Taking advantage of social media’s viral spiral

Lots of LikesWhen it comes to sharing on social media, there’s you and your network of friends and contacts. These are all the people that you’re connected with on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.  And like you, these people have their network, in other words, your network’s network. The big secret of social media, not just for your personal brand but for your company is that it’s not about your network per se. It’s not even so much about reaching those in your network. It’s about reaching your network’s network.

So every message you put out there should be something that your network wants to forward. If your network doesn’t want to forward it along to their networks, then your brilliant post or exciting news dies with them. It’s like telling a room full of people you know something wonderful that you would hope they would tell others…but the word never gets out. On the other hand, if you put out content that’s surprising, that teaches, that adds to the conversation, that provokes thought, that taps into a bigger discussion, then people will forward it. In a sense, they reward you for being oh so clever and smart.

For example, I’m of that age where I’m taking more of an interest in insurance-related matters, so I’ve found myself going to New York Life’s Facebook page.  There they ask questions, have polls, allow you to fill in the blank on things that directly have to do with insurance; but many other times the content is peripheral – what do you want your legacy to be? How old is the oldest person you know and what makes them special? It’s stuff people comment on a lot. As you may know, what happens then on Facebook is that those comments show up on people’s individual pages as commenting about something on New York Life’s page. So it becomes viral… which is the art of reaching your network’s network.

So what kind of messages are likely to be forwarded, or maybe more importantly, what kind of messages are boring and least likely to be forwarded? Well one kind is the “cat” status update kind you find on Facebook. You know…”I just fed my cat.” “My cat is playing with her new toy.” Cat, dog, people, whatever. We all know this stuff hardly ever gets forwarded. But you know what, brands do the equivalent of “I just fed kitty” updates all the time. How many times have you read “we just got a new product,” or “we’re moving, ” or “our company just hired 10 more people,” “we just painted our building,” etc. Yaaaawn. While it’s not at all wrong to give out that info, just know you’re saying something about yourself that’s not adding value and thus this update goes no further than your immediate circle of connections, if they’re paying attention at all.  Oh, and then there’s the type of messaging that you find on LinkedIn and Twitter a lot…the over-populating of meaningless updates and posts without cessation. One post or tweet after another to the point you get tired seeing this person’s face show up on your screen ever again! If the idea of social media marketing is to form relationships with people, then why would you want to undo what you’ve accomplished by over-marketing your company to the point where people say, “I’ve had enough. Buh-bye!”  

So what kind of messages generate traffic for business and does get forwarded to your network’s network?  It turns out you already saw this in high school when a message of great personal value went out there and was forwarded. I’ll call this “My parents are out of town…bring your own beer” message. This type of update breaks through the rest of the “ho-hum” messages because it does two things: it produces a high emotional response and people like sharing practically useful content to help out their friends, as well as business customers or prospects.

Now I’m not a psychologist but I’ve found through personal experience that the likelihood of sharing content seems to hinge on things that produce an emotional response by means of wonder, joy, anxiety, fear and surprise. I’m sure there are many other motivators but let’s just talk about these for a moment.

  • Wonder – It’s something amazing that people can’t resist commenting on. This can be in the form of a story, a real-life event, or a long list of links to resources.
  • Joy – What makes people happy? There’s loads of things. It can be something funny, inspiring, or anything that’s enlightening. It’s telling a story that people can connect with.
  • Anxiety – People just don’t like anxiety, right? But what causes it? If you’re writing content that talks about potentially losing out on something.  As well, people hate losing things they have.
  • Fear – Certainly one of life’s biggest motivators. What’s an example of fear? The fear of loss (missing out on something) or worrying that they’re making mistakes they’re unaware of.
  • Surprise – What surprises people? Anything that goes against their expectations. Things that astonish them as well as things that might shock them, from challenging assumptions or long-held ideas to great new ways to do things.

As we know, the idea of social media is to create and strengthen relationships with people.  We do that by sharing information that they’d like to get, read and pass along to others. That doesn’t happen if what you have to say isn’t interesting and you won’t be interesting until you say and do things imaginatively, originally, freshly.

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