When I’m in London, my favourite hobby is to go to cafes and eavesdrop. I particularly enjoy it when a boy speaking in flawless RP is telling someone else his brilliant ideas that will make them all famous and successful. “Facebook is the future,” he declaims over a soy chai latte, “it’s all about advertising.” He takes a sip, nods and pretend to listen while the other person speaks, and then announces, “what we need to do is make a viral video.”
There are so many things wrong with that sentence, and top of my list of problems is the assumption that virality is a function of the video itself: like you can design a video for virality and then unleash it on the world and it will just spread naturally somehow. Then there’s the assumption that a viral video will draw fans towards you, essentially building a network for you like some robotic spider crafting a colossal social web.
As people slowly move away from assuming that virality is a function of content, there has been a shift towards the idea of network reach and influence – as seen in Klout scores and Facebook’s pages analytics. The greater your influence – either in terms of number of followers or the strength of your calls to action – the more impact your content will have.
A new study has suggested something totally different: influence is less significant than the features of your network. The shape, receptivity, and engagement of your network, as well as alignment between your content and the kind of topics that cause the network to ‘light up’, all have a much more significant impact on the success of a campaign than any individual’s ability to influence.
This means that if you really want to find success and promote a product, what you need to worry about is not your network reach, your influence, or the ‘virality’ of your content – you need to make content for your audience by identifying what topics generate the most excitement. This is similar to the idea of ‘viral’ content, but it puts the shoe on the other foot – viral videos don’t generate an audience, because virality is dependent on the existing networks that are already in place. They engage the audience that you already have, and this engagement may lead to more shares and more growth.