When You Unexpectedly Go Viral…

June 29, 2018

Virality is like a mythical unicorn. It’s not something we seek. Nor is it something you can control. Few experience it. We unexpectedly did. And it’s been quite the ride.

At the beginning of the year, our company reinvented itself so to speak with not only a rebrand, but a redefinition of what we are. One part of the rebrand included a brand new attitude towards our own social media strategy.

In the past, our social media presence wasn’t built on any true strategy. We simply crossed each bridge as we got to it. This time around, we locked ourselves in a room and had intense discussions about what we were actually hoping to gain from social media in both the short and long term. From those meetings, we developed a comprehensive strategy and vision. This was step one.

In developing the new social media strategy, we knew that being able to achieve our objectives would depend a lot on the type of content we introduced. For some pieces, our goal would be brand awareness. For others, it might be more immediate or tactical, like driving traffic to our website. For still others, it might be about generating conversions.

An Idea That Works

As part of our social media strategy, we decided to implement several campaigns. One, #Filmspiration, is an initiative to share quotes that stand out from the norm and make us stop and think for a moment. They’re not your mamby pamby Hallmark card motivational quotes (Because what’s the point of highlighting those?). We focus on quotes that are a little edgy due to the idea behind them, not because they’re outrageous or controversial.

Which brings us to the post in question, for which the objective was ad engagement. Facebook qualified as the ideal platform for this type of content because quotes are shareable, and there are quite obviously, a lot of people on Facebook. It’s also about injecting content that’s authentic for the medium. Which in this case, clearly had a positive effect.

The Post and What Happened

On June 11, we posted our fourth monthly #Filmspiration post on Facebook:

Swagger Film Facebook Post Screenshot

Two weeks have passed and here are some key metrics:

  • 5,316 reactions
  • 3 link clicks
  • 5,549 people reached
  • 98% engagement rate

While these metrics blew us away, here’s some context for all of this. We’re not an IHOP. We’re also not IHOb. The media pounced on their story. And it seemed like everyone was talking about IHOP even those who hadn’t eaten at an IHOP in years. A simple tweet that caused IHOP to go viral even had their competitors talking about it. Burger King and Whataburger thought IHOP had decided to focus on their burger offerings. Yet, they were mistaken.

We’re not a nationwide chain with 1,650 restaurants across the world. We don’t have a global following. We don’t have 378,000 followers on Twitter. We’re not in the public eye. We don’t receive media coverage. And yet, we still went viral.

Was It a Fluke?

It all started with an idea and ideas are what we do. Without great content—which means quality creative—which means creative with an idea at its core—you’ve got a slim chance of achieving your campaign objective.

Your skill at maximizing the medium is not the determining factor behind the success of your campaign. Creative content is. We came up with #Filmspiration and collaborated to define and refine the campaign idea before we launched. After getting on the same page about the types of quotes we wanted to share, and having a clear understanding of why we even wanted to share them, we created a spreadsheet to house the disruptive quotes we come across.

The Twyla Tharp quote at the center of our post is one that fit the criteria. But we’d be lying if we said we knew this particular quote would blow up the way it did. No one could have predicted that (which is precisely why “viral” is such an elusive prize).

Twyla is a dancer, choreographer, and author. But she’s not a household name. Her thought-provoking perspective is what resonated with us initially, and consequently, with our followers.

Besides the quote itself, we crafted copy and designed a visually-connected image to accompany the post. Social media copy is getting shorter and shorter—a trend directly related to users not having a ton of patience when using the medium. They’re scrolling through their feeds quickly and are less inclined to read a paragraph—indicating you should get to the point fast.

We don’t adhere to black and white rules like that because it leaves no room for your intuition and gut feeling, something that all great creative needs to thrive and succeed. Our viral post is an example that goes against the grain. It’s seven sentences long, dictated by the number of words it took us to get the point across.

Sometimes it’s one sentence. Sometimes it’s ten. Whenever we post on social media, we don’t just give a summary of the link or photo we’ve shared. We offer up an opinion. Opinions take more work and thought, but it’s worth it. We know that when the content is compelling, people will read it. Which all leads back to the importance of creative.

The same philosophy applies to our design work. We could have just placed text against an attractive background with a word or two bolded and called it a day. We didn’t, because any piece of work is only as good as the weakest detail. Instead, we crafted the visual of Twyla Tharp doing what she did best. The design as a whole was a factor that got viewers to stop scrolling and interact with our post.

All of our social media posts go through a strict internal review process. For any given post, multiple people collaborate to create the end product: copywriter, content marketing manager, digital marketing manager, senior art director, and creative director all play a part.

We also supplement our creative with deep knowledge from a technical perspective to give our social media efforts a boost and maximize their potential. We use advanced targeting techniques to target those fans who we think are most likely to connect with our content. We won’t get into the details but know that it’s never a shotgun approach. We also choose our ad objective based on the content itself, which goes back to our strategy. We did put some money behind the post too. A whole $80 to be exact.

All of the factors we’ve discussed contributed to the overall success of our post, and while we can’t compare ourselves to IHOP, relatively speaking, the effectiveness of this post was extraordinary. In fact, we’ve never seen a sustained engagement rate of 98%. For those that aren’t familiar with the metric, an engagement rate is a dynamic metric that takes into account reactions, comments, shares, link clicks, photo/video views, and more and divides it by the reach of your post to give you a percentage. On Facebook, an engagement rate of 0.5% is considered average. 98% is just absurd. It means that out of everyone who saw the post, almost everyone engaged with the post in some way. Some people even engaged with the post in more ways than one—by liking and sharing the post, for example. It’s just not something you see at this scale.

What Did We Learn from Our Viral Experience That We Can Share?

  • Have a solid social media strategy in place
  • Develop your brand voice and stay true to it
  • Don’t follow social media best practices just because you’re supposed to—stay flexible and nimble
  • Have your creative and strategic efforts align
  • Amplify the creative with advanced practices in the medium
  • It all comes down to the creative and your strategy

Going viral isn’t part of our social media strategy and it never could be. Our strategy is all about providing our followers with quality content that means something. If we don’t have anything notable to share, we don’t post at all. It’s a high bar. But there’s an important point that this experience exhibits: you don’t have to be a household brand with a huge following to have success on social media. Small and mid-size businesses, with modest budgets, can be just as effective. Why? Because it all comes down to the creative.

We’ll end this blog post with an announcement. After much thought, our creative agency has decided to sell burgers. We guarantee that they’ll be the most creative burgers you’ve ever tasted. Burger King and Whataburger—you’ve been put on notice.

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