Context and virality

This is a follow up (also a translation from my post in swedish) on the last post – Influentials not as influential, where we looked at the “two step model” of information and the belief in Influentials to create trends. The conclusion from Duncan Watts’ research was that influentials really are not the hubs we expect them to be. Average Joes can also start trends, but for a trend to spread further, influentials have an important role to play. This tells us that it is important to reach out to both Influentials and Average Joes. We also learnt that key to starting trends or spreading ideas is that the society is ready for the specific idea or trend. Society has to  be susceptible to the trend to embrace it and make it spread.

However, the way you define “society” has an impact on whether a campaign can be said to be viral or not. What is generally considered “viral hits” are the really successful campaigns, those that reach millions or maybe even hundreds of millions of people. But, thinking a bit about how we define society, or the target group, a campaign can be considered truly viral within a certain context, within a smaller community, and reach almost everybody within this community. It would definitely be viral within this target group but maybe still not the kind of campaign that reaches millions and generate a lot of spillover to other media.

Messages that are very targeted to a certain community, and therefore highly contagious in that community, can sometimes be quite non-appealing to a more general audience. But, as marketers, it is of course very interesting to reach the intended target group. Adjusting the message, to get a perfect fit for the intended target group, and lowering barriers to pass-along, in a way makes the message “intelligent’. A receiver of the message will know it will appeal to a certain group, and therefore passes it on to the right people. It can be as if the message already had a label on it, saying: “Pass me on to people interested in cars and mechanics” for example.

So, the more general appeal of a campaign, the more people it will reach, which is pretty tempting, and can be a great strategy for products or services with a more general appeal and broadly defined target audience. But for a smaller, more specific target group, the same strategy will reach less people within the core target group. A better approach if you want to reach the right people is to adjust the message better for the specific group, make it right for that group, and make sure it spreads in the right environments.

So, even if a campaign doesn’t get millions of views it can be a viral success, if it is spread virally in the right, more specific, target group.

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