Viral Communications and the Internet

So, we’ve all heard about viral communications … as with those videos that someone posts on YouTube. Someone sees it, tells their friends, who tell THEIR friends, who tell THEIR friends and so on. It’s kind of like in the days before the Internet when “rumors would spread like wildfire.”

Robert Rehak’s Own Mini-Viral Communication Experience

Two days ago, a lady named Joanne Asala in Chicago who edits CompassRose.org said that she had come across some photographs that I had posted on BobRehak.com. I took them in Chicago’s Uptown Neighborhood back in the mid-1970s and the focus of her blog is the history of that neighborhood.

She asked permission to post two of the photos and refer people to my site to see the rest. I agreed. She posted them late Wednesday night. When I woke up on Thursday morning, traffic on BobRehak.com had spiked. My photo site had received 800 visits by 4 am. Within 24 hours, that number had swelled to more than 8000 and the trend has continued today – with each visitor viewing an average of 13 photos.

Uptown28

The point of talking about this mini-viral episode is not to brag, but to point out how valuable a single link can be. Ms. Asala’s post led to several others on Facebook and as news of my “historical time capsule” (as she called it) spread throughout Chicago, my site received thousands of new visitors and tens of thousands of page views.

Ground Zero for Poverty

At one time, in the 1920s, Uptown had been a summer resort and playground for Chicago’s rich and famous. By the 1970s, the neighborhood had spiraled downward. It was ground zero for poverty. Today, it seems Uptown is lurching toward gentrification again. The photos provide an interesting historical contrast.

Many of the visitors emailed me to say how the portfolio brought back memories of growing up in the area. Some felt misty-eyed. Others wanted to purchase prints. Others wanted to know whether I had pictures of their friends in my archives. Still others emailed me about the locations in the photos and told me what they looked like today. (I now live in Houston, not Chicago.)

Positive Side Effects of Viral Communication

Thanks to Ms. Asala, I was able to meet and network with many people online that I never would have been able to meet in real life. Often I talk about the side effects of communication technology on this blog. This is one side effect that was very positive.

From a marketers point of view, viral communications can be a dream – or nightmare – come true. Which it is depends on the content of the communication being spread. Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about viral communications “gone bad.” It was a review of Steven Wyer’s compelling book about Internet defamation and invasion of privacy. His book is called Violated Online. Happily, this experience was all positive.

 Lessons learned

I took three things away from this experience:

  1. Viral communications can improve site traffic exponentially. From an average of 100 visitors a day, traffic on BobRehak.com jumped to 10,000 in a little more than 24 hours. That’s a 100x increase from just one initial link!
  2. Quality content is what keeps viral communication going. Without friends telling their friends, referrals die out.
  3. Perhaps marketers should spend more time improving the quality of their communication and less time carpet bombing the public with insipid ads and commercials that people ignore.
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