality

Today, I came across this excerpt on “engineering virality,” which, ironically, has been on my mind for the past few days. My conclusion? Virality can’t really be engineered or replicated with any more confidence than a new movie, book, or pop song can be guaranteed to top the charts. Instead, you’re much more likely to get the results you want by studying, studying, studying the people you want to reach and involve these people in a conversation about their needs and how they can best be met.

It makes a lot of sense, afterall. If virality was a “paint by number” deal, and anyone could create it, it would become the norm and lose its mystique. You can get a lot closer, however, so just because you might not end up with 10 million views like “Will it Blend?” doesn’t mean you’re missing out – even slightly. Get the full scoop below where Christina Lee of Ning interviews Andy Smith, author of The Dragonfly Effect (excellent read).

To many people, Ning is the platform that weaves social conversations into content to inspire actions. The key to success is about finding a way to motivate your evangelists to spread the word. Do you think one can engineer virality? If yes, how?

Both individuals and brands have spent a lot of time and energy chasing success in social media, particularly trying to make something go viral — the holy grail of the space. The trouble is that although plenty of videos do get a million views on YouTube, you can’t Frankenstein your way to viral success, dissecting then reassembling appeals based on what seems to have worked for someone else. We know that humor, pain, embarrassment and – inexplicably – cats often play a role in viral hits, but in many cases the magic, irresistible element of the piece was unintentional – making it extremely hard to replicate.

We think time is better spent deeply understanding the viewers than poring over previously successful viral content. Social media effectiveness is the product of exposure times and desired action. In the social space the people ARE the media buy. Their forwards, ratings and re-postings are the means by which your message is exposed to a broader audience. Having a clear call to action in the item is the other half, because awareness itself does not solve any problem. The one-two-three punch is to first connect the piece to deep meaning, then present a clear and appropriate call to action, and finally make it insanely easy to spread the word.

Get the full interview here.

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Heather Coleman

I think our time is better spent concentrating on making the product/service the best that it can be rather than attempting to manufacture virality. You make a good point about involving the audience in the conversation – getting their buy in will make for a stronger product/service. I really like the one-two-three punch…great advice.

P.S. I read the title as “engineering virility” and thought…oh this should be interesting 😉

Andrew Wilson

I would add that excellent customer service (somewhat hinted at in the piece) is another path that provides value (along the lines of Heather’s comment) and can aid virality. Think of companies with superior customer service (e.g. Zappos) and how the company has grown and the free publicity they have garnered b/c of this. Do great work and help people and your work with speak for itself.