It was 10:30PM, and I had just gotten out of my fraternity’s chapter meeting when I felt my Blackberry buzz in my pocket.
Is this an email, a text, or a bbm? I thought as I reached into my jeans pocket, and pulled out my red-flashing Blackberry.
It was an email from Facebook, with a subject line that read (I’m using a fake name to protect my friend’s identity),
“Jane Doe has tagged a photo of you.”
I’ll check it when I get to the library, I thought, and stashed my phone back into my pocket, Facebook photos an afterthought.
As I continued walking, my phone began vibrating again, but I ignored. But then came a second vibration, and a third, and then a fourth.
Intrigued, I whipped out my phone to read more emails from Facebook. More of my friends were tagging me in photos but added captions like,
“So easy a caveman could do it,” and “Save money on Geico car insurance”.
Confused, scared, and intrigued, I rushed to the library, logged onto Facebook, and saw 10 notifications waiting.
Heart racing, I braced myself for what the embarrassing, job-prospect-destroying photo would be.
It wasn’t that bad, just a slightly goofy photo that my friends all made their profile pictures.
Amused by my friends’ creativity, I decided to join the game, “@” replying each them and writing, “I hate all of you.”
In under a minute, there were half a dozen likes and comments, and more friends were getting in on the action.
And then the Facebook chats began.
Their profile defaults set to that picture, all my friends simultaneously chatted with me, and when I responded to one, they would coordinate their message and all respond at the same time.
Faced with a lost cause, I logged off Facebook, thoughts of revenge on my mind.
Dissecting my first Viral experience.
The prank got me thinking about how and why content goes viral, like the Old Spice campaign. Obviously my photo was not on the same scale as the Old Spice campaign, but I think there are some commonalities:
It’s almost a sure bet that if a video or graphic is funny enough, and enough people see it, it will go viral.
Comedy works. Ask Old Spice.
That photo of me is pretty creepy, but also kinda funny. Who wouldn’t want to tweet that?
The photo is funny, but it is not on the scale of Old Spice.
The Old Spice campaign was geared towards males, ages 18-35, who I’m sure were more inclined to engage with the campaign than anyone other demographic.
Likewise, my friends and I found it funny because we have a history together, a certain context that an outsider would not have, and therefore the photo means more to them than any outsider.
For content to be viral, people need to engage with it. Old Spice allowed ordinary people to submit their own captions, which Isaiah Mustafa would then respond to.
This clever idea no doubt caused people to spread the message, because the chance to be part of history was too alluring.
4. Game Mentality.
This is tied to personalization. Old Spice allowing individual input created a sense of competition among viewers: who could come up with the funniest caption.
A similar competition arose between my friends and I, as we all tried to one-up each other.
5. Social Media.
This one is rather obvious, but Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are all mediums that allow you to 1) comment and participate in real-time, and 2) share content easily within your social network.
It was like my friends were in the same room with me, and we were all laughing and talking about the photo. Except it was through Facebook, and all the people I’m friends with on Facebook could see, and join in.
6. Influencers (or as Seth Godin calls them, Sneezers).
These were the people who were responsible for making the photo go viral. They were the ones who saw the Old Spice video on Youtube, and then shared it via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.
They exerted influence over their social networks, and helped the video go viral.
The same for my photo. My friends and I all have a certain measure of trust with one another, so when someone posts content on their wall, our network is likely to listen.
In my case, my friends saw that initial person tag a photo of me, and then from there the firestorm started.
Recreating the Viral Experience.
I’m glad to say that my first viral experience wasn’t an embarrassing one and now I’m tempted to recreate the experience.
I don’t know what it will be, but you can bet you’ll find out first.