I saw this Harvard Business Review blog post about why some ads go viral and others don’t, and it made me start thinking about why some Tweets go viral.
Accidental Nudity: Actress Allison Pill accidentally tweeted a nude photo of herself, and after seeing the short headline in my morning Metro paper, I decided to explore a little more why some tweets go viral. I’ve also previously seen and captured one of the CBC Dragon’s Den tweeting something unbelievable, but within minutes it was deleted and they made the claim it was a friend sitting at their computer tweeting inappropriately. I might face that Dragon some day soon, asking for a business investment, so I also have ‘lost’ the image of the tweet.
The Facebook Factor Affecting Viral
Facebook has a significantly larger audience and many of the people I know who are influential (to me) on Facebook are also very active on Twitter. I admit that I miss most of the Tweets from the 28,000+ people I follow on all my accounts and client accounts (I’m really NOT on Twitter all the time), so I rely on the people I respect and appreciate to “alert” me to Tweets that need some attention, before they go viral. Also, often to learn about a platform, you have to have some distance from it to observe the full scale of it and this is exactly how I developed my reputation as an expert on Twitter – by sharing facts, tidbits of conversations and insights about Twitter – on facebook. Usually, surprisingly, the Tweets that people point out on facebook that are teachable are not “funny” tweets but examples of what not to do. So I watch for them.
The Geekalanche / Geeks With Heart
Since social media is social, people are on the lookout to protect & inform. On the morning of Friday July 20 I saw the new headlines on the subway platforms cc screens: Mass shooting at the Dark Knight movie premiere in Aurora, Colorado. It was shocking but there wasn’t any more news of it in my hands / in front of me and I went on to work that morning preparing for the upcoming Olympics in London.
Shocking Bad Tweets
A few hours later, on Facebook I saw Julie Tyios, a team member at Jugnoo and one of my early social media teachers, post to Facebook something a little out of character, she was obviously incensed. Her update was a link and something along the lines of “Wow. You people are f*#&ing idiots.” And it clicked through to a link on a UK based clothing retailer @celebBoutique Twitter account that tweeted something happy, light, totally insensitive and capitalizing on the #Aurora trending hashtag.
When I searched their Twitter handle to see who else was talking about them, I found a whole barrage of hundreds of Tweets from people immediately expressing their disgust over the Tweet, encouraging, demanding and insisting @celebBoutique delete it and apologize, with a few even calling for a complete boycott of their business. A number of people took screenshots of the tweet, to memorialize it, which sat on their account for more than an hour before they deleted it and issued an apology. I for one believe they were simply idiots for not checking what the trending #Aurora hashtag was about before tweeting into that stream. Bad social media policy, overall.
They thought they were being funny, but because they hadn’t researched the Tweet first, the humour totally fell flat and instead of surprising people and making them laugh over a happy coincidence, they found themselves in the middle of an angry horde of Tweeters.
Surprising Good Humor
What makes the humour work and encourages sharing is when it’s surprising, relatable but not shocking. Surprising humour gets retweeted and has a chance to go viral, shocking may go viral, but you’ll alienate your audience in the process. Most people generally don’t want to be associated with shocking content, but surprising is a form of giving – unexpected humour. No matter what the content is, shocking or surprising, the person who shares it will have their community associate them in that way. We all like a surprise, but a shock – not so much. Since sharing is not actually altruistic (I’m sharing this because I think you’ll enjoy it) but self-serving (I’m sharing this so you’ll see me as “in the know” and the person who finds cool things for you), as in the HBR video