Curing the Viral Post

Social media conscience

Social media is getting attacked from all sides. Word at the virtual water coolers is that Facebook is perverting elections, Twitter is fomenting crime, and YouTube is encouraging stupid, even life threatening pranks.

Some social media platforms are backing off. WhatsApp, which is a major social platform in India, has taken steps to slow people down and limit virality since fast-flying rumors led to lynchings. Twitter may be getting rid of the Like button in its own efforts to slow down viral postings. The new leadership wants to encourage “friendlier conversation.” Facebook is emphasizing friends and family over business and news postings. In fact, social media platforms in general are focusing on engagement and making it harder to manipulate news feeds.

The Economist points out that social media platforms have worked hard to make their platforms compelling — in the worst way. Testing different shades of blue and shapes of buttons to find ways to keep people glued to their streams and walls has given social media companies the data they need to make their platforms addictive. The same information can be used to tone down viral posts.

What’s good about viral posts?

We admit we like to see our clients get tens of thousands of views for a social media post. We’re in the business of helping them get out their messages, and a viral social media post is certainly one way to do that.

What’s bad about viral posts?

However, a viral post might reach lots of people who have no real need for your message and won’t take action on it.

And a viral post that has been manipulated to go viral — with deceptive clickbait headlines, a salted audience, and exaggerated claims — isn’t usually providing real value for your visitors. You might reach hundreds of thousands of people, but what have you done to your real relationships?

This is long before we have to start thinking about the negative real-world consequences of toxic rumors or fake news. Research shows that viral posts often tap into negative emotions. Anger is one of the most common drivers of virality as readers pass posts on with a dose of outrage.

Social media is intended to help your organization connect with your target audience. The screenshot above shows some natural results from high-value posts. They’re not reaching millions, but they are doing a good job.

Is it all about the platforms?

Social media platforms are being encouraged to slow down, to slow their users down and make them think before they tweet. Common techniques intended to make a post go viral can probably be recognized by an algorithm by now, and they may become counterproductive. Maybe they always were.

But Facebook and Instagram are not producing their own content. Some responsibility at least must rest on the individuals, companies, and organizations using social media to communicate with their audiences.

These changes are just starting and we don’t know where they’ll end. At the very least, you need to be paying attention and making sure your social media strategy is still working for you. Vanity metrics may fall fast, so this would be a good time to make sure your metrics measure the things that matter. And quality content is more important than ever. The more social media throttles back on businesses’ unpaid posts, the more necessary it is that people actually choose to visit your pages and share your posts.






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