Going Viral – It’s Not As Easy as Catching a Cold

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Over the last couple of years I’ve seen and heard a lot of people talking about wanting to “go viral” – you know having their video or marketing plan take off and get millions of hits, likes or retweets almost over night. I’ve seen people ask how to get their videos to go viral. I’ve seen people post ads looking for someone who can take their company’s marketing plan and make it go viral. I’ve also seen people try to explain, some of them very eloquently, that it’s not that easy. Here’s my take on it.

Looking through a microscope

Looking for the answers to “viral” content.

Going viral is a lot harder than it looks. It’s not like a cold virus where you know what the cause is and the things you can do to avoid it (or catch it if you’re into that). A virus can spread quickly through an office or a home, so can viral content. The difference is the virus likes everyone, viral  content is dependent on people liking it.

Yes, you can do some research and find similarities between things that go viral, and develop an equation for “viral” but it can’t take into account that certain spark. That something that makes people connect with the content. Viral content is like that person who just has something about them that draws people to them – you can’t put your finger on what it is, you just know it’s there.

Most viral content has something new or fresh about it. It often has an emotional aspect that people can connect with. Or it could be something funny (this is probably the most difficult to define or copy because the harder most people try to be funny the less they are). What goes viral today may not work on any other day, which is why I think some videos are posted for months or even years before it suddenly strikes a chord with people. Viral content depends on the moods, likes, dislikes, wants, needs, loves, hates, strengths, weaknesses and more of millions of people lining up exactly right.

I know there are people out there who are willing to sell you the secret to going viral. They make all kinds of promises. They offer workshops, seminars and emailed advice for an amazing low price.  But if you read the fine print, they don’t guarantee anything. They know there are too many intangibles to viral content to make you a guarantee you’ll go viral. Sure they might have some great ideas, but that doesn’t translate to viral content. It’s just like anything else, if they’re making you promises about viral content that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

So how do you go viral? Honestly, I don’t know. I think you develop content that appeals to you and your audience. Work on your message. Make it fun and interesting or the people you’re trying to communicate with. If you’re lucky you’ll find that magical something that catches hold of people like a new virus sweep the world.

When I Grow Up….

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I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I want to be when I grow-up. Again. I realize that I’m a full-blown adult (though at times I still don’t know how that happened). And I know that I have a family, a job, and a whole life that I need to live on a daily basis. But still, I wonder. Someone poised the question to me a while back during the Mega Millions fever that gripped the nation. If you could do anything, be anything, what do you want to be when you grow up? The honest answer is, I don’t know. Yes, there are things I would change. No, I wouldn’t walk away from the life I have now. I have a family and friends and nothing will ever change their importance in my eyes. It’s the other stuff…you know…the job you have, the kind of work you do. What if you were 10 years old again and the sky was limit. What do you want to be when you grow up?

Child with dream bubble

What did you dream of being when you were a child?

I think I would do much of the same things I’m doing now, just differently. I’ve always wanted my own production company, but if I had the option to do anything with it I would gear it towards non-profits and small business needing storytelling help and advice. I’d work with them on getting their on-line presence planned out and put in place. And, perhaps, most importantly to them, I would do it at an extremely reasonable cost. After all, if I didn’t have to work every day and was doing what I love to do, I wouldn’t be as worried about all the grown-up concerns that come with needing a job.If I could do anything, I would use my talents and experience to help good people with great potential reach their goals.

What about you? If you could do or be anything, what would you do when you grow up?

Is Social Media Changing How We Tell Stories?

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I read this post and it got me thinking. Obviously social media is changing the way we tell stories. We can now share what’s happening to us, as it’s happening, with video and/picture proof. There’s no planning ahead. There’s no deep thought on the best way to share a story, or looking forward to telling it the next time you see someone. With a couple of clicks of your smartphone, tablet or the old school laptop and everyone who knows you knows exactly what happened.

There’s no saving a story for the next family get together – they read all about it on Facebook. There’s no go to anecdote for parties – they saw it on Twitter and retweeted. They re-pinned the picture we took of the dog and pinned on Pinterest. They saw the crazy cat video you posted on YouTube.

Where are the stories we save and savor telling our friends or family? Where are the great icebreaker stories that we prepare for awkward social encounters (fulling willing to admit, this may just be me)? What do we have to talk about at dinner tonight when our every move is posted, pinned, tweeted and shared as it happens?

I’m curious. Has social media, and the instant gratification that it brings, changed the way you tell stories? Do you still relate the stories of your day when your out with friends or sitting around the dinner table with your family? Has social media helped you start conversations because people see what you posted and prompt you for the full story?

Answer the poll and share your thoughts below.

Presenting Your Story or Death by PowerPoint

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a meeting or at a conference when a speaker gets the front of the room and says, “I’m going to go through these slides fast so I can get through all 172 in my 20 minutes.” Cue the groans from the audience. Most the folks I know call it, “Death by PowerPoint!” While it maybe a little dramatic, they aren’t wrong.

There are lots of presentation experts out there with their own ideas on the perfect way to present information. Two of the biggest “rules” are not to put everything on the slide and don’t read the slide. I am a big fan of this rule. I want to hear you talk about what you’re there to talk about it, not listen to you read about it.

This is your chance to tell me your story! Tell me why I should care about what you have to say. Share with me what makes you and your organization or product different. Give me a call to action – make me want to do something after I’ve heard you speak. You don’t need a lot of slides, but you do need to talk to me.

