In this post, I introduce the ‘s-model for virality’ in social-media, and I also present two social-media-centered campaigns built on this model that has been shared by millions. As these examples will show, organisations carefully need to consider the implications of “going viral” before launching their next social-media campaign.
The s-model for going viral
In this section, I present three components that are present in all successful viral campaigns, and the underlying psychological factors to why they drive virality:
- Strong emotions
- Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman performed a controlled study using a unique data-set of all the New York Times articles published over a three-month period to examine how emotion shapes virality. Their conclusion is that the happier or more upset a message makes people, the higher is the probability that they will bring it forward (Berger and Milkman, 2012). The primary conclusion made from this research is that for messages to become viral, they need to evoke strong emotions.
- Social and self-motives
- Research has shown that if a transmitter of a message can obtain personal and/or social benefits from sharing it, the message then has a higher probability to be shared (Alexandrov, Lilly and Babakus, 2013).
- A key component in successful viral campaigns is tools in place that make it easy to forward the message, in addition to strong call-to-actions urging people to share.
In addition to these three fundamental components for building successful viral campaigns, it also is critical to consider how the message will be perceived in audiences with demographics, cultural, religious, and personal beliefs in stark contrast to that of the primary audience. In the following section, two social-media-centered campaigns shared by millions are presented; both of which also share the attributes of the s-model discussed in the previous section:
‘WhopperSacrifice’ was a Facebook-campaign by Burger King in which people were offered a free hamburger if they “unfriended” ten of their Facebook friends (The Future of Ads, n.d., 2012). The campaign was shared by millions and also received numerous prestigious awards (Macleod, social-media). Below is presented the main attributes which made the campaign successful:
- Strong emotions
- People loved the campaign and rushed to tell their friends about it (O’Brien, 2017). According to New York Times, 234.000 people were ‘de-friended’ in the first few days after the campaign was launched (Wortham, 2017).
- Social and self-motives
- In addition to receiving a hamburger, the audience also “was looking for an excuse to clean out their list of old and forgotten friendships” (The Future of Ads, n.d.).
- The campaign utilised a range of sharing tools such as share-buttons, forward-by-email, and most importantly the possibility to share the message with Facebook-friends.
#AskSeaWorld; when going viral fails
SeaWorld is a US-chain of marine mammal parks heavily criticised for animal abuse (Martin, 2017).
With the 2013 movie release of Blackfish (Cowperthwaite et al., 2017) which is about the controversial captivity of killer whales, SeaWorld was faced with declining attendance (Fast Company, 2015). To rehabilitate its image, the park 2015 launched a Twitter campaign inviting users to post questions. The campaign, however, backlashed and thousands of people used it as an opportunity to criticise SeaWorld for its alleged mistreatment of animals (Sola, 2017; AskSeaWorld-backlash, 2015; Lobosco, 2015).
Below is illustrated how the campaign and its failure correlate to the model presented above; why the campaign failed from a commercial perspective; and also gives a short reflection of how SeaWorld better could have utilised social-media to achieve its marketing objectives:
- Strong emotions
- SeaWorld has been widely criticised for the mistreatment of animals (Hargrove et al., social-media) and the campaign evoked strong feelings in many audiences.
- Social and self-motives
- Forwarding the message people felt good about themselves as the action depicted them as a good, moral person (Baumeister and Vohs).
- As the campaign was performed on Twitter, users could easily share it by just adding the #AskSeaWorld hashtag to response messages.
Why the campaign failed
From a viral standpoint with millions of people sharing the campaign, it was perfectly executed. From a business perspective, with thousands of people using the campaign as an open channel for critics, it, however, was destructive to the brand-perception of SeaWorld. What SeaWorld instead should have done was to utilise social-media—not as a channel of promotion for their
criticized operations—but to start an honest discussion with its critics on how to become a better company.
Social-media is a two-way communication empowering customers to respond to advertising messages and to gain the same public attention with their response as the original message.
Companies utilising social-media as a channel of communication, therefore, need to care attention to—not only the execution and content of their social-media campaigns—but also how messages will be perceived outside the target audience.
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- AddThis – Get more likes, shares and follows with smart website tools. (2017). [online] Addthis.com. Available at: http://www.addthis.com/ [Accessed 1 Feb. 2017].
- Alexandrov, A., Lilly, B. and Babakus, E. (2013). The effects of social- and self-motives on the intentions to share positive and negative word of mouth. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 41(5), pp.531-546.
- Bacon, J. (2009). The art of community. 1st ed. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.
- Baumeister, R. and Vohs, K. (2007). Encyclopedia of social psychology. 1st ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, pp.787-793.
- Berger, J. and Milkman, K. (2012). What Makes Online Content Viral?. Journal of Marketing Research, 49(2), pp.192-205.
- Burger King, (2009). Whopper Sacrifice. [image] Available at: http://thefutureofads.com/burger-king-lets-people-sacrifice-friendships-for-whoppers [Accessed 19 Feb. 2017].
- Cowperthwaite, G., Cowperthwaite, G., Despres, E., Duffus, D. and Berg, S. (2017). Blackfish (2013). [online] IMDb. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2545118/ [Accessed 2 Feb. 2017].
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- Effective calls-to-action. (2017). 1st ed. Hubspot.
- Gaiman, N. (2017). Plutchik’s Eight Primary Emotions And How To Use Them (Part 1 of 2). [online] Dragons Can Be Beaten. Available at: https://dragonscanbebeaten.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/plutchiks-eight-primary-emotions-and-how-to-use-them-part-1/ [Accessed 1 Feb. 2017].
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- Hargrove, USA, Photograph by Mathieu Belanger, R. and Hargrove, (2017). Former Trainer Slams SeaWorld for Cruel Treatment of Orcas. [online] News.nationalgeographic.com. Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/150329-orca-blackfish-seaworld-dolphins-killer-whales-ngbooktalk/ [Accessed 2 Feb. 2017].
- Lobosco, K. (2015). ‘Ask SeaWorld’ marketing campaign backfires. [online] CNNMoney. Available at: http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/27/news/companies/ask-seaworld-twitter/ [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].
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- Martin, H. (2017). Think SeaWorld’s turnaround satisfied animal-rights activists? Think again. [online] latimes.com. Available at: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-seaworld-next-20160430-story.html [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].
- O’Brien, C. (2009). Whopper-Sacrifice. [online] The-Future-of-Ads. Available at: http://thefutureofads.com/burger-king-lets-people-sacrifice-friendships-for-whoppers [Accessed 1 Feb. 2017].
- SeaWorld Is Spending $10 Million To Make You Forget About “Blackfish”. (2015). [online] Fast Company. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/3046342/seaworld-is-spending-10-million-to-make-you-forget-about-blackfish [Accessed 2 Feb. 2017].
- Sola, K. (2017). SeaWorld Campaign. [online] The Huffington Post. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/27/seaworld-twitter-fail_n_6950902.html [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].
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- Wortham, J. (2017). ‘Whopper Sacrifice’ De-Friended on Facebook. [online] Bits Blog. Available at: https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/whopper-sacrifice-de-friended-on-facebook/?_r=0 [Accessed 19 Feb. 2017].