All posts tagged viral

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Riots… the greatest viral campaign of 2011.

A riot is the language of the unheard – Martin Luther King Jr.

In August 2011 riots ripped through major cities in the UK & the best viral campaign of the year was created. What do we now know about the rioters and looters? Are they a criminal, feral underclass OR victims of socio-economic blight getting their own back on the rest of society? Fluke organizers or the new experts in 140 character communication. Rather than shouting through a megaphone — as in the infamous 1985 riots on the Broadwater Estate in Tottenham — today’s rabble rousers organized online and with the aid of their iPhones and BlackBerrys. As the riots unfolded, they turned to Social Media to encourage violence & organize hordes of youth into areas of the cities. They communicated digitally and efficiently and in ways that every advertising agency in the world only dream about executing successfully.

If any proof was needed that Generation Y, Generation We, Generation Sell, the Millennials, Generation Next, the Net Generation & Echo Boomers should be running the communication strategies in advertising and digital media then last year it was given to us on a big flaming plate. The demographic cohort following Generation X proved without a shadow of a doubt that with their thumbs and fingers they are the greatest organizers and communicators on our planet at the moment.

Youth custody is failing young people who want to change their ways – Mark Johnson

Characteristics of the generation vary by region, depending on social and economic conditions. However, it is generally marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies. In most parts of the world its upbringing was marked by an increase in a neoliberal approach to politics and economics. The 2007–2012 global financial crisis has had a major impact on this generation because it has caused historically high levels of unemployment among young people. This problem is particularly acute in Europe, and has led to speculation about possible long term economic and social damage to this generation. They want to start reaping what has been sown over 3 decades of creating grotesquely unequal society, with the alienated young copying ethos of looting bankers in their own special brand of communication. But they also have the firepower and the passion to fight back. They just need to be tapped and employed by we the communication makers. We talk to them but we don’t talk to them in their own language.

So what happened then?

  • 6 U.K. cities where rioting broke out
  • 1,051 Arrests in London alone as of Aug. 12
  • 591 Number of people charged in London
  • 11 Age of the youngest person arrested
  • 5 Number of fatalities
  • 16 Civilians officially reported as injured in the riots
  • 186 Police officers injured in the riots
  • 6,000 Number of police on duty in the areas affected by the riots on Aug. 8
  • 16,000 Police on duty in those areas on Aug. 9
  • 2,169 Calls received by the London Fire Brigade on Aug. 8
  • 20,800 Emergency calls received by the London Metropolitan Police Service on Aug. 8 (a 400 per cent increase over the average volume)

The figures are a devastating indictment of the way society has failed some of the poorest and most disadvantaged younger members of society.

The “criminality” vs “ideology” argument goes like this. These riots are fundamentally criminal acts, an opportunity for a criminal class to act with impunity. BUT, so the counter argument goes, these crimes have an undercurrent of ideology. They are the voice of the unheard. Of course they are largely criminal acts. But the bigger story is the dwindling of confidence in the idea of progress. The idea of progress is as fundamental to a society based on science and technology as the idea of liberty was to the enlightenment.

TWITTER: Everyone up and roll to Tottenham f*** the 50 [police]. I hope one dead tonight

TWITTER: Be inspired by the scenes in #tottenham, and rise up in your neighborhood. 100 people in every area = the way we can beat the feds.

Jody McIntyew was forcibly removed from his wheelchair by police during London demonstrations last year – he asked his 9,000 Twitter followers to spread unrest across the city. He has ‘followers’. The police forget about that.

People were referring to BBM as a network where they were telling people where they were going. References to the Tottenham riots on BBM began cropping up two days before violence broke out.

There’s a recruitment broadcast going around on BBM to gather hoodrats to start a riot. Just received 3 BBM Messages detailing a new organised ‘Riot’ plan complete with ‘Loot Rules’. This is the start of something new. #Anarchy

Some 90% of those brought before the courts were male and about half were aged under 21. The 18-30 market are themselves, gatekeepers and experts on leveraging communications and messaging… In an age of social media in which disgruntled youth are frequently more skilled with smart phones than are the adults who police them, authorities believe handheld technologies may have helped those trying to instigate violence to spread their message. You’ve got to admire their resourcefulness.

