FOUND Friday

A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.


  • Topic: How Viral Content Impacts Search & Social Media
  • Speakers:  Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics; Laura Worthington, Director of Marketing at GinzaMetrics
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Erin:  Hey, everyone. Welcome to FOUND Friday – a good FOUND Friday edition. We know a lot of you guys are probably on your way to break and everything, and Laura and I will be shortly as well. Speaking of that, today we have Laura Worthington who is Director of Marketing at GinzaMetrics. She’s going to be joining to talk a little bit about the role that viral content plays in overall findability. That includes search and organic marketing efforts. Welcome, Laura. One of the things we want to make sure that everybody understands talking about viral content is viral content is a huge thing to talk about, so we’re really going to be addressing it specifically from a business case, defining what that viral content means for the continued findability of your brand, how easy or how much this should help or hurt people looking for your brand in a positive or negative way. Laura, let’s kick it off and talk a little bit about defining what viral means. “Viral” is such a buzz word and there’s unfortunately just not another great way to describe it. But if you had to define what viral content is, is it a number? Is it about shares? Is it about tweets? Is it about views? What do you viral is?

Laura:  I think it’s a combination of all those things, actually. If you’re going to publish some content and you actually were trying to get it to go viral, then you want all those channels to be working together to promote the information. I don’t think it’s necessarily a specific number but I think that you’ll know when something is viral. You can compare it to some of your other most successful. You can look at shares and that kind of thing to monitor and see how viral it’s becoming. It’s something that you’re going to know when it happens because it’s going to just blow up.

Erin:  Speaking of numbers, it’s an interesting point that some of these may be subjective based on your existing regular number. So what may be viral to the world may not be something that you necessarily reach, but they may be viral content for your specific industry or business. If you normally get 1,000 views of something and one piece of content specifically gets 10,000 views, that’s probably viral to you because that means within your industry something is really liked. Another thing that we want to mention from an Analytics standpoint is, if you get these kind of viral spurts where you have a baseline set and then something goes really well, if you average things out over the course of a month, that can disrupt your averages and make it hard to continue to meet these benchmarks. Something to really think about when creating viral content or when a piece of content goes viral whether on purpose or accidentally is you need to go back and renormalize your data a little bit to make sure that you’re not expecting that same average to continue on every month, or if you are, you need to continue to create content at that caliber if you’d like to keep achieving those numbers.

Laura:  Yeah. The one thing that we do is we try to utilize content across different channels, especially when we see that it’s working well. If you did create something and it was a YouTube video and you’re talking about your product or something that’s going on in the world, then it just takes off. Then you can understand a little bit more about your audience or what people want to know and then you can use that and apply that to your future content plans and you can also create that content in different packages. You can publish it in social media of course. You could create a SlideShare if you’re more of the B2B company. Those are really popular. I think there are plenty of ways to make something that is starting to trend in one area. Just keep lifting and making your brand and your content more findable by utilizing different channels.

Erin:  Let’s talk a little bit about people who are intentionally creating content that they expect to go viral because a lot of these things are accidental viral pieces and then sometimes people are really going out of their way to do stuff. Some B2B content that’s gone viral for us, I would actually say some posts that we’ve got on Hacker News. We’ve done some edgy or opinion-based pieces that come from Ray, come from myself. Every now and then one of those really takes off. It’s great to see because it means the industry is really interested in our topic. But if you go out of your way to create something that seems like reality but in fact it’s created by a brand, do you think that that affects the overall trust of the people have with the brand when they find out that it’s not real?

Laura:  I think so. It depends a little bit on the brand and what they stand for to begin with and what people are used to hearing from them versus is this something that’s very odd and doesn’t match up with what you would expect from them? But I know there are even some situations where brands have intended to do things that will reach more people. I know that people will send people that are popular on social media. They will send them products to try and that was happening so often where the people that were trying and they’re talking about them weren’t necessarily saying, “Hey, by the way, this is sent to me,” or “I didn’t pay for this.” FTC has created some laws around having to attribute that where you get that, “Is it free or not?” I know that’s deviant a little bit from viral but still it’s the same concept that somebody that has a product they want a lot of people to see. If you don’t have any transparency or it’s just questionable and general or somebody’s trying too hard, I think that people are all consuming so much information now that I think it’s pretty obvious when something isn’t genuine.

