As the web grows with more content, more contributors, and more entrepreneurs with more inventions, visibility and traction will become increasingly more difficult to achieve. Whether it is a new product that you are launching, a new article that you are publishing, or a new pitch that you are posting, things rarely take off on their own, and if they do, it is under truly exceptional cases. So if you are thinking: "I'll build it, and they'll come", think again.
Despite all the best practices in promoting your piece, there is still no guarantee that you will get noticed. Corollary, leaving it to beaver is a recipe for failure because the majority of items are not viral and the majority of messages are not compelling enough to spread by themselves without a concerted effort. Therefore, promotion is a necessary but not sufficient condition to earn visibility and traction, even though it is still more of an art than a science.
The piece is your product, service, article, presentation, video, pitch, etc. In order to be well promoted, your piece needs to have the following properties:
- Quality: if your piece is the cure to cancer, no need to read this article - you will get noticed instantly, surely, and magically without lifting a figure. Chances are that your piece is neither that exceptional nor does it have to be. Your piece must be good but not necessarily the best, and it doesn't have to be unique, innovative, or creative, even though those qualities certainly help a great deal. If your piece has substance, then you have a chance not a guarantee. On the other hand, if your piece lacks substance, then you do have a guarantee - you will not get noticed.
- Relevancy: you may publish a superb article about a specific topic, but if I am not interested in this topic, no matter how good your article is, I will still ignore it. Targeting your piece to the right audience is absolutely critical.
- Consistency: consumers take a great deal of comfort in consistency, which promotes sustainability and loyalty. For example, the majority of people prefer a good and consistent hair stylist versus a great but unpredictable one. Toyota is a great example of a company who built its brand around reliability and consistency.
- Package: your piece must be well packaged. Style doesn't substitute substance but it certainly sells it. The way you present your piece speaks volume of you and your company. The package must always be true to your branding. For instance, if you are known to write with controversial style, your piece must be true to that style. Apple is a master at packaging. Their entire package - from the case, to the user interface, to the actual box - everything is branded to the tilt.
Every good piece needs a message to promote it. This message is often as important, if not more important on occasions, than the piece itself. Adopting some of the viral marketing best practices to promote your piece would greatly enhance your chances of getting the right message which will get you noticed. The message must have the following viral properties:
- Simple: the message must be simple and easy to understand. Simplicity is strongly related to the velocity of diffusion.
- Memorable: the message must be memorable. Conveying the message in a story form with some familiar analogies is the most effective way to remember the message. People like to hear and tell stories but are vigilant when they hear or read a product description.
- Visual: embedding images and videos in a story makes the story more enjoyable, and thus, more memorable.
- Repeatable: the message must be easy to repeat and to pass along to others.
- Beneficial: the message must resonate with the recipients by being sincere, useful, and palpable with instant gratification and compelling interest. Otherwise it will be ignored even if it comes from a trusted source.
- Social: the message must ignite the greater good of the community to entice a recipient to pass it along to others. In other words there must be a benefit to the social network that the recipient belongs to. The more the message taps on this issue the more contagious the message is likely to be.
- Actionable: the message must call for action on behalf of the recipient. The action could be to read the content, modify it, comment on it, rate it, share it with others, post it on other sites, etc. Of course, you need to make sure that the recipient can indeed easily click to take an action by providing links to Digg, Del.cio.us, StumbleUpon, Twitter, RSS, etc.
- Urgency: The message must convey a sense of urgency because messages have a shelf-life. The longer the recipient takes time to act, the less probability to act.
- Viral: the message does not have to be influential but it must be infectious with a meme that compels people to infect others like the selfish gene whose sole purpose is to multiply which is the only way to survive. In a viral campaign, influence is achieved through infection - the more contagious your message is, the more people get infected by its meme, the more influential your message become. In other words, your message must emphasize infection rather than influence, which counter-intuitively turns out to be a consequence rather than an objective. From a memetics viewpoint, our "herd" mentality which originates from our strong desire to "belong", influences us the moment we are infected. Thus, the meme in your message must have the following properties:
- Fidelity - a meme must be able to be copied accurately.
- Fecundity - a meme must be able to replicate itself in large quantities.
- Longevity - a meme must last long which gives it more time to replicate.
