When was the last time you saw something tear through the internet like the ALS ice bucket challenge?
If you compare the “7-day Black and White Challenge” that limped across social media last year, you’ll notice right away that something seems different. Unlike viral sensations of the past like Grumpy Cat or Gangnam Style, the so-called “Black and White Challenge” came and went with a resounding “meh” from the internet. Those who took part did so because they were bored, not because they felt peer pressure to do so.
So what happened?
Why is social media looking more and more like traditional media?
The answer lies in the same medical metaphor that kicked the whole “going viral” thing off in the first place: web users are becoming “immune” to the odd, weird, bizarre and compelling.
It’s interesting that while social media has pulled us away from the constant barrage of messages and marketing on our televisions, radios and newspapers, it has actually multiplied the number of stimuli we are exposed to.
We used to watch TV at home in the evening. (Side note: anybody remember those salisbury steak TV dinners? How did they get them to taste like a doorstop covered in tomato soup?) Now, we keep an eye on Twitter or Snapchat all day long.
Our new routine is to be connected constantly, and just like all of the healthcare professionals in my family, users have developed an immune system that looks like Kristaps Porzingis, gleefully swatting obnoxious memes into the second row of Madison Square Garden. Welcome to Internet Herd Immunity, wherein we are still influenced by good messaging, but rarely feel obligated to infect others with it.
What does this mean for everybody trying to stand out online?
It means your content needs to have value in and of itself, because receiving “endorsements” from your target audience is much more challenging. Once the “newness” of radio, TV and color TV wore off, few people raced to their friends to spread the word about a fantastic commercial they just heard or saw. Only good, memorable, meaningful content earned that kind of word of mouth, and the same is true online today.
I’m sure we’ll see a viral sensation sweep the web in the future now and then, but we may be beyond the smallpox-level of contagiousness incited by ideas like that silly blue and black dress or “innovative” products like Poo-Pourri.
If branding experts are going to make the world sick, we’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: persistence and hard work.
At least for now. Someday, some new media vehicle will come along (direct-to-brain marketing, anyone?), and I’ll be on board for sure. Until then, we can’t rely on the medium to do our work for us (sorry, Marshall McLuhan).