Is getting things wrong the key to viral success?

susan boyleI wrote last year about my lack of faith in any marketing folks that claim to have the key to viral success, and to a large extent that belief still exists.  The conditions required to send a piece of content viral are almost certainly too complex and varied for anyone to control with any degree of certainty.

Except that is when a company makes a mess of their social media.  When companies screw up it’s almost certain to go viral as we all enjoy sniggering at their misfortune and ineptitude.  So it was over the weekend when the social media folks behind the singer Susan Boyle took to Twitter to promote her latest album.  They used the hashtag #susanalbumparty, which of course should be read as Susan Album Party, but equally could have read Sus Anal Bum Party.

Now of course this soon spread like wildfire on Twitter, and moved from there into the mainstream press.  Suffice to say that in amongst all the tittering there was some fantastic exposure for Susan Boyle and her new album.  It’s probably a bit much to believe that this was all the result of some very smart people in her social media team, and it was in fact just a run of the mill cock-up, but there are a regular stream of examples of this ilk.

The upmarket supermarket Waitrose for instance asked their Twitter followers to share why they love shopping at Waitrose.  It was a request that prompted many to reply with a gentle ribbing of the brands perceived poshness.  Whilst it’s pretty certain that wasn’t what was intended, it had the result of giving Waitrose much more exposure than the original campaign ever would.

How to pull it off

These two examples both worked because they both could have passed themselves off as genuine attempts gone wrong.  They both had a degree of authenticity to them and as such both Susan Boyle and Waitrose came out of things looking pretty good.  If marketers try and exploit this kind of tactic and they do it wrong however, it could blow up quite spectacularly in their face.

The key it seems is to focus the faux pas on an area where you are happy to poke fun at yourself.  Susan Boyle for instance has grown her brand as someone that isn’t exactly polished or tech savvy.  The anal bum party gaff was the kind of thing you’d just imagine a crazy aunt doing, and as such she got away with it.


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