Rebecca Black’s “Friday”: Viral So Wrong It’s Right?

Sometimes, the never-ending chase for “viral” gets the better of us – Pete Chapin weighs in on one of the reigning myths of social media marketing.

Perhaps, by now, you have heard Rebecca Black’s “Friday” song and seen the corresponding video on YouTube:

To sum up, this video became an overnight sensation with nearly 70 million views, Rebecca has performed the song on national talk shows, Steven Colbert will be performing the single for charity on television, and multiple parody videos have been created (my favorites include such the orchestral arrangement and the lip-reading version). As a recent article in The Onion points out, the time between something becoming popular online and over saturation has been getting shorter and shorter.

Now, since getting your ad to go viral is one of the Holy Grails of marketing, some might think that Rebecca’s video must be doing everything right to get so popular. You’d kill for that kind of visibility, right? We should all emulate aspects of what made the video so popular and then we’ll be online superstars as well, right?

If all you looked at was the sheer number of clicks, forwards, and mentions in the news, you might be right. But ask people what they think about the song, and you’ll hear some pretty forceful reactions. “Worst song I’ve ever heard” is one of the more polite reactions. Many people are viewing the video and sharing it with friends not because they think it’s great, but because they find it to be truly, astonishingly terrible.

From a brand perspective, that is not why you want people talking about you. Going viral is not necessarily a reflection that people are enjoying your product – in fact, it could be the exact opposite. For Rebecca Black and other YouTube hopefuls, maybe the ends justify the means – we’re certainly talking about her! But companies cannot afford to be a viral sensation for all the wrong reasons. Every day in my online communities, my clients test ideas with their consumers about messaging, packaging, new products and the like. Without this level of insight, the company’s next move might end up in the news just like Rebecca – but not for the reasons they were hoping.