By Jim McCarthy Mar 1, 2010 1 comment

“How Do I Go Viral?”

Yesterday, I spoke on a very interesting panel at the very first version of the Commercial Theatre Institute’s Intensive Production Workshop.  I may have gotten the name slightly wrong, but the idea of the conference/workshop is that budding theatre producers learn the tricks of the trade at these, and this is their first time in the Pacific time zone.

The panel was great…led by Jim Royce of Center Theatre Group, but also with representatives from Allied Live, Situation Interactive (see you on Tuesday in NYC), Davidson Choi and the Pantages.

I mention it because of a question we got from the audience that I’ve probably heard 1000 times in my Internet career, and it’s really worth repeating.  Someone (didn’t catch his name, sadly) asked if there were any tricks to “going viral” with a video or other piece of content.  In fact, I think he specifically asked if there was anything he could do to increase his chances of “going viral.”

You should be able to prevent 'going viral' by washing your hands frequently.

You should be able to prevent 'going viral' by washing your hands frequently.

I thought, but did not say, never wash your hands.

I then thought, but did say, “You will never go viral.”

Never.  Give it up.

Of course, neither will I.  In all likelihood, there will never be a morning where you post a video or something and wake up to find that a million people have viewed it.  Could it happen?  Sure, it COULD happen, but it probably won’t.

And anyway, that’s missing the point of this content.  The point is to create a tool for engagement with your committed audience so that their enthusiasm grows and spills over to other people.

In effect, what it means is that while today your videos may get 50 views, in a year they should get 200 or 400, and then the year after that, maybe 2 or 3 thousand.  And then the year after that…well, you get the idea.  This is not viral growth, but it’s still pretty awesome.  What you’re building, instead of hoping for a miracle, is an increasing level of engagement with more and more people, and if you can continue to build that ball of activity, then you’ve got something.  It can be predicted, managed and most importantly, counted on.

Or you can have a marketing plan based on hoping for miracles.  Up to you.

What’s interesting is that even some of the supposed organic ‘viral’ phenomenon aren’t as organic as they seem.  The famous ‘dancing wedding’ video from a year or two ago was real, but it got promoted like crazy by Sony to rehabilitate the career of the truly loathsome Chris Brown.  (I’ll let you examine the ‘forensic evidence’ of this.)

And the big-time pros who do an outstanding job creating highly-polished content and have had ‘viral’ hits realize they can’t just capture lightning in a bottle either.  Remember “This Land is Your Land“  during the 2004 election from the creative geniuses at JibJab?  They’ve done great work since, but nothing has rivaled the original.  They know this and aren’t staking their business on another runaway ‘viral hit.’

What you CAN stake you business on though is the connection you can build between your best fans and supporters and you by virtue of creating content that is genuinely for them and related to what they like about what you’re doing.  It doesn’t have to cost that much money.  Here at Goldstar, we produce a video or two a week, and sometimes they get 100 views and sometimes they get more like 1000 views.  That overall number is on the rise, but we don’t make them in hopes that tomorrow morning, suddenly 1,000,000 will be watching me announce the winners of our ‘Dreamgirls’ contest.

We make them because we want to make sure our best, strongest fans know we care and are working to make their Goldstar experience more interesting.

I’ve always hated the term ‘going viral.’  It makes you sound like an amateur if you say it, and it leads people to this “jackpot” marketing mentality that is silly and destructive.  You’ve got to earn attention by delivering value.

But, hey, if I’m wrong and a video of your tap-dancing to a Beastie Boys song at the airport gets 10,000,000 views, great.

Now prove it wasn’t blind luck by doing it again.

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1 Comment

  • Phil Johnson

    Good post Jim. Unfortunately, “going viral” is kind of like winning the lottery. The good part is that if you do play, you could win. And if you do play it’s helping in small ways even without the big win. Unlike a lottery ticket. :)