A meme does not have to be true (even though it helps), it just needs to be contagious. Tabloids are a perfect example of this phenomenon. Not all memes are equal, some are more contagious than others. The most contagious memes are emotional not rational. In fact, we always buy emotionally and then justify our purchase logically. Examples of memes that are highly contagious fall within the following categories:
- Biological: Memes that make us laugh, cry, yawn, or have sex. If you see someone laughing or yawning, you can't help but to laugh or yawn - it's a reflex that demonstrates how our brain is wired. That's the reason why most viral messages deal with jokes. Also, we only need to see a couple making love to turn us into horny sex machines. That's the reason why the porn industry is thriving regardless of our moral values, which can't change our DNA. That's where the adage "sex sells" comes from.
Social: We are packed animals like dogs and dolphins. We can't live by ourselves. We need the support of an entire society to survive and maybe thrive. We have the basic need to share and connect. That's why social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn are so successful. Also, we are ready to protect our society for the purpose of protecting ourselves. Thus, we are likely to alert others of any danger, threat, or benefit that could affect our society, which explains patriotism.
- Controversial: We are obsessed by faith, religion, and politics to the point that we are willing to kill each other in the name of our faith, religion, or political party.
- Sadistic: "Malicious Pleasure" encapsulates how learning and telling about the frailties of others can gratify us - we all have some degree of sadism in us. Catastrophic events sadden us but also comfort us because they happened to others and not to us. That also explains why traffic jams occur around an accident because we like to watch horrifying scenes. Nowadays, the news is filled with catastrophic events, which explains why we are glued to TV news shows.
- Voyeurism: Watching people is highly contagious. That's why reality TV and Twitter are so popular.
- Secrecy: Every time someone reveals a secret and asks us not to tell anybody, would be equivalent of giving us the license to spread this secret around like a brushfire - we are not good at keeping secrets. There is something magic about secrets - they satisfy both the teller and the listener. A fantastic ad captures the essence of our desire to tell secrets: "Only her hair dresser knows for sure" - that was supposed to be a secret between her, her hairdresser, and Clairol.
- Ego & Envy: We all brag about something that we have or that we did that nobody else have or did. Exclusivity and uniqueness are good pieces of conversation because they ignite our envy.
- Extremism: We are touched by the extremes - anything that is wonderful, remarkable, fascinating, amazing, extraordinary, unusual, incredible, unbelievable, outrageous, surprising, shocking, revolting, and disgusting makes us talk a storm.
- Entertainment: We like to be entertained - it's a self cleansing process that relaxes our brain. Anything that deals with music, movies, theatres, and sports will surely get our attention.
- Curiosity: We are curious and opportunist beasts. Crisis, missions, problems, danger, and opportunities are all contagious memes that could spread quickly.
When it comes down to word of mouth, the mouth that says the word is often more important than the word itself. Depending on whether the messenger is knowledgeable, popular, influencer, or connected will likely determine whether or not the message will spread, how, and for how long. Generally speaking, the more famous you are, the more you will get noticed. For example, if Steve Jobs launches a product, publishes an article, grants an interview, or posts a video, people for sure will buy it, read it, or watch it. However, even if your name is Steve Jobs, but if your piece disappoints, then the guarantee of getting noticed evaporates very quickly. The more famous you are the more tolerant the public might be, but at the end, substance rules over fame.
Therefore, it is important to gain some sort of notoriety in order to get noticed and afford some tolerance if required in case of occasional disappointments. So the obvious question then, how does one gain some sort of status, if not fame, in the online world?
In addition of having good substance, the best way to gain status is to show your altruism by participating in your community and contributing to its greater good such as sharing your knowledge and experience by publishing articles, commenting on content, referring content to others, rating, reviewing, voting, etc. In an online community, it's more about the community than just you or your company. Essentially, you have to have the desire to help others. This is not a fade or an occasional hobby. It is a commitment which cannot be sustained unless you have the right mindset that there is pleasure, if not more pleasure, in giving than in taking.
As a reminder, the demographic of an online community consists of the following:
- 90% of people are lurkers who consume and never contribute a thing. If you belong to this group, you will never gain any status within the community unless you have the cure to cancer or you are already a celebrity before joining the community.
- 9% of people are hobbyists who contribute occasionally. If you belong to this group, your piece will gain mediocre traction at best.
- 1% of people are diehards who contribute regularly and are the ones who create the bulk of the content. If you belong to this group, and if you are consistent contributor, then the probability of getting noticed increases dramatically even though there is no guarantee.
The bigger the community gets, the more you need to contribute to get noticed. For example, Vator.tv is an online community that allows entrepreneurs to post their pitch for the purpose of attracting investors, employees, customers, and partners. Posting your pitch at Vator and hoping that somehow you will get noticed, is wishful thinking. If you don't take the time to participate by rating, commenting, posting, networking, and the like, why would others bother with you and your company, unless of course you are a celebrity, but then again, if you are already a big celebrity, you wouldn't need to be at Vator to promote your company. Clupedia is an example of a company who succeeded in attracting attention at Vator through strong and consistent participation along with proactive promotion of its pitch.
