The Truth Is, Nobody Cares About Your Hashtag

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The secret to going viral is all about making real connections with real people. It’s making them feel something – whatever that emotion might be. In many ways, the internet is not so different from real life. We all want to feel connected and have a true sense of belonging. We all want to be a part of a community and create a shared experience.

Building a community is not about bombarding people with some innocuous marketing ploy that adds absolutely zero value to the lives of anyone outside of some major corporation. It’s breaking through all of the delusions, the skepticism and the inauthenticity to get to the heart of the matter: real people. 

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to sit down and have lunch with a young man in my hometown who had recently assumed a position as the city’s Director of Sustainability. Sustainability is one of my biggest passions, so I jumped at the opportunity to not only pick his brain, but figure out if I could lend a hand (or in this case my diverse set of skills) to make my city a bit more greener.

We spoke about all sorts of interesting things from the city’s renewable energy efforts to grassroots community organizing and the use of plastic bags in grocery stores. (Unfortunately, plastic bags are not yet banned in the United States.) However, at some point the conversation turned a bit more personal – as most conversations do. 

I asked him about his family. Immediately, a huge, infectious smile appeared across his face. He mentioned that he had been married to his lovely wife for some time and had two young sons at home. We had just recently become Facebook friends shortly before meeting (and I had not yet had the opportunity to stalk him) so it was all news to me.

He told me that not long ago he posted a photo of his two year old son which immediately went viral. The photo showed the boy overwhelmed with emotion upon meeting two of his heroes, the men who drove the garbage truck down his street every week.

The little boy’s face says it all. He had been waiting all week to show the garbage men his garbage truck but was so overwhelmed in the moment that all he could do was cry. This beautiful, simple, and authentic moment was captured in a photograph and through the power of social media, was able to tap into the hearts of people all over the world. 

The photo represents the unsullied innocence of children before society teaches them that being a “garbage man” is not a respectable profession. It creates a sense of empathy and unveils our collective humaness. Most of all it gives us hope and makes us feel something. That ‘something’ is what made people want to share it to the point that it becomes viral.

In fact, the vast majority of viral posts come from personal users who aren’t publishing their content for promotional reasons. They are simply from everyday users like you or me. And of course, going viral doesn’t always mean you have to do something that makes people want to curl up in a ball on the floor and cry. A lot of times it’s utterly hilarious or so unexpected and strange that people can’t help but to share. 

A great example of this comes from an American brand called, Hamburger Helper. At first glance, Hamburger Helper may not seem too impressive. It’s an odd boxed dinner which was created in the 1970s and has not really had much buzz since then. That is – until earlier this year when the brand dropped a five track mixtape called, “Watch the Stove” which featured the company’s mascot, a four-fingered glove called Lefty.

Within a few days, the brand had received over 430 million social impressions. But the General Mills brand wasn’t expecting that kind of viral success and engagement from the stunt. “This hit us by surprise, we did not expect this kind of reaction,” said Miller, the company’s Marketing Communications Planner. “We’re a small and mighty team, we are six people who just have an interest in hip hop. We did not think this was going to blow up in the way that it would.”

There mission was just to create something that anyone who loves hip hop music would want to listen to. “It’s just good content. At the end of the day, it’s most important to create something worthwhile that makes you want to listen to it and not feel like you’re being sold to,” said Miller. “The millennials on our team were like, ‘Let’s make something we would listen to, not some marketing ploy.

So, the secret to going viral is actually really simple. Be authentic, connect with your audience and make them feel something. Very few viral photos, videos or concepts are created under the pretense of going viral. Just be human, be kind to your audience, be warm and enthusiastic. Your true nature and intentions will always shine through.

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