Erin:  A lot of this started for me in terms of content that was difficult to judge between real and manufactured for the actual situation like, “Was the situation manufactured?” it really started when the Internet was flooded with phone videos. People will take videos from their phones and upload them in real time. Because there were millions and millions of videos populating all these different channels, social and sites and everything, it got to be really difficult to tell who had actually done what anymore. Photos which had been around for longer, once it became easy for the average person with a computer to start to manipulate imagery, I think people got a little bit hardened to believing every image. Now I think we’re scheming into video being part of that where you see a video and you’re thinking, “That’s not real.” It’s unfortunate because, to me, loss of remarkable wonder at times or that you get really excited. People would get excited about something and share it. Then what happens to me where I talk about that trust in brand thing is – you get excited about something that you see, you share it on your social channels, and then it turns out that it was fake and you feel personally like a fool. Then you’re mad at the brand that made you feel like a fool. Somebody who does this kind of comedically and has managed to catch people a number of times is Jimmy Fallon. I think he’s done some like pretty jokey things and, for the most part, everybody knows he’s a comedian and they have an expectation that he’s out to do this. I think when a brand does it to somebody that they expect to purchase their product, they can have a little bit of backlash. There’s probably some tread [9:03 ?] lately instances there. Let’s actually shift the conversation a little bit and talk about content going accidentally viral. You haven’t tried to create it but it’s happened. Or you created a really good piece and somehow it went viral but you didn’t expect it to. Typically, accidental viral content falls into a couple of different categories. If you didn’t create the content specifically, which is, somebody was creating a video or a photograph or a piece of content and you just happen to be included in it, so you were a casualty of circumstance. The other thing is somebody that works for your organization does something that goes viral and creates a ton of things to happen. There are a lot of examples of each of these. Let’s dive into a few of these and let’s dissect them a little bit. Let’s talk about how the company responded when something like this went viral, what you and I would’ve done differently, and how this really is going to affect the overall findability of their brand moving forward? Now when a consumer goes to search for this brand, instead of what’s coming up is relevant content about the brand, it’s these new stories or it’s tons of content around whatever this viral story is. How long does that last? What does that look like for you moving forward? Laura, I know you have some examples. Do you want to kick off with a personal favorite?

Laura:  There are some that have happened recently, but it seems like some of the worst examples or most embarrassing examples are from businesses that may be didn’t quite understand the power of search and social media. They didn’t respond in a timely manner or they didn’t know how to respond. The airlines industry is one that there are a couple of related examples. One was in 2009. It’s a little bit dated but I think it was a really eye-opening experience for a lot for businesses.

Erin:  The fact that you remember it exactly points to the power of that. It’s been five years and we’re still talking about it.

Laura:  Yeah. A lot of people have done case studies looking into it. I’ll give you the example. It did shed a lot of insight into the power of viral content and social media’s ability to get that out to the masses. Basically, there was a guy that was a musician who had a guitar that got damaged on United Airline trip. He was attempting to try to get some service to refund him some money for the damages. He entered this maze of automated phone and he couldn’t get an answer. Finally, when he did speak to a human, they said, “Oh well, you can’t file a claim now because you had a 24-hour window to do that.” That information is not anywhere for him to know that and he had been trying for weeks to get up with a person. It uncovered a lot of issues for United but not until he actually went with his band and recorded a song called “United Breaks Guitars” and sell on YouTube and it blew up. I think a lot of that had to do with people not getting treated well by airlines. Social media lets anybody have a voice and lets people that don’t even know each other grab on to these things that they care about or maybe they don’t even care about but just because it’s on its way up and a lot of people are talking about it, they’re going to join the conversation.

Erin:  One of the things that brands really have to remember on this stuff too is that people like the Internet – when I say the “Internet” that means people on the Internet – love to rally behind something when they like somebody has been mistreated or that’s there’s an underdog. And everybody wants to run to their cause. As a brand, you have to, one, be quick to respond. Part of what you’re talking about was timeliness. This was back in 2009, so not that I think that the airlines are in the right year at all, but it wasn’t at a time when people didn’t really understand social media for brands fully at that point. But the timeliness on any channel, it’s super important. Knowing the power of your audience and the lasting effect of that has – you’re still talking about it, the video is still available on YouTube, if you Google “United,” the incident comes up fairly well in search results. Besides just saying, “I would’ve responded faster and I would’ve bought the guy a new guitar,” because these are things that may not necessarily be easy fixes, what else would you have done differently?

