By Christina McCausland, Assistant Cultural Analyst at TruthCo.
The internet's sharing economy is a perfect tool for brands hoping to generate a lot of buzz with a little work. A strategically designed campaign can go viral thanks mostly to the promotion of fans, but the ability to harness fan creativity can seem remote if you don't understand their motivations.
This past summer's Straight Outta Somewhere meme generator, built by Beats by Dre to create buzz for the film Straight Outta Compton, is a perfect example. An absurdly simple process: fans upload an image, superimpose the copy "Straight Outta [insert hometown or joke]" on it, and then were given embed links for sharing--producing a meme that was ubiquitous for weeks.
Take a more recent example of Drake's "Hotline Bling" video. Drake released it in October and the simple video featuring the artist dancing in front of light sculptures quickly became a viral sensation. This wasn't an accident, of course, and didn't even have much to do with the actual quality of the video itself: Drake just provided the perfect blank slate, and the internet's meme factory took over, generating millions of tweets, vines, and GIFs.
Why do these seemingly effortless campaigns work? Viral content is not really the product of a mysterious combination of luck and timing, though it's often discussed as though it is. The answer actually lies in the habits of digital natives, a psychographic that represents the generational cross section of young consumers who have only known a digital world, and whose tastes and expectations drive internet culture. As fans, digital natives expect to be shareholders in content, and their loyalty to a brand stems from this sense of proximity. Attempts to appeal to the these instincts and to therefore enlist fans as marketers rely on a few core principles:
As in the case of the Straight Outta Somewhere filter, viral potential often lies in the simple ability for fans to integrate themselves into a campaign. This means they are more likely to share the campaign on their social media profiles, which in turn creates a sense of FOMO.
For digital natives, the notion that content isn't malleable by them is foreign. Remixable building blocks or blank slates like the "Hotline Bling" video are perfect fodder for digital natives, to whom remixing is an expression of devotion and engagement.
Brands that recognize the labor that fans are doing on their behalf create a sense of reward and interactivity for these consumers within the sharing economy. Reposting or liking fans' work on social media, or even integrating fan creations into an official marketing campaign, builds a sense of a fan-brand community.
When brands feel accessible to fans--either through the ability to stick their hands in brand materials, or simply through the brand's responsiveness to interaction--they are more likely to remain devoted and to continue to engage. This levels the traditionally uneven power dynamic between fans and brands, aligning with digital natives' taste for direct connection to celebrities and brands. When fans are encouraged to take a degree of ownership in content they love, they become invested in promoting it--a perfect recipe for a viral marketing campaign.