The Formula for Going Viral
What happens when you take some fired up moms with a lot of emotions and talk about a “what if?” concept for instigating change? What happens when you have an idea and within days you have tens of thousands of people taking action? Some can say you are “lucky,” but others will tell you, rightfully so, there are some critical elements to getting traction on social media around a specific call-to-action.
The day after the latest mass shooting in California, a woman in Virginia expressed her frustration to a few friends on Facebook and found that many others felt the same way. The basic sentiment was simple—they were so tired of expressing heartbreak, anger and frustration on their personal Facebook feeds and then going back to normal conversations the next day because nothing really changed.
So, here’s what they did: 1) They created a private Facebook group, 2) shared it with friends they specifically knew felt the same way, and 3) asked their friends to only share it with people who would be interested.
Here’s what they said: “Mass shootings have become an everyday occurrence in our country and our lawmakers refuse to take meaningful action to control gun violence. Our elected officials are choosing willful apathy, and it’s time to remind them whose interests they represent. We ask you to submit photos of your children, so our leaders can see exactly who it is they are failing. If our representatives refuse to do something about mass shootings, they are going to have to say it to our faces.”
Well, here’s what happened:
- The “Say It to Our Faces” initiative was officially launched.
- Within two hours, it had 2,000 posts and photos posted.
- Nine days later, it has 28,000 posts and growing—every hour.
- It has been featured in news articles and other publications.
- It now has a website (yep, today is only day nine!). It was getting 1,000 visits per day and that was before The Washington Post did an article about the movement.
- With the new website, the initiative is hoping to make the (still private) Facebook page a place for shared stories and “community,” and the website a place for taking action.
- From Virginia came a movement that now has representation of photos—faces—from all U.S. states.
- The initiative has rolled out very specific privacy statements about how all photos will and will not be used, and done so in an authentic and personal way.
- Because of the interest and press, it is now looking to partner with a larger organization to push the campaign further.
The purpose was simple—collect photos of children from concerned parents (only legal parents/guardians are allowed to post photos) and present them to federal representatives. Hence, “say it to our faces.”
I’d invite you to the Facebook page—but it is still private and that won’t be changing. Why? Because, as with many social media efforts, the trolls sometimes come out. With 28,000 members of this group, there has been only one wrong invitation. One single person ended up getting invited and voiced that it was not a match for her position and opinions.
So, are you wondering how things like this work? It’s hard to create a viral campaign. Many marketers will tell you it is impossible. In fact, there’s no foolproof way to ensure your marketing takes off on its own. But there are several things you can do to make it more successful:
- Accept that once you start a campaign like this, it really is out of your control. Granted, the moms who launched Say It to Our Faces have kept their Facebook group private/secret, but from there it really was about counting on a group of people to take the message and run with it. The intent was that someone would not post this on his or her general Facebook page—it was based and built on personal invitations to like-minded people. In other words, the trick was to make this as targeted as possible and keep everyone focused on the message getting to the right people. So keep that in mind, and realize it is about fans, followers and posts from people who you want—not just anyone. Don’t get caught up in counting the numbers alone.
- For social media, there needs to be an emotional element to the campaign. Keep in mind why people are using social media sites. People are primarily using social media to stay in touch with friends and family—it’s about life events and personal stories. Social media posts are a reflection of the poster. They say, “This is who I am and what I believe.” But you have to remember, one million links are shared on Facebook every 20 minutes. In other words, your campaign needs to speak to people and stand out.
- You must have a call-to-action. The emotional story is not the end. You want people to hear it/see it, and then you must capitalize on those emotions and bring them into action. The founders of Say It to Our Faces have purposefully kept it very simple for their followers to engage. In fact, in a world where websites are trying to “do it all”—the initiative’s homepage could not be clearer and more streamlined. There are two options: 1) Upload a photo, and 2) tweet with the hashtag. You must keep it clear and simple to make it count.
- Make sure you have a “what’s next” plan. If you are new to the game, this is your first campaign, and things take off and you get a lot of people involved, by all means, don’t stop there. Once people are motivated, they are more likely to stay motivated, so give them a purpose or tell them what the long-term plan is. Right now, the Say It to Our Faces campaign is focused on getting these photos in front of the right government representatives—but that’s not all. Its hope, as mentioned above, is to then start working with a larger organization with a shared focus, passion and desired outcomes.
Let’s be honest: Not everyone can have an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and not everyone is going to get 28,000 posts and photos in only nine days. But, this is not just about “hoping it works”—this is about an idea combined with key marketing steps to help it be as successful as possible.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.