62% of youth brand and technology decisions are influenced by friends and family. Other decisions are no different. By 2013, Earned Media will replace paid as the #1 driver of youth consumer behavior for smartphones. Who understands earned media better than the people creating the most powerful messages? Brand choice is shaped by Paid vs Earned Media splits. Research data shows key “Beachheads” of customer support for brands in specific age groups not found in rival brands. Youth spend just short of £200 billion on mobile services annually. That’s one pound in every ten of their disposable income going to a mobile telecoms company. They get it. They understand it. They also understand how to use it to mobilize and rise up.

13% of those arrested were gang members (but in London the figure was 19%).

In terms of ethnicity, 42% of those charged were white, 46% black, 7% Asian and 5% were classified as ‘other’.

In this same demographic group only 1/3 of the youth generation trust advertising or traditional top-down messaging – preferring peers to guide their choices rather than traditional marketing messages.

For many people who were rioting, that week was a rejection of the future that was laid out for them… so I say why not employ them? With support obviously… they need proper integrating and acclimating. Unlike most people, some of those rioting and looting had no stake in conformity, those things that normally constrain people are not there. But they have the will and the communication methods that we in advertising and communication would LOVE to tap and bottle. A generation bred on a diet of excessive consumerism and bombarded by advertising has been unleashed… now we have to make them the arbiters.

They feel they can rationalize it by targeting big corporations. There is a sense that the companies have lots of money, while they have very little.

Passion is the mob of the man, that commits a riot upon his reason. – William Penn

Most advertising agencies prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees and a liberal arts background – preferably in advertising, journalism, public relations, literature, sociology, philosophy, or psychology. However, after fifteen years working across the big players I realised that the greatest skill in an agency is passion and vision. A channeled desire, defies and beats any recognised degree. Strong leaders and mentors trump all teachers and lecturers. We can create a new system where people are empowered to learn and improve.

The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.

Some say we need leaders in Government and the tech community to give us a vision of where science and technology is headed, and how it makes us better as a society and a people, and to articulate why that is an inclusive vision. I say we need to ask and empower the people who fight for their voice.

These kids are called the hardest to reach, what we’ve found is that they’re really easy to reach. All you’ve got to do is have a really honest approach, and for them to see transparently that there’s an opportunity to be part of something. mark johnson

Viral Loop – Pass the bucks

I’ve mentioned Viral Loops before in a couple of posts. Since I started talking about it a lot of people have been asking me to ‘do it for them’ like it’s some sort of silver bullet you can just load into any digital gun & fire at a target which makes me chuckle every time. In reality my theory is that sites and content that go viral are more a product of the ‘when’ and ‘where’ rather than the ‘what’. It’s about being in the right place at the right time – call it ‘fluke’ if you want. Most videos that go viral on YouTube were never designed to do so & the ones that were engineered by an agency and go ‘viral’ have spent money with a company like Rubber Republic to get people to view them and I don’t classify those as viral, I classify that as paid-for-media (old school advertising to you & me!). Most websites that go viral have a built in loop for sure, but there is also a lot of luck & right-time-right-place about them.

There are obviously some conditions you can promote within your agency or organisation or start-up that MIGHT have the desired effect… but don’t put all your eggs in these baskets because chances are if the time that you launch isn’t ripe for you product or content it won’t make any difference how potent your viral idea is or how rigorous your viral loop mechanics are:

  • Viral content has to be web based – It just belongs in the frictionless world of the internet. Too many people are asking me how they can create an offline viral idea… sure you can seed stuff offline to raise awareness (more paid-for-media / advertising!) but don’t bother trying to create an offline viral loop. It’s just silly. Use the internet – it’s what it’s there for!
  • It’s GOT to be FREE – Users need to consume your product or content at no charge; after aggregating a mass audience you may be able to overlay various revenue generators… but nothing that you had to initially pay for ever went viral. Fact.
  • Think about organizational technology – The kind of sites that don’t create content, their users do. They simply organise it, but facilitating can lead to a mass audience – just ask Google!
  • It’s almost always about the network effect – The more people who join, the more people there are to have an incentive to join… Every time I talk to clients or colleagues about viral loops I keep on hammering home the point that it’s NOT about the person you recruit to your website, it’s about the people that person knows.
  • Your site HAS to have built in virility – Users will spread a product purely out of their own self-interest and, in the process, offer a powerful word-of-mouth endorsement to each subsequent users… but without the thought about how that invisible virility works right up front you’ll probably lose the opportunity. Apple have recently done it to perfection with PING. I happen to think it’s growing into something of an interesting product is that PING thing (and with the looming downfall of Spotify it’s set to take the main social music crown) because for months now I’ve been sending out Tweets from Itunes and I didn’t even realise I was doing it… how crafty is that… It’s damn annoying but quite quite brilliant. I was telling my 600 odd followers on Twitter what I was buying on iTunes and I had no idea.
  • Remember that a point of non-displacement (or a tipping point to quote Gladwell) is that moment when it’s nearly impossible for a competitor to take a company down. Here’s the harsh facts of life amigos… if you’ve got this big bold viral idea (be it content or a new service) and someone is already out there and it’s got a million subscribers or it’s had a bajillion hits… then don’t bother wasting your time doing it yourself. I’m serious too! The point of non-displacement is a serious fact and reality. You cannot displace something that’s already ubiquitous in peoples lives even with an idea that is 100 times better.

