Monday, January 12, 2009

You Cannot Force Viral

The more I participate in online social media, the more I learn about the off-line world at the same time. You cannot force people to take action. Never assume that others are motivated by the same things. You cannot force viral.

My participation in the HomeAway Vacation Giveaway was a wonderful experience. I did not enter with the plan of winning (although that would be very cool) - but instead I try to be an active student of how things take shape in social media (the medium is new and ever changing.... so everyone is still a student of social media!!!).

I very much enjoyed telling the story of my childhood vacation memory (yes, it really happened just as I wrote it... that is the reality of being the youngest of four boys).

My lesson comes from how few votes I have received. Nearly 1000 people have viewed my blog post asking for people to vote and I have over 700 followers on Twitter who have heard my plea. Yet as of now only 25 people voted for my entry.

1038 people have voted in the contest over the past 4 days for the 32 entries, with the leader having less than 200 votes. Voting closes on January 15th, and at his point I think that the trend is clear, that my peeps ain't voting.

This is not a gripe. It is actually totally cool, as you cannot force viral. Nobody can expect others to take actions for an event that is really all about me. The motto "Hey, win ME a free trip!" does not launch ships. It does not play into any body's self interest....other than mine.

Take this example off line and into our business lives. How often do we pepper our clients, prospects and referral sources with messages that are self serving? We forget that our self interest of making sales does not really matter to our audience. Sure we have people who like and respect our products and services, and they love us as human beings, but this is not enough to motivate them to take the actions we desire.

Of those who voted for me in the contest - one third of them were my family and close friends who live near Santa Cruz. These folks had a personal interest in my victory (as they would get to come to the beach house and party it up!). The same is true in business, our handful of evangelists sing our praises and we wonder why others do not follow suit. Those who buy or refer your company usually have personal motivation involved. It makes them look good.

Companies often make this mistake in their marketing when they lead with the history of the firm, their unique product, or all the victories they have had for other clients. "Look at Me" marketing makes the firm feel good, but does the buyer care? Will it drive them to action? Nope.

Those who will buy (or refer others) are interested in how they benefit. When they will win, they go viral and tell the world. Helping the other guy win for the greater good is a wonderful theory, but it does not motivate the masses. Sure, there are exceptions. We should cherish those who just like to help for the sake of helping others (these folks do exist!!!), but do not count on them being the majority.

While you cannot force viral, you cannot just sit on your butt if you want results. "Word of Mouth Marketing" or "Going Viral" are mysterious creatures. You cannot manipulate society into adopting and idea. But that does not mean we should not be trying. Much spaghetti will hit the floor.... but when it sticks to the wall.... Watch out. That is the holy grail of which all dreams are made.

Have A Great Day.



Anonymous said...

Very sound marketing advice, Thom. You just can't force "viral" -- in fact, I cringe every time I see someone list viral marketing as their occupation. Or, as one company proclaimed, "We specialize in viral videos." Right.

I love what Dave Evans puts on his bio: "If I couldn't interrupt you, how would I reach you?" Marketing has too long focused on broadcasting messages, and social media requires letting people find your content and respond.

By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed your HomeAway contest entry. I can't vote, of course, since they're a client and we're helping with the contest. I will say this--some votes may be disqualified when the final tally is done. A few people have tried gaming the system by voting from multiple email addresses, i.e.,,, etc. Since the rules state only one vote per entry per person, those will be manually excluded in determining the winner. So some entries might have artificially have numbers of votes.

Thanks for entering, and most of all, thanks for sharing some great memories. Definitely smileworthy. See? :-)

Unknown said...

Thom, very thoughtful post. I appreciate the multiple viewpoints with which you can approach not only the contest, but word of mouth or viral marketing in general.