Laura:  There’s couple of things that were done that fell on deaf ears. The CEO did write a letter basically showing how of out of touch they were with where the modern marketing world is going. It seemed like he could’ve made a video response. That was at the time when YouTube allowed you to respond to videos by recording your own video, being a little bit self-deprecating perhaps instead of super defensive. Some of the things that were done were still inflaming the issue and people were still angry for the guy that still wasn’t getting his guitar fixed or whatever. One of the interesting things too was four days after the video is published, the company’s stock price fell 10%. That’s just the power that these negative campaigns can have.

Erin:  Now that we’re talking about the negative impact financially for a business that viral content can have – this was accidental and, by the way. I think it would’ve been hilarious if the CEO would’ve have recorded a music video in response. I don’t care if he gets on a recorder or finger symbols. That would’ve [16:12 inaudible] thing. Let’s talk about a company that purposely tried to create viral content and it had a negative impact on them. You and I were talking about this earlier. Let’s dive into the Veet example. They specifically alienated the audience that they were trying to reach by creating content that they thought was corky, really pushing the envelope a little bit, and they pushed it too hard. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

Laura:  I guess their tagline was: “Don’t risk dudeness.” There were a series of different ads, basically these horrifically embarrassing for a woman situation involving hairy legs and arms and things like that. When it went out, I guess they got the attention. They got some attention but it was negative because everyone started writing all these companies that are just looking for something like this to pounce on. They start writing stories and people were posting on social media how sexist that was. They really missed the mark. They ended up cancelling the campaign and they’re not running the ads anymore. It’s interesting that it seemed like some of the situations in the ads may have come from a female saying because I can’t imagine a male would understand some of the interesting situations, but it really just missed the mark completely.

Erin:  The intention wasn’t bad. There are tons of commercials right now that address the needs of both genders like, “Hey, everybody has their own issues. We have to market a product. How do you make a commercial that’s relevant to the product and the problem that’s not boring or side stepping it?” People are trying to use humor to diffuse somewhat awkward situations. Really what happened was a lot of what the women’s responses were: “I now feel like Veet doesn’t understand me. It doesn’t understand my needs.” Or “You think it’s funny for me to be in an embarrassing situation. You’ve made my situation more awkward.” There are definitely companies that I think are trying to be viral or creating something like an envelope-pushing stuff. But they’re doing it in a way that you can tell that they’re just being satirical, joking around. Jack-in-a-box is a really good example. It’s not in everybody’s taste, but you can tell that they’re playing up to their audience and they’re saying, “Hey, we know what kind of fast food we create. And it’s fast food. So let’s not take ourselves too seriously. If you want really serious, then you should probably go to a sit-down restaurant or to a different chain.” Also Old Spice is probably one of the very first examples of a brand that had been super traditional men’s products, specifically deodorant and things brand. Going back and saying, “We’ve probably gotten a little too serious. The advertising is old and it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m a man on a horse.’” “Look at your man, look at me” kind of stuff and it was funny. That got shared so many times. I remember I could not look at Facebook for probably a week or two straight without either a picture from that ad campaign being up, the video of the commercial, or somebody referencing it. That’s actually another important aspect of viral content: people quoting your viral content over time, making reference back to the ad. Great commercials, great viral content, great videos. Have an aspect to them that’s memorable beyond your experience in the video and it’s something that you can reference back to, and beyond spending a ton of money for a huge national ad campaign. Viral content is great because it’s something that gets passed around socially enough to where everybody pretty much knows what you’re talking about. I feel so bad for the airlines. But, man, they just cannot get it right. Let’s talk a little bit about U.S. Airways and what I will call the porn tweet, for lack of a better description. Do you want to give everybody a quick synopsis of that situation if they haven’t already heard about the porn tweet?

Laura:  Basically, from what I’ve read briefly about it, there was somebody that was tweeting from the company in response to a consumer or a customer’s question. They said something to the effect of, “You should check here if you want to resolve this issue,” or something like that. They attached a pornographic photo that also involved the plane. That’s about as much as I think I can say about it. I think they had a slow response since it actually happened on social media. There was a delay. I guess they were trying to figure out, “What do we do?” but it seems like they should have had some sort of emergency policy. I’m sure they do now.