There’s not much more to say really except give up on the idea of ‘planning a big viral event’. It just doesn’t work like that. You can’t BUY virility (well you can, but it’s not viral at all, it’s advertising – a rose by any other name blah blah) and you can’t spoof it. It won’t JUST HAPPEN and if it does it’ll probably happen by accident. So stop trying, sit back, do creative things & play by the rules… you never know, it might happen by accident and all that glory will be yours!

Viral – The Obama Effect

Taken from an article published in Wired Magazine in October 2009. I didn’t write this article, nor do I claim to have done. What I do want to make clear is how much the story means to me as a practitioner of User Experience and Social Media (blah – the term actually curls my toes). It’s a hugely significant case-study. Enjoy reading it:

Viral strategies aren’t strictly for businesses. They are also seeping into other arenas – politics, for example. And no one was more successful in imprinting a viral loop into a campaign than Barack Obama. “One of my fundamental beliefs from my days as a community organiser is that real change comes from the bottom up,” he said in a statement. “And there’s no more powerful tool for grass-roots organising than the internet.” Because an organisation can reach only so many people, it must turn to its loyal followers to widen that pool. As with all things viral, connecting to others outside the initial cluster of supporters depends on the quality of referrals. Friends, family and colleagues are far more credible than any ad that a marketing exec could dream up.

A pivotal moment came when the campaign hired Chris Hughes, the 24-year-old co-founder of Facebook. With the title of “Online Organising Guru”, Hughes retrofitted grassroots campaigning to web 2.0 by weaving together social networks and the mobile internet into a central platform of Obama’s campaign. The linchpin was my.BarackObama.com (“MyBo” for short), which functioned as a lively online community and social network, registering 1.5 million volunteers. Users created profiles with friend lists and blogs, joined one of the 27,000 groups that formed, raised money, and organised meetings through a Facebook-like interface. The site had a search function, enabling likeminded people to find each other; a page offering tools for creating a personal fundraising page (“You set your own goal, you do the outreach, and you get the credit for the results”); a blog and a forum. Each drove even more traffic to the site.

Leading up to the election MyBo members organised more than 200,000 campaign events, which didn’t just energise Obama’s support base but generated loads of cash. Over the span of two years, the campaign brought in $750 million from three million donors, with nine out of ten donations less than $100 (and half of $25 or less). It achieved this by democratising its fundraising. Instead of turning to wealthy Americans, who could be seen as leveraging their privilege into power, Obama’s campaign tapped the little guy, spreading donations across millions of Americans – giving each donor a stake in his success. In February 2008, his campaign raised $55 million online without its candidate attending a single fundraiser. What’s more, while the law allowed large donors to contribute $2,300 for the 2008 primaries and the same for the general election, smaller donors were tapped repeatedly, forging a persistent connection with the candidate.

The campaign’s viral strategies included a short, clear positioning statement as a call to arms. Unlike Hillary Clinton touting her “experience” or John McCain bragging that “I have the record and the scars to prove it”, Obama’s two core messages were “Change” and “Yes, we can”. Obama’s campaign galvanised its supporters while they, in turn, extended his message virally. It also relied on multiplier effects. During the campaign, will.i.am, frontman of the Black Eyed Peas, created a musical mashup based on Obama’s phrase “Yes, we can” that included celebrities such as Scarlet Johansson. The campaign quickly embedded a link to the YouTube clip on its website. “After nearly a year on the campaign trail, I’ve seen a lot of things that have touched me deeply, but I had to share this with you,” Michelle Obama wrote in an email to supporters. The video was viewed 20 million times. Another music video, I Got a Crush… on Obama, starring the bikiniclad “Obamagirl”, was downloaded more than 13 million times. Fomenting the creativity of its supporters helped the Obama campaign to extend its message.

