10 Elements That Make Events Go Viral

“We hope it will go viral”.

I’ve heard this statement several times in boardrooms and event marketing meetings.

Dear reader, I am not in agreement with such proposition. For a few reasons…

Firstly some events have more chances to become widely shared across the web (going viral). Secondly there are clear signals that characterize events that eventually succeeded in becoming widespread phenomena.

The art of making noise and spreading your event across the social and non social web is indeed… an art. I am sorry to say that setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account won’t be enough.

Few events managed to become web hits and only in very peculiar situations. Yes you can aim to achieve virality or better, wider reach, but it should be an aspiration, not a tangible objective.

In most cases expanded reach will be out of your control and only if you’ve done your job properly the results will be positive.

Here is an overview of the elements that made some events go viral. Get confident with them. They can become the spark that make your next event popular across the Interwebs.

1. The Event Is Targeted to an Active Online Community

We covered the example of Brooklyn Beta and how events originated within a vibrant online community are more likely to become viral and in this case sell out instantly.

This what I call a contaminated concept.

How to achieve it: if you have an idea in mind for your next event, get in touch with a community that can support it. Get to meet the community influencers and involve them in the creation of the event.

2. The Event Relies on Innovative Technology

This was the case of Tupac’s hologram (or rather reflection) being displayed during Coachella. Funnily enough this is not ground breaking technology but the use of existing technology in an innovative way.

On a smaller scale, I reported on Manhattan Cocktail Classic who used NFC to enrich the event experience.

How to achieve it: investigate new technologies and think about how to use them in a quirky, relevant and creative way. Use this approach as a cherry on top, not as your core tactic as if anything goes wrong (which tends to happen with tech) you’ll minimize risks.

3. The Event Involves Super High Calibre Speakers

Every year, everyone is waiting for the World Economic Forum in Davos. Nelson Mandela, Ban Ki-moon, Gordon Brown but also Jimmy Wales, Roger Federer, Larry Page participated through the years.

The format of the event is quite simplistic if not dull. Yet the calibre of people who attend, present or participate make it a unique learning and networking opportunity.

How to achieve it: Get the real big names. The usual suspects won’t be helpful.

4. The Content Is Made Available and Shareable

This has been, in my humble opinion, the success of TED. A conference with very high barriers to entry that made its content available to everyone and in a multitude of languages.

TED videos contributed to the proliferation of the “Ideas Worth Sharing” concept.

How to achieve it: Emphasise the quality of your content and make it readily available to everyone. Another good example of this, although on a smaller scale, is LeWeb. Livestreaming helps as well.

5. The Concept Is Uniquely Innovative

I am not talking about concept laundering here. I am referring to those situations when you think “wow, this is new”.

It happened to me the first time I heard about Pecha Kucha or the Unconference or the WWWconference.

Only the real innovators have been repaid with virality, not those who were seeking refreshment of a dull concept to begin with.

How to achieve it: Study a lot. Get to know all the new concepts out there. Do not repurpose things that have already being tried, early adopters will immediately recognize plagiarism.

6. The Event Can Be Self Organzied

This is the case of events such as Barcamps, Twestivals, TedXs and Meetups. When you are given the authority to run an event for a franchise, you’ll give it all to spread it.

If you multiply that effect by 10 or 100, that usually means virality. The benefits are obviously for those who started the events in the first place, not necessarily for those who self organize it.

How to achieve it: Think about a format that can be repeated worldwide. Give tools to those who want to organize it in other locations. Keep the branding consistent.

7. The Event Is for a Very Special Announcement

This only applies to very selected situations. It is very achievable for realities like Apple or Google.

These events become popular because of the tremendous expectations from the audience. There is a huge marketing machine behind creating such feelings.

On a smaller scale we’ve seen how events like SXSW became viral thanks to the unexpected popularity of product launches they featured as in the case of Twitter or Foursquare.

How to achieve it: Google or Apple are very tough to imitate, in fact I would suggest not to. Nonetheless if you give space to really innovative projects, social media can positively impact on your event awareness.

8. The Event Marketing is Cocreated

Cocreation generates commitment in all the players involved. It’s the case of the great Picnic event in Amsterdam who asked via Facebook to help create the poster for the event. The reward is a free ticket.

The concept is very simple yet powerful.

How to achieve it: You should have an established social media reach to create similar campaigns. It is not advisable to pursue such tactic if you are just entering the socialsphere. Make it simple and come up with a relevant reward. We are fed up with “Win an iPad” messages.

9. Social Media Is Used Offline

This involves investing heavily on technology to stimulate offline-online interaction. I covered a few cases such as the above mentioned Manhattan Cocktail Classic but also in the hotel industry.

By enabling offline/online interaction you’ll capitalize on your event sweet spots creating a constant stream of content that will attract audiences online.

How to achieve it: Learn more about NFC and RFID and the capabilities to stream offline interaction online.

10. Your Concept Has Been Hijacked

Events go viral in several scenarios and quite often for negative reasons. There is a huge chunk of the Internet who is waiting for a fail moment or a PR nightmare.

Sometimes power users like to play with newbies and hijack events, turning the experience into a PR disaster. I’ve summed up some Facebook examples.

How to avoid it: Make sure you control the marketing of your event and that the creative choices you make are relevant and in line with the zeitgeist. Do not try new things if you haven’t widely investigated the potential backlash.

In Conclusion

How should you use this post? As a source of inspiration.

These 10 elements outline how creative thinking has contributed to events spreading at the speed of light.

Therefore what you should try to imitate is not the implementation but the creative approach. That usually pays off really well on the Internet.

As always handle with care and carry out a thorough research as imitation is usually penalized.

What else? Well, go and share this article!



Photo by BenJTsunami