Erin:  It’s crazy to me that in 2014 there’s not written down somewhere in a large company like this. If you’re going to use content and you’re going to use social at the distribution channel for consumer content – let’s say that people have questions or issues and they post them on Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere, and you put a direct link back to your FAQs or to a white paper or to some sort of other customer help portal or piece of content that you’ve created – if you’re going to do that, make sure you have a contingency plan and if something happens there’s a response. The idea that a lot of people had to go, like shuffling around, having conversations before they responded, it seems juvenile to me. It’s a very young social organization thing to do. It’s only been doing social for a few months kind of a response. Make sure that if you create content for your consumers and you’re going to respond and talk to people in a real-time conversation… To me, it’s really the same thing as if somebody – say you were going to bank or you’re at a conference manning a booth or whatever – is standing in front of you, looks you in the eye and asks you a question or says something to you and you wait 45 minutes to reply. That person is already off talking to other people, telling other people what an idiot you are and forming a negative opinion. You can’t wait that long to reply.

Laura:  The other thing too is within more traditional businesses or businesses that have been around for a long time, there are people within these organizations that are saying, “These are the things that have worked in the past. Why are we giving that much emphasis on social media or whatever?” Then when the situations happen, then they say, “See?” You’re feeding into that old-school mentality. You’re giving them some way to say that it’s not a positive thing because there is more interaction. You are putting yourself out there and you have to prepare yourself for the downsides as well as increasing your findability.

Erin:  Part of what happens – you and I talked about this a little bit as well – is that fear that you just mentioned, or people being afraid that they will lose their social program because people were already a little resistant to it in the beginning, keeps people only doing safe things on social, which is how a lot of content goes viral. It’s because it’s one of the only non-boring things out there. Brands do try crazy stuff, like the Veet thing. They try to do this crazy stuff, it flops, and then other people contact back. They say, “Hey, we saw how that went. I don’t want any part of it.” That’s really sad because there’s so much room in between boring and crazy that you would think that that massive amount of space would get utilized a little bit more. Marketing and advertising – each of these have a ton of time with this. One of the things that you and I were talking about during porn tweet conversation yesterday was, it’s always this really quick knee-jerk reaction of, “We took care of the problem by firing the person. The person who sent that tweet was fired.” We’ll talk in a second about it. But U.S. Airways said they wouldn’t fire that person, which is probably the first time I’ve ever seen somebody respond like this. Most of the time, instead of updating our company policies, educating people better, and creating smarter ad campaigns, we’re going to fire the agency that created the Veet commercial. We’re going to fire the person in-house who is in charge of passing it and the brand team is in tons of trouble. And we’re never going to put on another commercial that’s not incredibly boring ever again.

Laura:  We’ve changed our process of approval or something like that. Even within companies that release a product that’s faulty or something like that.

Erin:  Good content is hard to create. It’s easy to create generalized content. But search engines and generally speaking, people, because search engines are responding to Google’s algorithm and other search engine’s algorithms around what people really want. So they’re always trying to figure out what you really want when you search for something, which is why this interesting U.S. Airways thing, if you search for “U.S. Airways” right now, the U.S. Airways website – as of yesterday, it may be back now – it wasn’t number one on Google search, this story was. If you’re somebody who doesn’t watch this kind of thing and you don’t follow this kind of stuff closely, and you got to look for U.S. Airways to book a flight, unfortunately you’re not going to U.S. Airways home page. You’re going to find: “The first story on the page is about this.”

Laura:  Do you think U.S. Airways is saying, “We’re not going to fire this person”? Is that their way to try to push these other stories down because it is such a different stance?

Erin:  It’s good that they’re not necessarily firing the person if it was an honest mistake and they realize it’s something about their policies could be different or whatever the case is. I don’t necessarily always just think that firing one person remedies the problem. I would say that it’s smart from a searching findability standpoint as well because it prevents the story from staying in the news longer.  If they fire this person and this person goes and kicks up a lot of dust and then goes and does interviews on ten different morning news shows, all these things happen. That just keeps everyone talking about it. A really interesting part about viral content and working with viral content when it comes to findability over the long term is: what do you do when you want to suppress it? If something goes viral, you don’t want it to go viral, how do you keep that down? And content that went viral that’s awesome and you’re really excited about, how do you keep that elevated up? How do you keep propping that story and that situation forward? That’s a really good conversation for next week. Next week, I would say maybe a mini case study and discussion on – if you want to suppress some content from being found on the top couple of results on search engines like Google and stuff, and you don’t want people to see it when it’s the first thing that they look for or Google your brand name. How can you make sure that that doesn’t happen? Conversely, you’ve created something that turned out to be great, tons of people really like it, continuing in making that go. We’ll pick up there next week. Laura, thank you so much for joining me and have a great holiday weekend. We’ll see everybody next week.