How to Court Viral Hits

“Yeah, we’d like to hire you to make a viral video,” the client tells you. “We’d like for it to be funny, cool, and unpretentious.”

If you’re nodding your head yes to this, like it makes sense to you, I sense you may be in the wrong place. The above paragraph, really, doesn’t say anything. The least meaningful phrase of all is “viral video."  Not that wanting to go viral isn’t an admirable goal, but it is remarkably stupid to vocalize because everyone doing anything online wants it to be a success. Nobody would ever say, “Gee, I’d really like to be a middling success, or, ideally, not even noticed at all.”

But more people wind up in both of those latter camps than the former, and it’s actually because you go around saying it that prevents anything from happening.

I’ve had this theory a long time, and it’s just been backed up by a post over at examining the sudden April Fool’s Day-inspired success of interface-builder business Divshot’s beta.

The joke is sort of irrelevant to what I want to talk about, and you can understand this without clicking over — but by all means, do check out how they accidentally got thousands of tweets and just over a thousand new beta customers. All you need to know is it did an April Fool’s Day and stood back and watched people pounce on it. suggests if you want people to take the ball and run with it, you shouldn’t be afraid to offend some customers and also not to beg people to share it. (The offending thing has to do with the aesthetics of what Divshot did: It basically made a Geocities page and the company didn’t worry about whether people would “get” it.) People will do what they want, and you can’t count on your company succeeding based on how well you’re able to mooch dollars out of them.

Think of when you’re at a restaurant and your server starts making sudden, obvious ploys for your tip or pushes you to order dessert. It comes across as needy, and people resent that. It’s the same when you beg, beg, beg people to spread your content around. It’s okay to ask for a simple tweet but a “hey will you make this thing viral?” just illustrates how naive you are.

Anyway, it’s a good read. Check it out. Even better: Learn from it.  

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City and an adjunct professor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media. (He also co-runs a blog behind the DePaul class, DIY Game Dev.) He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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