Alrighty, I gotta admit I'm surprised.
I wrote this post last week with the intent of posting it in late september, but Lefsetz beat me to the punch. He even made the "empty calories" analogy I make. Glad to know he thinks the same though.
So it goes.
Having said my piece on viral videos before (Part 1) let's take a different approach this week and look into how and why media "goes viral".
Have I mentioned that Jonah Lehrer is one of the best science writers out there today? Here's his analysis of Jonah Berger's (University of Pennsylvania) recent research into media sharing.
It’s one of the most popular online videos ever produced, having been viewed 355 million times on YouTube. At first glance, it’s hard to understand why the clip is so famous, since nothing much happens. Two little boys, Charlie and Harry, are sitting in a chair when Charlie, the younger brother, mischievously bites Harry’s finger. There’s a shriek and then a laugh. The clip is called “Charlie Bit My Finger—Again!”Three hundred fifty-five million views.
In his study, Mr. Berger demonstrates that such states of arousal make people far more likely to share information. For instance, when he had subjects jog in place for 60 seconds—Mr. Berger wanted to trigger the symptoms of arousal directly—the number of people who emailed a news article to their friends more than doubled. He also boosted levels of “social transmission” by showing his subjects frightening and funny videos first. “Levels of arousal spill over,” Mr. Berger says. “When people are aroused, they are much more likely to pass on information.”In a piece The Atlantic did on this same study, social psychologist Kim Peters says:
This builds on previous work by Mr. Berger in which he analyzed 7,500 articles that appeared on the most-emailed list of the New York Times between August 2008 and February 2009. While Mr. Berger initially assumed that people would share articles with practical implications—he imagined lots of pieces on diets and gadgets—he discovered instead that the most popular stories were those that triggered the most arousing emotions, such as awe and anger. We don’t want to share facts—we want to share feelings.
"What we share may have as much to do with the stimulation provided by the environment as with the information itself."And that's why viral marketing is dumb.
There's an infinite number of ways to arouse emotion. Creating a classic album for your fans arouses emotion. So does a video of a guy getting hit in the crotch. Both activities will get you huge amounts of hits.
But hits / "friends" / retweets are not dedicated fans. Viral marketing is junk food; full of calories (hits) and not much else. These numbers are transient fans who saw a cool video of "that band that fell down the stairs a bunch". And now they're bored with your video and don't remember your name.
The real danger of "friends" is that these numbers are easily quantifable whereas actual fans can't easily be counted. My facebook feed is full of bands touting how many facebook "likes" they have. It's fun to compare, sure. But don't treat it like a measure of your band's "true" worth. Correlation doesn't prove causation.
Focus on creating real fans with brilliant music.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch videos of dogs on skateboards for the next hour.
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