There was a new viral video in town this week. Within one day of hitting YouTube, it had wracked up over 75,000 views. This number is something that any client in any industry would be ecstatic to have promised to them when receiving a pitch for a viral campaign. It is a number that would appear in bold type on any self-respecting digital or social media agency’s capabilities presentation.
But if you asked the subject of this video how they felt about its viral success, they’d probably prefer you stop talking about it, and that others would stop watching. This is because it is a brief 22-second clip of a woman tripping and falling behind New York City’s ABC newscaster, Joe Torres.
Funny? Depends on who you ask (if you ask me, I say yes, very, very funny). Viral? Absolutely – the numbers are still soaring. Symbolic? Oh, you bet.
I am giving this evidence to point to a common problem in our industry: a battle (and need) for high numbers. Whether clicks on a website, views on a video, or followers on a Twitter account, everyone is in pursuit of mountainous figures, and basing the campaign’s success on these digits. To many, a campaign is a failure unless said numbers are sky-high. Anything less is patently uncivilized.
Hopefully this video proves my point before I take the time to prove it myself: anything can get a ton of views and a million clicks. It doesn’t really take much to populate the Facebook walls of hundreds of people, and the blog rolls of hundreds of others. Just ask anyone who’s taken a trip to FAILBlog or passed on a photo of a cat overlaid with incorrectly spelled words.
What truly matters is something far more substantive, and, unfortunately, elusive. And that is truly engaging engagement. Basic engagement is easy. You want a lot of views? Just trip a co-worker and get it on camera. Or get James Franco to make out with himself (a new video released today, watch it shoot up in views by tomorrow morning).
If you find yourself describing your goals in terms of numbers, think again. Think deeper. Think more carefully. You can get a view, but then what? What good is that view if the viewer just watches, laughs, and returns to their Google Reader? Not much good to it at all.
Sure, there are record-shattering campaigns like Old Spice’s Smell Like a Man, Man that garner hundreds of thousands of views and a ton of press. But chances are that you’re not going to get that. Nor, necessarily, should you want it. True brand memory and efficacy comes from something smaller, more intimate, and less easy to measure. And if you work for a company that isn’t willing to have a shirtless ex-football player on a horse as their new mascot, then you’re doubly out of luck.
So next time you’re considering an online campaign, or diving into social media, set the bar a little lower (dare I say it, a little more realistically). To pander to large crowds, you need to dumb down what you are doing and make it easily accessible and pleasing (and, if it’s a video, it had better feature a celebrity, sex, something visually unbelievable, or a potent mix of those three things). That’s not what any of us want to do.
Instead, consider the 1-to-1 relationship you are trying to create online with your potential customer or brand champion. Changing one person at a time. It’s daunting, sure. Almost insurmountable when you think of sitting in a room with a single person, one at a time, in your pursuit to hit a target audience that numbers in the high-thousands. But that’s exactly what you should be thinking about.
Intimacy, realness, and true connection is what each and every user on the Internet is looking for (not to mention, information that makes their lives a little better). If you can reach out to them, and win them over, then maybe they’ll tell 4 or 5 people. If your product, service, or company is as amazing as you say it is, then maybe those folks will tell a few more people. It’s from these small social interactions that true success sprouts. It might trickle like a crack in a coffee mug, or spread like a flame that hits a patch of gasoline.
A small number of views on a video isn’t bad if each and every single person watching is in your target audience. 1/5 of your expected web click traffic isn’t a death sentence if all of those visitors actually were moved or enlightened by what you had to say. It’s not the number that matters, so much as what the numbers you get do with what you give to them.
Think of it as targeted therapy, versus dropping an atom bomb. It requires precision. Dedication. And, above all, patience and realistic expectations.
Think beyond the view, the click, and the follower. What lies there in that uncomfortable, unknown space is the true message you’re trying to get out there; the true actions you’re trying to inspire. Nail that and you’ll have a lot more to be thankful for than 22 seconds of fame (and a potentially bruised kneecap and ego).