What going viral can mean for brands

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For the second week in a row, Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepson’s hit single—Call Me Maybe—scored the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list. Call Me Maybe is also the #1 song on iTunes, where it was downloaded over 300,000 times last week alone. The official music video has over 120 million views.

Perhaps more importantly (in terms of measuring impact), spin-offs and spoofs abound. Highlights include: a video featuring Justin Bieber and co. (43 million+ views); a YouTube version “sung” by Barack Obama (14 million+ views); a video with dancing male models courtesy of Abercrombie & Fitch, who claims to have “discovered” Jepson in 2011 (3.6 million+ views); a parody featuring an 8-year-old rapper, “Don’t Call Me Baby” (nearly 13 million views); and, my personal favorite, a version featuring Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (nearly 4 million views).

Needless to say, Call Me Maybe has gone viral. But, what does “going viral” really mean for brands?

Today, the Internet is often used to enable conversation. Social media, for example, facilitates human interactions and creates real-world connections. In this world of two-way communications, brands can no longer control the conversation.

Which means that “going viral” can run the gamut—from good to bad, and everywhere in between.

Today, nearly 1 in 5 minutes online is spent on social networks. The good news is that the power of social media means that brands can quickly and inexpensively create significant exposure. The bad news, for some, is that the authority is shifting away from brands and towards consumers who can create peer-to-peer content—with the potential to go viral. Moreover, data shows that consumers trust communications from their peers more than they trust information coming explicitly from marketers.

Given the shifting dynamics between brands and consumers, brands should consider empowering and enabling the social communities that support them. If approached in the right way, communities can be leveraged to help launch new products or to provide invaluable insights into consumer preference. Ultimately, these communities create the critical mass needed to make campaigns “go viral.”

Brands that have gone viral…some with better luck than others

When Going Viral Creates Good PR:

Going Viral, When You Wish You Hadn’t:

  • Canceling AOL. This video, showing how hard it is for Vincent Ferrari to cancel his AOL account, negatively impacted the media company’s reputation.

A Middle Ground:

  • Mark Malkoff has made a career out of pushing brands to their limit, with mixed results. His Apple Store Challenges—such as ordering a pizza to the Apple store and having an in-store romantic date—concluded with the assertion that Apple is “too nice.” In another instance, Malkoff raced a crosstown Manhattan bus while riding a Big Wheel tricycle—showcasing just how slow NYC transit can be.

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