About that formula for Viral Marketing Success

I just read this article promoting a book on the crucial elements necessary to achieve viral marketing success. Everything was going great with the read… And then the author had to promise that his book shows you the “recipe… formula, even”  to make your (insert property / business / content / product) go viral…. Why did he have to go to the formula?!

In the article – just a snippet of the book – the author talks at length about the critical importance of social currency in achieving virality. And I’m in total agreement, completely buying into his premise that science can tell us all of the essential ingredients necessary for something to achieve virality.  But then he has to promise the impossible – the formula. And suddenly he’s made the leap from educator to snake oil salesman. Why? Because being a retroactive assessor of why something achieved virality is way different than predicting the right type and mix of ingredients necessary to achieve viral marketing nirvana.

This is why. And I’ll reference the article itself – which focuses on the viral success of the Please Don’t tell bar in NYC. The author talks about the bar's success and attributes it to the bar's effective use of social currency. But, in truth, we don’t know which currency being used by the bar –  location (neighborhood or site),  means of entry,  owners,  bartenders,  clientele,  whatever – has led to its viral marketing success. And that’s because each of those variables, plus countless others, are each their own sub-currency which, like actual money, has value in the viral marketplace. So maybe the owners have low value, but the neighborhood has high value. Or conversely, if its a celebrity-owned place, the owner's social value is high, but maybe its in a lousy area but that doesn't matter... And that is my point. We can identify THAT there are currencies which the market values, but which combination of currencies – well, I don’t believe that part can be predicted. And we know this simply because there are no shortage of speakeasies around the country trying, and failing, to trade on the edgy-underground-only-for-those-in-the-know social currency.

Which is to say, the book looks like a great examination of what makes something viral. And I'm looking forward to reading it for that reason. But please, please, don’t promise the formula – because, as any great chef will tell you – knowing the ingredients is a long way from knowing what to do with the ingredients.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!