It’s Friday, Friday
Gotta get down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend
Gettin’ down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend
Does hearing this song make you cringe in terror? I can literally hear the brain cells popping in my head every single time I listen to this song. You might think this song is the worst thing to be invented since the tiddy bear. Or you might be filled with murderous rage. There's no denying though that, from a viral standpoint, this video is SHEER GENIUS. In this weeks blog I will be breaking down how Rebecca Black made 75 million youtube watchers fall in love with her (Ha.) within a span of less than two months. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you'll be filled with less murderous rage and more ideas about how to reach a larger audience by making it more viral.
Firstly, I want to say that I was inspired to write this post not just because of Rebecca Black, but also because of a great speech that Jonah Perettie gave during this week's Web 2.0 conference. Peretti is the viral mastermind from MIT behind BuzzFeed and BlackPeopleLoveUs. With that in mind, lets talk about the "Friday" music video.
As Jonah mentioned during the keynote, for viral messaging content is merely the means with which to deliver a social experience. To elaborate, it doesn't matter what the content is specifically about as long as it grabs your attention, is innocuous, and is likely to immediately grab the attention of those your forward it to. It also must be easy to share, and relatively painless to digest the content. From this perspective, its obvious why Rebecca Black's "Friday" went supernova. Number one, it got your attention as soon as you saw the video. It had an annoying, but catchy tune. The video quality was not terrible, and the song itself was so bad that you had to finish watching it. "Friday" Succeeded in going viral because it was so terrible that it was funny! Furthermore, although it was a horrible song, it was relatively harmless and innocuous. This allowed people to share the video with their friends, who also thought the video was so hilariously cringe-inducing that they would share it with their cohorts. Boom. Viral.
Which leads me to my next point: For a piece of content to be viral, it must highlight some quality the spreader wants the world to know about himself, as well as be relatively bullet-proof to his ego.
You might be thinking: Andy are you crazy? Are you saying that the people that shared this video wanted to highlight the fact that they were teeny boppers with no taste in music? Think again. Let's make a list of possible connotations this video could carry about the sharer that could be construed as positive:
- I'm a hipster who is familiar with the modern youtube crowd.
- I'm a humorous person that knows comedy when I see it
- I enjoy sharing funny videos with people that I know because it makes them happy.
- By sharing this video, I am subtly critiquing the current state of pop music.
In other words, people share content online because it defines their public identity. This was another concept touched upon in Jonah's speech. People share to define who they are. They build an image of themselves based on the content they produce. Black's video allows users to bring happiness, through laughter, to those in their social circle.
Rebecca Black's video also demonstrated another key tenet of viral messaging: Critical mass must be reached. Think of this as the point where a nuclear reaction becomes self sustaining. This is when a small, relatively unknown disease becomes a world wide epidemic (Whether that epidemic happens to be Influenza or Rebecca Black). Once you've reached this tipping point then there's no stopping the momentum. Consider this: The video was released on February 10th. On the first month, it gained around a thousand views. By the same time two weeks after that, millions of people had seen the video. The content reached critical mass with a group of people who were influential enough to catalyze a reaction in their social graph that rocketed the video to fame.
Here's an important corollary that goes along with this theory: Users have a limited capacity for viral content. This means that in order for content to go viral, there must enough space to allow for users to focus on a new piece of content. I.E another ridiculous music video released right now that would have gone viral had Black's video never existed may now be confined to the oblivion that is mediocrity on YouTube.
As much as you can do to make content go viral, there is no way to predict with any degree of accuracy, the potential infection rate for a piece of viral content in advance. This may be disheartening to some of you, but it makes sense if you think about it. There are simply too many factors that affect whether or not a piece of content catches on. It is nigh impossible to account for all of the factors and execute perfectly on them. There are factors outside of your control such as who sees the content first, or if the right people (the arbiters of cool within a social graph) think the video is worth sharing. Therefore every viral video is kind of a calculated bet. You can use weighted die but in the end it's still up to lady luck
Disagree / Agree? Comment below and I promise I'll get back to you. Otherwise, see you next week!