Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Subversive Consumerism: An Organic Distribution Platform

In 2007, we started covering the first US presidential election in history that required the candidates and the media to engage voters online with digital content and social media. Digital content changed the world at that time. Online engagement leading up to the 2008 election of Barack Obama forecasted the results earlier and better than traditional polling and pundits. As a result, digital content strategies are assumed for all political campaigns and mass movements. The revolution happened so quickly. In a blink of an eye, digital, social and mobile strategies were the new status quo.

By 2008, it was overwhelmingly clear to us at Viralroots that our experiment and thesis had moved way beyond discussion. It was reality. We returned to our day jobs and pursued other projects and experiments.

Recently, I've reengaged Viralroots as a platform to discuss the impact of digital content in arenas other than election politics. Specifically, the impact on branding and marketing.

I believe that high value content is coming from unusual places at this time. Digital content is prerequisite in all marketing and distribution strategies, but it also must share an ecosystem with diverse user generated content, piracy and re-posts. As a result, there is a lot of noise, which creates a huge discoverability problem.

There's amazing professional and user-generated content on the web. And there's even great content either distributed, curated or generated by brands. But making sure people get to see the best content across all of these categories is tricky. Yet somehow, some of it breaks through, finds a tipping point and zoom, that's why we started talking.

But, this is not 2007.

Discovery solutions seem to be emerging from the least likely of places, such as 4chan, a place where brand skepticism and subversive action can inadvertently drive mainstream awareness for otherwise poorly performing, low impact, marketing campaigns.

You should know what this is.

The image is from the AXE Space Challenge. A peer-vote-driven contest for a chance at space travel. The face in the picture belongs to Christopher Poole, aka Moot, aka the founder of 4chan. The people of 4chan, on an ordinary day, have nothing good to say about AXE or any other consumer goods.

The contest was doing fine as of yesterday morning. The first place contestant had a few thousand votes.

Then 4chan decided to send Moot to space.

Last night, Moot had 400,000 votes.

The contestant behind him had 40,000.

The votes were not all legit. Earned by scripts moving votes through proxy servers, true to 4chan fashion. But man, what a story.

Moot has since been removed from the competition.

Just one example.

It's places like 4chan, sorta the sleeping giants of viralroots rumblings, that have an unprecedented, untested capacity to prove disruptive in the content game.

But, probably to the utter confusion, fear and paranoia of brands, it looks like what makes them disruptive might also make them a ticket for success. In the example above, a small community drove a massive feedback loop, bolstering awareness on Facebook and across the web. If not for them, I'd never be plugging AXE. Yet, here I am.

Can brands learn to play nice and forge relationships with niche communities and organic content distribution?

It seems to have worked for AXE, but there's no doubt it worked by accident.

The lesson is still the same:

We're way past subversive marketing.

Prepare for subversive consumerism as a platform for organic distribution.

Turns out, your content does not actually have to be native if it invokes mischief in the right group of people.

This is scary stuff. It requires letting go of a huge amount of power.

It requires you to question why consumers like your content.

Furthermore, it may require you to stop caring why consumers like your content, so long as they do.

Here's my perspective. We started writing Viralroots in 2007. We stayed on topic. More than 75% of our articles are tagged, Viral Politics. What's our most blogged about, most linked to, most trafficked article of all time? The one about Dennis Kucinich's sexy wife.

Turns out, sex sells. And if it got me one more reader, who cares?

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