Going Viral

Thanks to the news media and Facebook, most of us have some understanding of what it means for something to ‘go viral’. The general understanding is that ‘going viral’ is relatively easy, desirable and ultimately the aim of all good marketers.

But let’s put virality into perspective first. To ‘go viral’ means that an idea, meme, image, advertisement etc expands beyond its intended audience and ends up instead reaching a mass audience.

From the perspective of those in the PR game, this earned media can pay massive dividends. A small and relatively cheap message expands way beyond its intended target, gaining thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars worth of free exposure!
This is great when it works out and when the intended message stays intact. The thing to remember is that the internet is a medium of assimilation and reimagining. While your message and even your brand may be getting heaps of free exposure, that message was not intended for those audiences and may not be read in the way intended by the original producer.

Often the intended message is blurrred by reappropriations or parodies that mean that millions of people end up seeing a corrupted version. It’s so easy to add your own spin on things these days… every image posted to Facebook and numerous other social media channels allow you to write your own commentary to go with the intended message.

There are numerous examples of where media goes viral because it deserves the exposure. Often this is because these messages are filled with surprise, humour or irreverence. The biggest most successful viral campaign I’ve seen in recent years was the first of the new series of Old Spice commercials.

While these ads are visually engaging and fun, the most interesting thing is the way they speak to the viewer (“now look at me, now look at your man, now back to me again”).  These ads are genius. They deserved all the exposure they received, but for every piece of marketing genius there are 100 pieces of viral media that spread because of schadenfreude (laughing at other people’s misfortune) and probably 10,000 pieces of media that were trying to ‘go viral’ but couldn’t break through the information glut.

On the other side of the coin, virality isn’t always a good thing. All of the recent social media reputation management crises (United Airlines breaks Guitars, Qantas Luxury, McDStories, Vodafail) are examples of public relations messages going viral after being appropriated and turned back on the company in question. Let’s think about the kind of things that go viral… computer viruses, Nigerian email scams, pictures of cats, Miley Cyrus… we may have come to endure, accept or even celebrate the over the top nature of celebrity culture but never forget that overexposure often has unintended consequences.

At Lahra Carey Media and Communications, our job is to get you optimum exposure, but that doesn’t mean creating media for the broadest possible audiences. It means tailoring your communications so that your messages are read as intended by the most appropriate audiences.

If your messages do go viral and they’re received as intended… GREAT! but you might also find yourself getting in contact with us because the message going viral was not what you intended and now you have a reputation management crisis on your hands.

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