To Twerk Or Not To Twerk?

Courtesy of Digital Sherpa

Love it or loathe it, virality (or buzz) appears to be the most talked about ingredient in the social age.

Don't believe me? Consider the following:

1) In a world with millions of channels, the only content which matter is the stuff which makes us sit up, notice, and share.

2) Attention is the most deficient resource in the mobile social digital 24/7 world. If you can't grab my eyeballs when I scroll through my feeds, you're as good as non-existent.

3) With trust at an absolute all time low, people are only going to pay attention to stuff which they have to (because it is mandated by law) and stuff which immediately leaps out at them.

4) Nobody is going to invest more than a second or two (if you're lucky) to see, hear and view what you've got to say.

The challenge, however, is this. Does going viral equate success? More importantly, is it absolutely necessary?

By now, you've probably heard of the infamous Miley Cyrus twerk at the Video Music Awards (VMA). The former Disney child star's antics with Robin Thicke have drawn much fury across a wide spectrum of society. It has also gone hugely viral across the Internet.

The infamous Miley Cyrus and her twerk (source of image)

While I certainly wouldn't advocate Miley as a role model for kids, marketing professor Jonah Berger feels that generating negative publicity like this may actually be the best career move for Miley. In fact, Berger's research revealed that negative reviews can increase sales by a whopping 45% for unknown authors releasing their first book.

With this singular sensational/scandalous move, Miley has generated so much buzz that the word twerk is now part of our urban lexicon.

More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin pointed us to another viral music video making the rounds. Titled "What The Fox Say", the video has all the elements of virality. Quoting Godin:

"...Archie McPhee animal costumes, nonsense words, just the right sort of production values, superfluous subtitles, appropriate silliness..."

(Go ahead and view it. I promise it won't be as offensive/NSFW as Miley's twerks)

What I found enlightening was Godin's take on virality, that "most of the time, you'll aim to delight the masses and you'll fail".

Of course, there are lots of people who disagree. In fact, a white paper released by Unruly claimed that timing the launch and getting the creative right could lead to higher probabilities of viral video success. Their research showed that videos which created intense feelings of "warmth", "happiness", "awe", and "pride" blended with "critical social motivations" which encouraged people to share them led to greater virality.

I also stumbled across these five secrets to viral video success which purport that all you need to do is to make it funny, be concise, keep it simple, have a small budget, and plant seeds. They have even created a viral video to prove their point (which sadly wasn't anywhere near viral).

Personally, I find it silly and risky for organisations to bet the farm and only invest in creating the "ultimate viral video". Like it or not, there is no guaranteed success formula here.

Instead of focusing so much energy and resources on generating buzz - which may or may not come - wouldn't it be more fruitful to lavish attention on one's customers?

While being insanely customer focused may not clinch you a Golden Lion, Effie, or Creative Circle award, it may be more sustainable - and profitable - over the long run. 

My views are mirrored by Mr Godin. While he is certainly a "viral" marketing sensation (in more ways than one), he advised that it is "so much easier to aim for the smallest possible audience, not the largest, to build long-term value among a trusted, delighted tribe, to create work that matters and stands the test of time."

I certainly cannot argue with that. Can you?

Update: Apparently, fellow celebrities Sinead O' Connor (Nothing Compares to You) and Amanda Palmer have penned open letters to Miley Cyrus over her flasher behaviour. If you're keen, do read their opposing stances and let me know what you think.

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