We love to talk about viral content and growth hacking, as if there are tricks to increase traffic and create a community. Viral content doesn’t happen “by accident” as one may assume. It occurs in strong communities where content and conversations emotionally connect with the readers. In social media, a group of people will come together to create a type of community to share common interests and fulfill shared needs. There, they often share content that supports different ideas for discussion. When content resonates with community members, they may share it with communities beyond that original group. Such content becomes part of an individual’s identity because it gives them personal meaning and supports and validates their self-perceptions. It helps readers feel good about themselves so they can more easily express their thoughts and emotions, from happiness to anger. And if the content resonates with others outside the group and they feel the same feeling or emotions, then the content grows in popularity to become viral. Content that supports and extends an idea builds emotional connection to build a larger community. And this community could be temporary or longer lasting, depending on the topic.
Companies can and will do the same with their content. Companies that have created viral content usually sell or offer a solution, either as a product or service, that solves a customer problem and provides value. And this value improves their customer’s lives. The problem solved could be personal or representing an industry or just something in the world. And the solution could be a product, a service, a professional, a politician, an entertainer, or anything in between.
The more pressing a problem is for people to solve, the more passionate they are about finding a solution. And a problem is pressing only because someone decides it is a priority in his or her life to fix. But this decision is based on someone determining what will make them feel good and validate their self-perception and self-image, giving them meaning in their lives. Yes, decisions are based on feelings and, therefore emotions.
Most of us like to think that facts drive our decisions when it works the other way around—facts validate our feelings and subsequently, choices. Dr. Antonio Damasio proved in his work that this is true—our feelings drive our decision making.
That’s why it is really emotional engagement that connects an individual to a product or service, and a brand to make a sale and build a customer relationship. But if you want a product or content to go viral, it is that larger sense of community, that larger relationship, that needs to be built. You need to help people see that they aren’t alone in their choice. They are united with others who think as they do, who share the same life vision and needs. That’s also why it’s easier to make a product viral if it has a natural sense of community associated with it, like a famous brand, lifestyle apps, political campaigns, or social media products. It’s easier to connect to a product or service when others are connected to it too.
Let’s look at some examples of viral products to see what this means.
Uber went viral not only because it solved a problem in San Francisco and other cities: the difficulty of finding cabs, which may sound weird, but in many cities at the time, cabs only would pick you up at a hotel because they wanted the large airport fare. Smaller fare or fares to more remote areas of a city were undesired and sometime not accepted. Uber allowed San Franciscans to have a way to do what Manhattanites sometimes chose to do—hail an off-duty luxury car rather than a cab. It was an affordable luxury that not only boosted one’s self perception, but it was readily available to go where required. It also helped off-duty car drivers make extra cash. Everyone benefitted. Providing a viable and valuable solution to a difficult problem is accepted quickly, especially if all parties win, as was the case with Uber.
Google gained popularity with its email program because at the time, many were looking for an alternative to Hotmail and Yahoo. Both of those services were cumbersome and challenging to use. It was hard to track conversation threads, you had an account size limit, security was light, and people just wanted a better general experience. That’s why Gmail got immediate attention by everyone. People felt it was a new way to send email, whether it was great or not. And it was created by the group that created Google search—a simpler search solution that allowed a user to get search results from a keyword rather than clicking through multiple layers. The simplified approach to get an account and manage email caught on quickly.
Instagram and Snapchat were great response products to other social media platforms and gained traction quickly not only because they were more visually focused and easier to use, but there was a secondary need—teens needed a place to go online where their parents couldn’t follow them and they could have some privacy. Their parents were now in Facebook, watching their movements and that felt stifling to some. Over time, that demographic made Instagram and snapchat their digital refuge so now about 70% use either platform, away from their parents.
As stated earlier, most products grow in popularity over time because they solve a clear problem and through that, build that sense of community, or a relationship, with customers. They use various tools to engage their audience. And who is their audience? People who have a distinct problem to solve and a clear need for help. Those two factors are the basis for what these customers, these people, share in common regarding interests.
But relationship building doesn’t just happen. And it doesn’t simply revolve around a sale. A relationship is built by a company filling a need that these people have—or didn’t know they had—and developing a role in that person’s life to help them solve a problem. Over time, a customer realizes how much that company can help them beyond that initial problem, or they realize that the problem that they have is much larger and they need more help to solve it beyond the basic product.
As we know, to build a relationship, you need to have conversations. My favorite illustration is this picture I found in the Dallas Entrepreneur Center when I was recording my third attempt at creating a video class. “Business is socializing with purpose.” How does this apply? To socialize effectively, you need to have a conversation. And the end result of socializing is always relationship building. So, in a way, this poster graphic supports the idea that successful businesses have conversations with customers all the time, and the outcome of these conversations are a business relationship and that relationship somehow materializes into revenue.