One of the places I’ve worked told us that our slides should tell a story from left to right and top to bottom. In other words, if you lined up all of your slides and just read the title of each one would it tell your story? If you read each slide from top to bottom, does it tell or support your story? If not, then try again. They knew people make a connection with the story. That people could identify with your message if you have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

You can’t underestimate the power of having someone stand in front of you, no matter how nervous, and having them tell you their story. I think that’s one of the greatest things the TED Talks do. They put someone with a compelling story on stage and they let them tell it. The fact that they have amazing stories helps, but it’s not the only reason. Being willing to share that little part of yourself is very powerful.

Conference season is in full swing, and so is the march through slide presentations. The next time you cue yours up take a minute to ask yourself if you’re telling me your story or if you’re presenting at me. I know which one I’ll remember.

Storytelling and Instructional Design

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I believe that storytelling is a big part of learning. Just think back to the best teachers and professors you’ve had and chances are they made the content you were learning come alive for you. There’s also a very good chance that it’s because they used some sort of story to ties the pieces together or make your care about what you were learning. Even your earliest teachers – your parents, grandparents and other family members – used stories to help you learn the culture, morals and behaviors of your family and your community. Storytelling was used as an instructional tool long before the written word.

So why is it that so many instructional designers seem to focus on the pushing content out to learners and spend so little time focusing on telling a story that will help the learner become involved and remember the content? I’ve actually had people tell me that it was bad idea to try to tell a story with serious content intended for an adult learner.

I was thrilled to read Connie Malamed’s post on The e-Learning Coach talking about a conference she attended that included a session on storytelling. She used some of the ideas from the session to create 10 reasons why storytelling needs to be part of learning. It’s a great list and Connie makes some great points. I urge you to read the post whether you work in learning or not. The points she makes can be applied to marketing, branding and many of the other categories people put communication into.

It boils down to this. If you want people understand, relate to, and walk away with the message you’re sharing with them, you need to share it with them in a way that is interesting. A way that is memorable. A way that makes them care about the message and want to remember it. Help them connect the dots and give them a reason to want to take that message to heart. It worked when you were in school, why wouldn’t it work for the people you’re communicating with today?

Who Are You Telling Your Story To?

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Stanford Smith makes some great points this post about “preaching to the choir” if you will. And he’s right. It’s great to have the support of like-minded people, but if the right people aren’t getting your message the right way, you’re getting nowhere. I’ve talked before about how it’s important to know your audience. And, whether your marketing a university, developing adult learning content, or producing a killer video, you need to make sure the audience you’re creating your story for is the audience that gets it. It happens all the time. We write a marketing piece in a way that appeals to our executive, but is it written in a way  that will appeal (and sell to) your audience? Will your learners love the content as much as the other instructional designers do, or will the be confused and turned-off by it? Those special-effects and artistic edits are awesome, but are you doing it to show off your favorite skills or to reach wedding and corporate clients? It’s so easy to study your audience and develop something for them but do it in a way that appeals not to the audience, but to ourselves or our peers. I think we’re all guilty of it from time to time. I’ll be the first to admit that I have. I’ve done promos and videos that I thought were great but missed the mark with the audience because they just didn’t get it. But, I’ve also done videos that I didn’t really connect with that were exactly what the client and the audience needed to see. I challenge you to go back and take an honest look at the stories you’re telling. I have and I’m going to be doing a few rewrites on a project I’m working on where the target audience is very different from the people involved. I did a pretty good job in the beginning, but I can see now that I lost that edge a bit. Now that I’m aware I can make it right. If you’re in the same boat I’m in, here are a few suggestions to help you stay on track:

  • Get out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to the interests and environment of your audience. Remind yourself where they’re coming from. Don’t assume you know.
  • Do a focus group or have an informal chat with folks from your target audience. What story do they want to hear from you or your client?
  • Look for outside experts. Don’t just listen to the usual people get opinions from, find someone from outside your circle to give an objective opinion.
  • I’ve been known to put up signs up around my desk to remind me about the audience I’m trying to reach.
Take a minute. Think about the stories you’re telling now. Are you telling your story in a way that will move, excite or affect your audience? Is your story being told in a way that’s too “inside” your environment to reach that target audience out there?  Are you telling the right story, the right way, to the right audience?
The answer to those questions are the difference between telling your story and selling your story.

Miss Communication – Sometimes it IS what you said

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I recently posted that sometimes electronic messages aren’t well received because they can’t communicate things like sarcasm. But  that’s not the only time when you can be misunderstood. The words we choose for each email, tweet and blog post tell a lot about who we are. Words can help us make a great first impression, or a really REALLY bad one. The words we chose when we communicate can change the way other people feel about us, the product or company we’re marketing, or the story we’re telling.

They say that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never hurt us. Anyone who’s survived junior high and high school knows that isn’t always the case. Words may not leave a mark on the body but they sure can bruise the heart. Words have power. It’s up to each of use how we use that power.

It’s very easy to get upset and send off an email, or reply to a post, or text message without thinking about the words we use. Choose the wrong words and you might just find yourself in hot(ter) water. But, choose the right words and you can change the situation. You can win people to your way of thinking and sway them into listening to your message. Don’t believe me?

Think about all the news coming out of Washington D.C. The news is filled with each side’s opinion and spin on each and every situation. Sometimes they are talking about the same thing but they words they choose change the context completely. Politics is poster child of carefully chosen words. Words that admit to nothing but implicate everything. Politicians – and the people who craft their messages – know the power of words.

To be a good communicator, whatever the medium, you need to think about the words you choose to convey your message. Make sure that the words you choose help you convey message and persuade your audience to your way of thinking.