I remember being in New York a few weeks before the Election. There was electric in the air. A real sense that Obama was about to make history. Not just because he was a black man about to take the White House and become the most powerful leader in the modern world, but because a new way of getting him there had been born. It was literally a movement. In Union Square there were hordes or young people selling t-shirts, badges and other merchandise… but more importantly you could tell on the faces of every single one that their antics on Facebook, Twitter and other Social Channels they were making change happen.

Viral Loop – The power of pass it on

I was recently recommended a book by Adam Penenberg called ‘Viral Loop’ by an old colleague of mine Marty Carrol who has just set up a cracking start-up called PowNum.

In essence the take-aways from the book are:

  • Some traditional companies, such as Tupperware, achieved “viral”-type success decades before popular use of the Internet.
  • Online firms grow virally when members of a Web site invite their friends to join.
  • When this pattern generates exponential growth, it becomes a “viral expansion loop,” which has three categories:
  • A “viral loop” expands based on referrals from members to their friends.
  • A “viral network” is made up of numerous connected viral loops, such as Facebook.
  • A “double viral loop” is a combination of a viral loop and a viral network.
  • With quality online offerings, sites don’t need salespeople or advertising to go viral.
  • Viral companies, such as Hotmail, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and eBay, share certain traits, like clear concepts, ease of use and rapid adoption.
  • A Web offering’s “viral coefficient” is measurable; a score of 1.0 – indicating that each member generates one new member – leads to exponential growth.
  • Viral growth is an integral component of great products and services, and is suited for smart phones, which will soon outsell PCs as Internet access machines.

The Web can make a business hugely profitable if the entrepreneurs have the right design and offer something the audience really wants. This formula worked for Hotmail, eBay, PayPal, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Digg, LinkedIn, Twitter and Flickr, as well as Hot or Not. Such sites offer services to which people come to feel so deeply attached that they become fervent evangelists. Then their contacts do the same, in a “positive-feedback loop.” That’s how viral lightning hits. Companies become Internet juggernauts when they can ride the three-part “viral expansion loop,” wherein Web visitors reliably beget additional guests:

  1. “Viral loop” – This referral-multiplying mechanism grows member-to-member.
  2. “Viral Network” – Members form groups that intersect as they expand.
  3. “Double Viral Loop” – This hybrid of viral networks and viral loops is built on ever-increasing user content. A double viral loop grows more quickly as it adds users, often with little marketing effort (though increasing technical concerns).

The expansion of a viral loop depends both on users who promote a site’s goods or services, and on designers who build virality into their offerings. The Web is the ultimate, exponential connectivity medium, in that it enables people to share blogs, links, photos, videos and other Internet services. This creates a “virtuous circle,” the most efficacious form of direct marketing, based on the understanding that people will share things they like. The trick is figuring out what they like and including it, intrinsically, from the very beginning.

Big-time viral winners like Ning share certain characteristics:

  • “Web-based” service – The firm is designed to function and grow on the Internet.
  • “Free” offering – The service is complimentary but may be monetized in the future.
  • “Organizational technology” – Users, not employees, develop the content.
  • “Simple concept” – Straightforward and easy is always best.
  • “Built-in virality” – Users spur growth through sharing and positive word-of-mouth. “Extremely fast adoption” – Some 50% of Harvard students joined Facebook a month after the social network started, although the site spent no money on promotion.
  • “Exponential growth” – Users bring in more users, who bring in more users.
  • “Viral” characteristics – The “Virality index” must read greater than 1.0 for exponential growth.
  • “Predictable growth rates” – Just as “epidemiologists can predict with some certainty how quickly a virus will spread through a city,” you can foretell the birth of a viral loop.
  • “Network effects” – The more users there are, the more attractive joining becomes. “Stackability” – PayPal’s relationship with eBay offers stackable, synergistic growth. A “point of nondisplacement” – Viral companies eventually hit a “tipping point,” an unbeatable mass of users.
  • “Ultimate saturation” – Growth can slow once a site becomes immense.

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