Why Social Media Never Moves in a Straight Line

“Social media scientist” Dan Zarrella recently investigated the path a story travels when going viral in social media.  His findings?  Rarely does a piece of information succeed socially because of one person, or by following one straight line from “new” to “known.”

For example…

In Zarrella’s samples, the circles represent the individual mentions of a piece of content by a single Twitter account. The larger the circle, the more followers that account has.  As you can see, although several popular accounts were instrumental in circulating this particular story, no single account was directly responsible for the story’s ultimate social success. you could remove any mention of the story (except for its initial creation) and it would still be considered popular.

Zarrella includes several similar visual examples in his summary, including many intriguing variations, but none of them relies exclusively upon one central popularity push.

So, what does this mean for your marketing strategy?

Buckshot and the Kitchen Sink

40 years ago, we only had three TV stations.  In those days, getting on TV was an automatic win because ABC, NBC and CBS owned the audience’s attention.  Odds were, 33% of the TV-owning country (give or take) was bound to see your story.

Today, we have hundreds of TV channels competing simultaneously with radio, print and Internet media, often via the same devices (TVs, computers, phones).  Getting your story on TV today guarantees you absolutely nothing in terms of audience awareness or recognition.  And while some media outlets are certainly more popular (and powerful) than others, there’s no more automatic win.

In the past, you could aim for a specific target.  Today, you need buckshot to increase your chances of a direct hit.

In the past, you could craft a single, elegant method of winning over your audience.  Today, you need to throw everything at the audience including the kitchen sink, in the hope that something connects.

In the past, you knew who the influencers were.  Today, every mention counts.

Where will your next popularity push come from?

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