3 Reasons No One Is Helping Your Message Go Viral

Our carefully crafted messages go unnoticed too often. Here's how to get yours to gain traction on social media.
September 20, 2011

Before the Internet, we seemed to have it all down: find a great location that already had traffic, build a store or an office, fill it with products or services, then broadcast the opening to potential customers and let them know we're here and open for business.

And it worked then...before the Internet and social networking. Now, that great location—once somewhere like State and Main—is the front page of Google or every homepage of Facebook and getting customer attention more than buying prime real estate. It takes engagement and participation. The mechanics of spreading a message has moved from broadcast to social conversation. The quest has changed from telling people about us to getting people to share what we do.

Whether you work for yourself, for clients or for an employer, if your goal is to grow your business or a cause, getting the people who love what you do to spread your positive message is critical.

Getting traction takes more than picking up the new social tools while still following the old broadcast rules. So we put together an idea, a call to action. We add a perk or an attraction. We carry that to our social networks to find volunteers who will spread the news. And too often our carefully crafted, deeply meaningful messages go unnoticed.

Why does that happen?

The messages we send are vital to the causes we care about. Often they're urgent and crucial to the success of the campaigns that we're working on. Yet we need help. We need networks—our communities of colleagues and friends—to share our messages and hopefully to take them viral across the social Web.

The problem is that we see so much value in the "goodness" of what we're doing that we forget to pass that goodness on it with our request for help.

What drives social media and social business is the idea that people feel good about sharing good things with their friends. That people-centered, connecting nature of the social business culture can fuel business creation, brand awareness and marketing faster, easier and more meaningfully than ever before.

But we have to remember to include the people in the process.

If we forget the people, our request for help with our cause, our launch, our contest. etc. sounds selfish or transactional—if you do this, we'll do that. Either can leave folks wondering why they should use what little time they have to help.

Here are three reasons no one is helping your message go viral.

1. "Buy my stuff" broadcasts

Who does something just because someone asks? It would be frivolous. "Buy now" messages are everywhere and we're not doing our work if we think just saying "buy now," is enough. The lack of a compelling reason to act is enough to say "no." Who wants to pass more "buy my stuff" noise to our friends?

2. "Do this because we need you to"

Research shows that using "because" raises response rates. But "like me because I want you to" is a weak call to action in any venue or vertical. Profitable businesses and worthy nonprofits are suffering from this "do what I ask because I'm asking" distraction that the nonprofit world has coined the term, donor fatigue. We can't give our everything to everyone, can we? And you can't keep asking every week.

3. "I'm shameless to ask ..." messages

Asking for a favor is a friendship action. For real traction, the size of the ask should match the amount of trust in your relationship with the people you're asking. If you don't know me, get to know me first. If you feel shameless for asking, then don't ask. Saying you're shameless is asking me to be shameless with you. If we have a relationship of trust, you can tell me what you need. If I value you and your offer, I'll feel proud to pass it on to my friends.

All three of the described messages leave out what resonates and motivates true action—a human-to-human connection. These messages ask the receiver to choose between helping us and interrupting, nagging, possibly irritating their own network of friends. No one enjoys that pressure, and even with our best intentions, it's as likely to backfire as go viral.

No one can ensure a message will take off like wildfire with certainty. It's a combination of timing, connection, resonance and a perfect match to the audience. But if we craft our "ask" in ways that let people know how...

  • Little they need to do to make a huge difference.
  • Their difference will have meaning.
  • They'll feel good about sharing it with their friends.

If you want your message to get a chance at a long and viral run, make the call to action about the people you ask not about you or your cause.

How often do help and retweet requests that make you feel proud to pass them on?