This entry is part of our ‘Social By The Numbers’ series which features weekly content focused on social marketing data analysis, insight and trends that marketers and business intelligence managers can use to better engage with their social communities. Look for a new post from Fred Stuk and the Vitrue Business Intelligence team every Tuesday at 10am EST.
There’s plenty of talk, and plenty written in social marketing about “virality.” It’s the golden fleece, the Ark of the Covenant, the mysterious, ultimate prize. What makes something go viral? And can some social media “expert” walk into your brand’s lobby and promise you a viral video? Everyone has their own definition of what viral is and how you measure it. Today I’ll consider some of those definitions and see if virality can be explained by the numbers I see on Facebook.
What better source of always 100% accurate information from reliable sources than Wikipedia? That’s the first place I looked for a definition of “viral.” There, I learned:
“The adjective or adverb viral and the noun virality may refer to any viral phenomenon, that is, an object or pattern that is able to induce some agents to replicate it, resulting in many copies being produced and spread around.”
This is non-specific to social media, but it does express the foundation for the word. The key to definition is that there has to be something that has the capacity and ability to grow and spread on its own. That’s pretty general. Instead of trying to post a video you hope will go viral, you could just as easily post videos you hope will go “rabbit,” because they’re a pretty good example of something that spreads if left uninhibited.
For those less trusting of Wikipedia, I went on to pull a definition from Merriam Webster. It defined viral as
“quickly and widely spread or popularized, especially by person-to-person electronic communication.”
Okay, that tells me what viral is, and is even specific to social marketing applications. But again, it doesn’t really tell me what I have to achieve to officially earn the title “viral.” And it doesn’t serve as a guide to tell me how viral I am.
So plenty of stuff out there about virality and why it’s so important. But there’s very little about how to calculate it. This image I found here shows the extent to which there’s solid, serious information about calculating virality.
So, since I couldn’t seem to find any existing formulas that I liked, I crafted my own simple measure of how viral a post is on Facebook.
(Post Impressions Viral Unique/Post Impressions Organic Unique)x100=% Viral
This measure will give you the percentage of people who saw the post that would not have otherwise seen it except for actions taken by fans or friends of the poster.
For example, if a post gets 100 unique viral post impressions and 100 unique organic post impressions, you would have a post that was 100% viral. It’s not common at all to achieve results like this, but it does happen.
In general, marketers, and video producers and content creators, seem to have much higher expectations of things going viral than they probably should. While there is advance work that can be done and ways to prepare the ground before you plant a viral seed, content that goes truly viral is lightning in a bottle.
For every Epicmealtime.com or Dramatic Chipmunk, there are 3x as many equally funny or engaging posts or concepts that go absolutely nowhere. Being able to measure any post’s success and know how your content is performing is key to keeping your expectations realistic and being able to build off of what works and lessons learned.
- -Measure and track your virality. When you can find common denominators in most of your more successful posts, then you’re really getting somewhere.
- -Build on what works. Don’t chalk everything up to a lucky break. Zero in on the element that made your post work.