When Viral is more like a Virus

By Alec C. Tefertiller

In just one week,  Rebecca Black unseated Charlie Sheen as the internet’s latest “it” person,  however, like Sheen, it probably has more to do with a train wreck then a new sensation. One week ago, Black’s debut music video, “Friday”, had a few thousand hits on YouTube. Then a few blogs picked up on it — not because it was anything special, but more because it was the exact opposite.

The video and song were produced by Ark Music Factory, a vanity recording company who creates songs and videos for wannabe teen pop stars who have the money to make it happen. In this case, what happened was a horribly written song, sung by a young girl who needed plenty of autotune help, set in an overly cheesy music video cast with all of her awkward teen friends. It’s so bad you can’t look away.

So a few blogs posted the video as an example of what not to do, and one week later, it’s closing in on 15 million views.

So is this a viral success story?

Like everything, it depends on your definition of success.

I think to evaluate the success of any endeavor, you have to first evaluate your goals. If the goal was to go viral on YouTube, then Mission Accomplished. If the goal was to make money in downloads. “Friday” cracked the iTunes top 100 on Wednesday. If the goal was to launch a career, well, the verdict is still out on that.

Her video went viral for all the wrong reasons. She can’t look at her millions of YouTube viewers as potential fans. However, I firmly believe that tucked away in the thousands of “You stink” comments, she’ll find a healthy handful of positive reviews.

Have you ever listened to Justin Bieber? We’re not talking about groundbreaking songwriting there, but it appeals to a particular, young audience. Now, Bieber is incredibly talented (there, I said it, pre-pubescent googlers). The verdict is still out on Black. But if she has the chops, she could turn the negative notoriety into a positive. I guarantee you there are many who will support her purely because they feel sorry for her.

What’s the lesson here? There’s no such thing as bad press, and a bad virus isn’t necessarily all bad. When launching a viral campaign, you have to ask two questions: 1) What is the goal (views, sales, launch, etc.)? and 2) How will we respond if the result is opposite of our expectations?

And now, without further ado, if you are not one of the 15 million:


Photo Credit: By Tatyana Zabanova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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