Syrian Conflict and Viral Gaps: Hitting the Right Factors for a Viral Post

September 27th, 2013
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How to get your content to go viral? Some savvy strategiesCan you guess which news service recently published the Syria news piece asking and answering questions like, “What is Syria?” or, “This is all feeling bleak and hopeless. Can we take a music break?” and “Come on, what’s the big deal with chemical weapons? Assad kills 100,000 people with bullets and bombs but we’re freaked out over 1,000 who maybe died from poisonous gas? That seems silly.” Are you leaning toward a tabloid’s coverage of Syria or coverage from a serious news organization like The Washington Post? If you guessed the latter, you are correct.

You might be wondering what The Washington Post and Mark Fisher, its foreign affairs blogger and the author of the article, were thinking with this piece. How did they pull off publishing rather sensitive content without being perceived as dumbing down the conflict in Syria? And why did the article generate such a viral response?

Fisher’s article,9 Questions About Syria You Were too Embarrassed to Ask,” published in a Q & A format, went viral with 3 million hits, 653,000 Facebook likes, 16,500 tweets and 1,279 comments on the Washington Post website.

How can PR and marketing professionals optimize their publishing on blogs and social media? Let’s take a look at some of the factors that made Fisher’s piece such a viral hit.

In explaining the success of his piece, Fisher said he realized that with the story of the Syrian conflict, there was a large, underserved audience that no serious news organization was writing for: news consumers who, around the end of August, were just starting to pay attention and figure out what was going on in Syria. He hit the target with his informal tone and colloquial phrasing of his questions, which culminated in, “Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?”

On September 15, Fisher spoke about the viral success of and response to his piece on CNN’s Reliable Sources. He explained that people who write about foreign affairs usually write for other experts. He realized that even though the Syria story had been happening for a while and people knew that the story was important,  “No one was writing for people just coming into it.”

His timing was perfectly coordinated. The piece was published on August 29, right after the U.S. stepped up its rhetoric about involvement. On August 27, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. had “no doubt” the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. The following day, President Obama blamed the Assad regime for the attacks and all but warned the country that the U.S. was ready to step in.

Fisher provided valuable content that encouraged viral social sharing, which also led to higher SEO. Search engines rank content that has been shared or liked by a user’s connections (and that is relevant to a specific search) higher than non-shared content when the user is logged into a network (e.g., Facebook, Twitter). For more tips on enhancing your link building and SEO strategy, check out our BurrellesLuce newsletter.

Whether Fisher, whose material normally generates 100,000 hits, can repeat this viral success remains to be seen. You might also wonder what effect the viral hits and social sharing of the piece had on Fisher’s Twitter and Facebook following? With 37,146 Twitter followers and 1,774 Facebook subscribers, Fisher could have better translated that viral response into a more permanent following on those social platforms.

What were all the factors that contributed to the success of Fisher’s post? He targeted the right audience, created the right content, generated the right tone and format for his audience, and correctly calculated the right time to publish. How do you calculate the best time to publish content? What factors do you use for tapping into a viral niche? How do you make sure a viral response translates into permanent followers on your social platforms?

One Response to “Syrian Conflict and Viral Gaps: Hitting the Right Factors for a Viral Post”

  1. […] Chen explains that the key mistake marketing departments make is that they attempt to “bolt” a viral loop onto a product, not realizing that in order for a viral loop to work, it has to be built into the product itself. It is not about an ad going viral, it is about letting the consumer feel like they are playing a very real role in the culture of this Happy Meal, or cell phone, or song. The implication here is that only experiences go viral. […]

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