The internet is an infinite ever expanding place. We all live inside of it, move around it and want our share of attention and activity from it. The ultimate thing we all seem to want (even if secretly) is to get everyone to pay attention to our blog post, video, social feed, pithy statement of insight and all other forms of digital output. That’s the promise of something going viral. Because if we get that attention, if everyone catches on and shares our work, we’ll be on the path the greatness. We’ll have broken through the masses and be able to leverage the focus on us. Turn attention into a relationship. That’s the promise of being shared on the Verge or Buzzfeed or Viral Nova. But here’s the truth about that piece of viral marketing. It doesn’t work, it rarely has impact and is a fleeting moment, a shooting star, a moment from which the utility is the moment itself. It expires quickly.
What we need to imagine is this. The internet is a giant beach. We are all grains of sand on that beach. Some of us try to be more than a single, undifferentiated grain of sand. We agglomerate, co-ordinate and try and turn ourselves into something worth noticing. Maybe we become a beautiful sea shell. Beautiful enough for the the people walking along that beach to stop and take notice. They might see us, pick us up and inspect the sea shell. Comment on the sheer beauty, show their friend who they happen to be walking along the beach with. We get passed around, and we become the moment. They might even take the sea shell – save it – put it in the pocket and take it home, because it’s valuable – add it to their ‘favourites’. But what we must really understand is that they will keep on walking. The passer by is not there for us. Even if they are walking along the beach (the internet) to see and find interesting things, we can only ever be one of those things that makes their journey interesting. They continue on with whatever it is they are doing and onto their destination.
Viral activity, in real terms is just scenery. And I should know. I’ve had a number of blog posts with more than 100,000 views. I’ve had 2 videos with millions of views. And I’ve been featured on all those websites mentioned at the the start of this blog post. And the over riding lesson is that people get on with their lives. Viral marketing is only effective when there is a formula for repeated impact – a business model around it, which is not easy to do. If we want the impact that we falsely believe viral marketing can create, then we’d be better off focusing on utility and frequency. That is creating something which has utility for the people beyond the moment. Utility which is worth coming back for again and again. And what that takes isn’t luck, it’s more about hard work serving others over long periods of time.
The first thing many entrepreneurs do when considering a new idea or startup is comb the market to see if it has already been done. The most common result is the realisation that someone thought of it, and even built it, way before we did. Beside the fact that this is a validation of awesomeness, it also leads us to make the rookie error of looking for a new idea. Instead we might consider these two questions.
- If it’s been done and we didn’t know about it, has it really been done?
- If they did it and it didn’t work, is it because the idea is crap, or did they do a crap version of it?
The only real way to answer these questions is to ignore the fact that it has already been done, and do our version of it anyway. While it is true there is only room for one stunt or advertisement using a particular idea, creating a business on a certain idea has greater complexities and nuance, all of which the idea itself represents a very small part.
If you’ve still got doubts, here’s a little known fact worth remembering: There were over 300 video sharing channels when Youtube launched. What Youtube did was create a simple user experience and had the killer app of easy embed across the blogosphere and most other social web services.
Startup blog says: Build your version anyway.
As far as I can tell the life cycle of awesome is in perpetual decline. Every day we all get sent something that’s awesome. Something that’s great. Something that’s shareable. and every day we make a judgement. A decision whether this piece is worth sharing. There are so many things to share, and so many places to share them, that the stakes get higher and higher for what qualifies – it has to. Which means that when we see something amazing, it’s only amazing for a little while. It means the window is very small and getting smaller.
Today I saw something awesome. A simple video projection come moving art, come installation, come viral video. It was very next level. In fact the guy show sen it to me (Rohan) said it was ‘off chops’. You can see it below. But what I’m really wondering is, for how long can we keep going to the next level until there is nowhere left to go?
I’ve recently been playing around with Rohan on a relatively new site called Gifyo. It’s such a simple idea it has the ‘why didn’t I think of that’ written all over it.
What it does: Gifyo is a social service that allows you to create animated gifs directly from your webcam. Simply capture, create, and share.
It’s like 3 seconds of filming, that makes an ‘Old School’ style gif. Which has a certain quaintness to it. It’s also very cool because it is so quick to do, and it makes people think about what might entertain other users. Just go to their home page and you can see how quickly this web service has caught on. Some other simple yet smart things it has done is create a live feed where every post gets a turn on the home page feed. Sure, this can only last while it is niche enough to feature everyone… but it sure is a good way of spreading the service – everyone loves a little bit of microfame.
We started a little #officedancing meme just for fun.
So for startup entrepreneurs it provides a couple of really cool lessons.
- Sometimes really small, in fact tiny ideas are the ones that catch on.
- People want to get attention, more than give it.
- Retro technology is big. It is fun and creates a sense of simplicity & nostalgia which is very human.
- If you love something, others might too. Don’t waste time thinking about it, build it and find out.
I can’t wait to hear my readers next fun, small and retro idea they have launched.
When we build our next project we should only worry about the first 10.
The first 10 people we tell.
These first 10 people are people that we know, people that like us, trust us and value our opinion. If they don’t tell anyone, we need to start again. Re-build our project, or find another one. But if they tell another 5. And then that 5 tell another 3. Then we can be pretty sure that it is start start of work that matters. Work that people need.
At the start of our next launch we should really think hard about these three words: the first 10.
This guy put some effort into writing the words that appear on his website. The result of his writing is around 10,000 people shared it with their friends. Read it.
The words we publish matter a lot.
I’m not about to make any comment on the song Friday, or about Rebecca Black. She seems like a nice enough kid having a crack at the music industry.
It is interesting how anything has a chance in a zero cost media world. Sure, not everything will cut through, but in 1991 Rebecca didn’t stand a chance. She had no where to put her song (Youtube), nowhere to sell it (iTunes) and no one to spread it (Twitter / Facebook ). The invention of all this infrastructure made it possible. The thing that is different about the infrastructure versus 20 years ago is that cost of entry has been removed. Extremely good and bad start in the same place. And occasionally something unusual makes it through – so long as it is extreme in nature. No-one has placed multi-million dollar media bets on selling Rebecca’s song, so the cost of promotion has been reduced to taking 3.48 minutes from our day, or typing 140 characters. It’s like a car smash, we can’t help but slow down and take a look.
The question it makes me wonder, is if there is a valid strategy in being the ‘worst’? And if there is, how do we make sure we qualify? And if we qualify, how do we then transform?
Love or or hate her, right now Rebecca has 100% share of voice.What that turns into is entirely up to her.