We often overestimate the likelihood of success, viral hits

The chances that any given message will actually go viral and reach a wide audience are much lower than one might initially anticipate. So says an article on the Financial Times website (Why Social Marketing Doesn’t Work – Tim Harford); “Economists, computer scientists and sociologists are now digging through these social networks for the answers to long-standing questions – and few answers are as eagerly awaited as the secret of producing a sure-fire hit,” Harford says.

A piece of content – video, blog post, or even a tweet on twitter – “goes viral” when it is passed from one person to his or her friends, who then pass it on to their friends, and so on. After a relatively short period of time, a huge number of people may have seen it – and that number is usually much higher than the original poster expected.

Unfortunately for professionals in the marketing arena, the doesn’t seem to be any method to producing a guaranteed hit. Everything seems to suggest that the process is entirely organic, not planned. But there is one universally agreed upon idea from those in the know: attempting to force a viral hit will almost certainly result in the complete opposite effect.

Janet Thaler (How To Make A Blog Post Go Viral With Social Media) cautions against being inauthentic, and that the goal should be to contribute, not spam: “Avoid thinking that because there is a crowd gathered it’s a good time to promote yourself.”

The most concrete advice we were able to find comes from Technobabble’s website (How to make a video go viral). Their two-pronged approach consists of making relevant and interesting content first, and then seeking ways to promote it in a way that encourages discussion while not pushing the product down the consumer’s throat. ” I am being repetitive,” says the author, “but don’t spam anyone and be clear who you are.”