If anyone ever tells you they can make something go viral they are either
- Famous, or
- They've got an email list the size of President Obama with Facebook engagement levels the size of Upworthy.
To force something go viral you've got to have a ton of people that you're pimping it out to and asking them to share it. Or the alternative is to generate content that is so compelling that it garners traction from the simple fact that it doesn't suck.
Hi, I'm Sarah Burris, and I recently started working at Daily Kos.
This year at Netroots Nation I got to participate on a panel that talked about content creation and best practices for generating videos, photos, memes, micro-sites, etc... to promote your campaign. I was joined by Josh Bolotsky and Ericka Taylor of The Other 98%, Matt Ortega who does stuff on the internet, and Michael Crawford the Director of Online Programs at Freedom to Marry.
The others spoke about their experience doing fancy videos, finding good content online, and in Matt Ortega's case spending his free time designing websites that make fun of stupid republicans. But I talked about the 3 categories I have for memes and how you can approach generating your own content or repackaging more dense or complex content for your campaigns, or just for fun.
Here's what I do:
I put memes into 3 major categories:
- Pithy, silly, funny things that just poke fun at a target,
- Tugging at your heart strings and make you feel something powerful and profound, and
- Targeting a specific issue or factoid (think infographic).
First, the pithy. For the last year some friends of mine and I have been running the facebook page Class War Kitteh, a page designed to push workers rights or economic justice issues through the lens of cats. Since cats run the internet we all know they have great power. But with great power, comes great responsibility, and these cats aren't just cute widdle kitteh, they use the power of their cuteness to fight for what is good and true.
or - issue based
But you don't necessarily need a cat to go viral. You can be funny in other ways. For example, another fun project from the 2012 election cycle I played with was Paul Ryan Gosling. You can learn more about PRG from Rachel Maddow here.
Second, think about making people feel. Upworthy's greatest lesson on content is that if you can make people feel something they'll share it. That's not an easy task. But many events that happen in our history are themselves heartbreaking. In those difficult moments as an online organizer and creator of digital content, what do you do? How do you approach it? What do you say? My recommendation:
- Keep it simple,
- Keep it short,
- Try to use the best quality photo you can, and
- Resist the urge to be overtly political.
Here are a few examples. The first is from a campaign I started inspired by comedian and YouTube sensation Lee Camp but was relayed by comedian and Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead at NN12 in Providence. The idea is to own the "union thug" label by showing that members of (particularly the trade) unions may be big, burly, and strong, but they're anything but thugs. The meme? #HugAThug.
My 9-11 anniversary meme
Another cat meme from CWK in response to the Trayvon Martin verdict
Third, is think about compelling ways to introduce facts and figures visually. You've seen them before, particularly if you're on Pinterest.
Pretty uninteresting field data to anyone who doesn't work full time in politics or advocacy, but visualizing it makes the information not only easy to digest but interesting and compelling.
Whether it's my actual job or not, what I love and excel in is taking complex topics and difficult or dense content and boiling it down to something funny, touching, or more easily digestible. The second thing I love to do is a kind of "hacking pop-culture" where we can take things that are intrenched in our culture and twist them enough to use it for political purposes. Using cats to talk about economic issues, taking the Ryan Gosling meme and turning into an attack on Paul Ryan for being the anti-feminist, and taking back an entrenched republican talking point about labor and owning it by showing its absurdity.
The brick wall I run into all the time is in people asking me, "Why" or "Who cares?" or "What does a meme get us?" The answer is simple: social media is one of the largest drivers of traffic to a site. If you're not using social media strategically, you're missing out on thousands and thousands of people who don't know about you and don't care about your campaign or message.
Think of it like a townhall meeting. You don't have meetings like that in exclusive golf clubs. You have them in easy to get to locations where there are a lot of people around, because you're going TO the people. The same is true with the internet. Go where the people are already, gather them around, and then give them your message - or in this case your blog post.
Want your post to be seen by more people? Sites like Facebook prioritize content that keeps people ON Facebook. They don't want you to click away from their site, because then they lose you. So things like videos and photos are weighted more heavily in the level of importance. This is why you see so many graphics, photos, memes, etc on Facebook in your newsfeed. This is why pages that post some sort of meme or graphic every hour every day, 7 days a week, have hundreds of thousands of fans and thousands of shares, likes, and comments.
So the purpose becomes, how do I drive traffic and make my content get shared more? The theory is a multi-pronged approach: You have to find multiple ways to repackage your content for the platform. Start with just sharing the link to a blog post on your Facebook. Maybe it gets some likes, maybe it gets some shares but not really a lot. What can you do to make it better? Check the headline - can you make it more compelling? Can you put something in the top that interests more people? Redo it and share again... see how it goes. Next step - maybe the next day (or if you have a big page 3 hours later) create a meme to go along with the post. Share the graphic, and in the description paste the headline of your post with a "read more here" and the link instruction.
Now you're off to the races. You've got a visual representation of your blog post, so think about other platforms that are visual. Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram etc... all options for places to post your content. Let's say you've got a Pinterest board that is all about education - why not post your new education policy meme there, and in the backend, link to the blog post so when someone clicks the photo... it goes to you. The same is true for Tumblr, only in tumblr tags are critical. Tag the hell out of it. #education #edu #school #politics #news #savetheworld #futureleaders... whatever you can come up with. Be creative. Tag a lot (but never use a tag that doesn't apply to your post).
Instagram is the same deal. One of the fastest growing sites for young people, particularly young people of color, Instagram is becoming a force in the social media world. Maybe because it is harder for corporations or marketing firms to take over and force their ads on you. Or maybe its because it makes lame inexperienced photographers like me with a camera phone not suck as much.... So, why not do the same thing you would do on Tumblr here on Instagram. Post your meme, in the description give a headline and a link, and then tag the hell out of it with all of your topics. If your blog post is short (under 500 words) and interesting, you can capture people who might be rolling through their Instagram feed while on the commuter train on the way to somewhere (which is my Instagram viewing time).
While sites like Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr aren't as popular or have as big a user base as sites like Facebook and Twitter, it takes you just a few more extra minutes to take the same content you're putting on Facebook onto other platforms. You might not get as many views from those sites, but you will broaden your reach with very little effort. And the real goal is in reaching out to as many people as possible since you don't have that Obama list or the Upworthy facebook following, right?
In the end, the larger you build your social media pages up, the larger audience your content will be shown to. The larger the audience that is seeing your content... the more people are sharing, reblogging, or re-pinning your content.. and then the more people see it, click, read, join your page, follow you, etc... and they move up the ladder of engagement from there.
This actually doesn't have anything to do with my role or day job at Daily Kos, but it is what I do best and what I love to do so much. So, when I have extra time or after work, I've been working to generate some of the memes on our Facebook. So, follow us and share them! They're fun - and they spread our progressive message to many of those weird people who don't pay attention to politics or policy the way we all do!
Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for even more meme fun!