Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Viral Lynx

Did you ever wonder what makes a post or web page go viral? After a little research I still don't know (and I'm not sure anyone else does either), but there are a few common themes. First, don't plan it. Next, be controversial. Finally, make people laugh, cry, or groan. You can learn more about creating viral sensations here, here, and here . . . or at least get some advice and opinions, if you aspire to Internet fame.

A data guy from Moncton got me thinking again about things viral. His snowblower ad, innocently posted on Kijiji last Wednesday, had been viewed 342,465 times as of Sunday. You can read his story here, and his blog here.

Attainment of fame isn't necessarily synonymous with attainment of your original goal, and most of the responders to Mr. Cho's ad had little interest in his snowblower. Success comes in many flavours though, and Mr. Cho has opportunities now that wouldn't have been possible pre-Kijiji. The sale of his snowblower ended up being a sideshow to his entry into the sensational world of cyber celebrity.

I have my own microscopic experience with unintended popularity. Last March I posted a photo of a lynx, along with my usual diatribes on things that interested or aggravated me on that particular day. For some reason the search engines took notice, and the post now gets regular visits from around the world. While it isn't viral, it did climb rapidly to the top of my "Popular Posts" list, and it's amusing to think of someone in Turkey, Croatia, or Indonesia searching for lynx photos and finding my peripheral edge of the universe blog. They don't hang around long, but in some ways, traffic is traffic. Except that my goal isn't to merely generate traffic, nor is it to become a leading voice for World Lynx Advocacy.

Smart marketeers study the things that turn our cranks, and harness them into ad campaigns that they hope will go viral. They appeal to our interests to expose us to their products. I've had fleeting thoughts of plastering every post with lynx photos so that the throngs searching for wild feline photography would be exposed to the wide world of firefighting as well. Perhaps this mass exposure would translate into swarms of new volunteers, and truck loads of added budget money. Or maybe people would continue on their merry Internet meanderings without giving us a second thought. If furry faces start appearing on my blog for no apparent reason, you'll know the experiment has started.

Here's the conclusion, at least for me. Things that go viral, like iPhones in blenders, and witty snowblower ads, all share one unifying factor that drives their promulgation: it costs nothing but a few minutes to view them.

Supposing I managed to dress a lynx in turnout gear and teach him to hold a hoseline (without getting my eyes clawed out, or having PETA dynamite the fire hall). I could post the video on Youtube and undoubtedly get thousands of hits. It might even go viral. Now that I had the world's attention, I could slip in a message about volunteer firefighting . . . and when people found out about the hard work, no pay, and sleep-deprived nights they would fall off the bandwagon faster than rats fleeing a sinking ship. And we would be left with the crazy, dedicated, select few. Just like we are now.

You can read about one of my attempts to make an idea go viral here.


  1. I laugh at your blog post, but the idea of spreading important ideas by being funny and witty got me thinking. It reminds me of something a motivational speaker said once about why he tells funny stories--people laugh, and his point goes home while their guard is down.

  2. In my very first post I said:

    "So why should I want to make you laugh? Especially since Ronald McDonald, Bozo, and Stephen Harper are already doing such a great job? You probably didn't know that laughter stimulates a hormone in your brain that enhances your ability to remember important facts. I made that up, but it sounds good. The fact is, you'll probably remember my point longer if you enjoyed reading it. And you are more likely to come back for more."


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