As an analogy, let's examine what happens at conferences. As you may know, conferences are more about networking than learning. If you walk around and start aggressively talking about your company, especially to investors, you will turn off a lot of people. Instead, you need to take a genuine interest in what other people are saying and doing. A much better way for you to engage is to first invite people to talk about themselves, for you to take interest in them, and then, for them to reciprocate. If they don't reciprocate by asking you about your company, then they are not a good prospect anyway. In other words, your networking should be geared to have people ask about your company instead of you peddling your company. That is a much more natural and effective way of networking. So, networking is more about pulling than pushing.
If the analogy of conferencing is not convincing, think about dating. Unless you are a sex idol of some sorts, you can't possibly expect to get some action on your first date. You need to begin with a bit of courting and flirting before you get to second base, if you're lucky. Similarly, you can't possibly expect to post your pitch and expect investors to knock at your door.
This is not rocket science - if you establish a good reputation within a community, and if you consistently make meaningful contributions, then obviously people want to hear and read about what you have to say. When we're living in a world where time has become a rare commodity, and when instant gratification shortens dramatically our attention span, there is no more bandwidth left for obscure pieces produced by mediocre people. Sure enough, if you have ten articles which you are interested in, and one of them is written by a celebrity, but you have the time to read just one, guess which one are you likely to read?
You can become instantly infamous but not instantly famous. For instance, a serial killer can become infamous overnight due to his deeds. On the other hand, from Frank Sinatra to Barak Obama, and from Mohamed Ali to Bill Gates, they all worked hard for years at their craft before reaching their celebrity status. Of course, you can scale up or scale down on the celebrity chart, the process remains the same - it is hard work to reach any celebrity level. Of course, you can get lucky, and here's how: first you start practicing, then you practice, and then you practice some more. As it turned out, the more you practice the luckier you get. So after practicing all those years, you will eventually get lucky, and when you do, people will then dismiss your hard work by claiming how lucky you are. To that, you answer: "I better be lucky than smart", but down deep you're saying to yourself: "what's luck got to do with it".
Assuming that you have a good piece with a well crafted message, and assuming that you have gained a descent status by being a good net citizen within your online community, where and how do you start your campaign to promote your piece?
Campaigns are not linear but staggered and stacked like the Great Wall of China. A campaign typically runs for a while until it reaches a plateau where it would run on cruise control for a period of time and then it starts to die down unless you ignite it again with another message intended to the right audience capable of taking you to the next plateau, and so on and so forth.
Here's an example of a piece of news that starts at the first plateau which is Twitter, crawls to the blogosphere, finds its way to trade journals, then regional papers, followed by national papers, lands on national television news shows, and finally earns a mention by Jay Leno. Each plateau has different people with different social networks and with different motivations. Thus, the message must be massaged and tweaked to attract and infect the next set of mavens, bees, influencers, and connectors to expand the reach to get to the next plateau. Also, unless you have an incredible story, it's hard to bypass a plateau. This is very similar to product penetration where it is not conceivable to go from early adopters to the masses upon launch. This means that instant visibility is extremely rare. It takes a lot of effort and time to become visible. However, once you reach a certain plateau, you do have an unfair advantage. For example, if your article is now listed in the most viewed articles section of a website, it will attract more viewers. Furthermore, as you gain popularity on the site, your other articles are likely to jump quickly to the next plateau. From a network theory viewpoint, viral campaigns are subject to "small world" principles in which networks are highly clustered causing the status of people to be exponentially more amplified making the famous more famous, the connected more connected, etc.
If you start with people who are in the first degree of separation in your social network, they may perform the action requested because they are most likely to be your family and friends, but they might also lack the reach that you need, and they tend to have the same social network as yours. In order to spread the wings of your campaign beyond your immediate reach, you must recognize that that there is strength in weak ties. Reaching out to people who have very different social fabric than yours and fall in the second, third, or even fourth degree of separation to you is critical to the success of your campaign.
Obviously, the more exposure you give to your piece the more traction you are likely to get for it. You need to post your piece in any and all relevant places such as social networking sites, blogs, micro blogs, bookmarks, RSS feeds, etc. Furthermore, a wide distribution of your piece results in better Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which itself produces a higher visibility - and here goes the circle in which visibility breads on itself and the "small world" effect takes place.
(Note: Republished to be featured on VatorNews homepage)