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"Can we make it go viral?"

January, 2016

Creating an image, article or even a concept that is shared across the internet is every marketeers’ dream but it is virtually impossible to come up with an idea that is guaranteed to go viral. Often it will happen purely by accident, as Rachel Knight, account director at Kent PR and marketing agency Maxim, explains.

Shortly before Christmas I was casually scrolling through Facebook (for work, obviously) when an image I had taken appeared. Nothing unusual about that you might think but this was a picture I’d posted on Twitter a few days before, not on Facebook, and it was being shared by someone I’d never heard of.

My first thought was ‘my hand’s gone viral!’ which is a very bizarre feeling. The image in question was of a 1/12th scale Quality Street tin in my palm that I’d recently bought for my dolls house and posted on Twitter. A stranger named Keith Brown with 112 friends had ‘borrowed’ my photo and uploaded it to his Facebook profile with the caption "The estimated size of a quality street tin by 2050".

It’s all about the timing   

When I first saw the Facebook post it had been shared a few hundred times but over the next couple of days that number rose to almost 44,000. It took me a little while to figure out why but I think it was a combination of factors and circumstances.

A couple of days beforehand, a woman had posted a photo on Quality Street’s Facebook page showing what she claimed was the decreasing size of tins over the years. Consumers, feeling they were getting a rough deal, shared it some 25,000 times and the story was picked up by the national press. Chocolate lovers were outraged but Quality Street was quick to point out the picture didn’t compare like for like, not that this mattered to the thousands of people circulating the image.

Keith Brown’s addition of the amusing caption to my picture was timely – he had obviously seen the furore over the decreasing size of tins. When I was researching this story I visited Quality Street’s Facebook page and noticed many other people had also posted my picture there. Again, it was a very odd feeling to see my hand pop up over and over again but fortunately I’m not precious about use of the image, although it would have been different if it had been taken for commercial purposes. I do wish I’d added my blog address before it got so popular.

Finally, it was the week before Christmas when hard news is in short supply and people are looking for something lighter to read. It’s doubtful such a story would have received the same media coverage if it had not been December when many households are purchasing their festive treats.

After Christmas, I posted the picture again on my own Twitter and Pinterest accounts with the caption Keith Brown had used and although it received a few retweets, it was nothing compared to the thousands of shares it had got a month earlier.

A recipe to go viral

There are plenty of tips on the web on how to create shareable content but if a client asks an agency to create something that will go viral, there’s bound to be a sinking feeling around the table as it is just not possible to guarantee.

It is almost impossible to predict what will capture the public’s imagination. Who would have thought millions of pounds would be raised through the ‘ice bucket challenge’ or hundreds of thousands of people would spend the afternoon watching a puddle?

Rachel Knight - Director

Rachel Knight

Maxim / Director

posted in: advice, marketing, social media,

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