So how do you have conversations like this with customers who are literally everywhere, sprinkled through the world, accessible online and offline? I created a quadrant that illustrates this.
This quadrant presents how you can look at communication approaches and methods to engage customers and build customer relationships in business. You could say that this quadrant helps you develop a content or custom communication strategy because what is content but a way to have a virtual conversation with a customer?
In my book, Revenue or Relationships: Win Both, I included this quadrant diagram that identified four categories or types of activities you can use to engage customers.
On one axis, we have automated, individualized experiences versus in-person experiences or interactions with people. On the other axis we have conversations with people versus experiences where interactions are required to exchange information. Interactions can be similar to a conversation, but it uses actions in addition to words to facilitate communication between customers and a company. Most certainly, interactions include a type of conversation, but interactions allow for a customer to discover and understand what the company and product does. It supports the idea that actions speak louder than words.
Here are the 4 quadrants and some example activities:
Automated, digital individualized experiences. These are both self-guided and one sided. I say self-guided because the user can interact with a system or item on his or her own time. And I say one-sided because the company designs and distributes an experience and/or communication, mainly in a print or web medium, and the customer responds to the company through their selections. It’s only the company talking. The customer is responding.
Some examples of company generated content activities include websites, email marketing campaign, and digital ads. Traditional advertising can be included in the mix if we consider an ad as being a self-guided snapshot experience of a company or product in a magazine, billboard or other location. Customer generated content could include forums, customer stories or testimonials. All of these types of content require that you experience it yourself as video, audio or text and pictures. Others can’t have the experience for you.
Automated digital conversations. These are self-guided conversations that the user has with a system. The user initiates the conversation by entering keywords or a statement and the system responds with results. The user chooses the conversation topics in which to participate. Alternatively, someone could select keyword buttons that answer questions initiated by the system. Based on algorithms and programming, the system displays what it determines as the best results for the inquiry. Solutions are not provided through people collaborating to fully understand a problem that needs to be solved; solutions are provided using if/then thinking. There is no identifiable emotion expressed in this communication type. And if emotion is expressed and communicated by a human inputting data, then the system responds with a pre-constructed, pre-defined statement.
Some examples activities include search engines, where the user enters specific keywords, and chatbots. This area doesn’t hold many customer generated content samples unless a customer creates his or her own bot. Social media posts is an example of a hybrid quadrant between automated and in-person conversations.
In-person conversations. In-person conversations are some of the most effective ways for a customer to get answers to direct questions that may not be supported through self-service methods. These questions may arise during research or a product demo. In this method, the customer has access to a company representative to guide the conversation and collaborate to resolve an issue. Often the customer initiates the conversation (sometimes the company does) to create an experience with the company. This makes in-person conversation a more intimate approach than online methods. Emotions can be easily expressed, communicated, and understood in this medium, increasing connection and intimacy between the people involved.
In-person conversations can occur by the company, influencers, or customers to promote word-of-mouth methods. It is in this approach that trust is built and more in-depth, specific questions can be answered.
Examples of some of these activities for both company and customer generated conversations: phone, email, live chat, in-person discussions (meetings).
Live, in-person experiences. These experiences allow a customer to understand what the company does by asking direct questions, experiencing the product first-hand, and understanding how it could help him or others. The customer and the company co-create an experience together, although the company may initiate it. This allows joint problem-solving and is most collaborative and creative of all approaches. Relationships are built from collaboration around education and problem-solving, and this approach includes both.
Examples of activities for both company and customer generated conversations: events/tradeshows, in-person store experiences, demos and similar live interactions. This supports conversations and experiences.
So that summarizes the four quadrants. If you have any questions so far, feel free to ping me iat email@example.com.
Coming soon will be a series of videos to review each of the four quadrants in more detail so you can have a better idea of how you can use these conversation and communication tools when you create a customer relationship lifecycle strategy. Stay tuned for more.
Hope this was helpful. Thanks!
At-a-Glance Summary of the Four Quadrants
Automated, Digital Individualized Experiences
Potential Content Creators
Company (employees), influencers, third-parties (analyst firms, review and content creation companies), press, potentially customers
Company (employees), influencers, third-parties (search engines, social media, chatbot companies)
Customers and influencers unlikely
Company (employees), influencers, third-parties (call centers), customers
Mainly companies and third-parties (event hosting companies, analyst firms, store fronts)
Less likely: customers, influencers (e.g. Meetups)
Customer discovers general information
Customer finds information that solves their problem
Customer gets referred to a person or resource
Customer discovers specific information that solves their problem
Employee can connect emotionally with the customer
Customer discovers how a product or service could help him or her
Employee can connect emotionally with the customer