On Monday I posted for the first time in a while.
It was about a small weekend news item – Benedict Cumberbatch and his paparazzi stunt.
It had an amazing effect: by 11 the blog had received 4x the traffic it normally gets in a week, and by 2 this was 10x.
Things are back to normal now, but the post accounts for more than 10% of the blog’s total lifetime traffic (about 3 years).
Anomalies like this are interesting, and useful for a strategist working in digital and social communications.
I love real-life examples that provide useful lessons, and when it happens to you directly, it feels very real-life indeed.I rarely write stuff that taps into topical news.
But brands can and should if they want to find their place in culture.
Mentioning my experience on social media, someone asked me what I’d learned. It seemed only appropriate to turn it into a quick turnaround blog post.
  1. Be prepared for an audience you don’t expect. This wasn’t the usual marketing crowd. This was Cumberbatch fans and devotees who must pick up on anything that moves in Cumberbatch-world. Perhaps build-it-they-will-come can work sometimes after all, with the right community and the right content.
  2. It’s not always the most thought-out (or best-written) stuff that takes off. Some stuff I write can take weeks. This I wrote in about 15 minutes. Salience (that unique mix of timeliness and relevance) was the determining factor here. Being well-written might mean they’ll finish it, but it’s not going to be the thing that makes people share it.
  3. Monday morning is a good time to capitalise on a weekend event, it seems. This was a Sunday news item. People are back to work on Monday and -perhaps – talking about what went on at the weekend. Or they’re bored at work and trawling the places they usually like to waste their time. Whether it’s proximity or just the right context, there’s usually an optimum time for most content.
  4. Provide a different point of view – don’t merely report what others have said. All I did was see in a real-world event something that validated some things I believe about marketing, and have already written about before. But it was a fresh example and I enjoyed developing a lateral take I didn’t think many others would bother with. Brands should respond to culture like this. It doesn’t have to be a mention of the brand that kicks off a conversation. Nor does it have to be a drowned-out royal baby thing nice months in the making. Just tune in and spot the moments that bring your brand to life, rather than associate with things merely because they’re topical.
  5. Tap into narrow but deep passions. Popular topics might get you broadcast relevance, but they can be shallow and short-lived (that there royal baby again). Cumberbatch, because to many he’s essentially Sherlock Holmes, or he’s a Star Trek villain, or simply pale and interesting, isn’t exactly Brad Pitt but boy do people LOVE HIM. They’re on the look-out for stuff that helps them manifest their love. Giving them something that basically let’s them say ‘look at this, therefore look at me’ lets them feel king of the hill for five seconds.
  6. Be nice, but take sides. Everyone provided positive recommendations when they linked to the post. I presume because it was felt the article was on ‘their’ side. I wasn’t taking down their hero. I was taking down the people they presume their hero thinks of as the enemy. If I’d been more balanced and made it a dry discussion of the rights and wrongs of what happened I don’t think it would have had the same traction.
  7. Don’t under-estimate people’s passion. This is something we say a lot, but it sure resonates when you see lots of people, in quick succession, with online identities apparently dedicated to someone they’ve never met. These are people intent on tracking and curating a man’s life. I’m not passing judgement, but it’s overwhelming when all you did was see someone as a potential metaphor for ideas you’ve trotted out many times before. SOme fandom is life-consuming.
  8. Stuff travels everywhere. Communities spring up wherever they please. Again, we know this, but planning for it is difficult. I published the post, and tweeted the link once. This is what I always do. Within a couple of hours I was linked to from Twitter, Facebook, IMDB forums, and various Tumblrs. If I was a brand I’d be asking myself how to make the most of these new contacts. They’re not relationships yet.
  9. It’s possible to linkbait unintentionally. I got a couple of joking accusations in the office. Only then did I realise what it might look like. As the traffic spike itself showed, what you’re being seen to be doing may be different from you intend to be doing, so be careful. I’m not going to be overdoing it – topicality can look cheap unless what you’re talking about is inherent to you.

None of this is universal or definitive, but it’s reminded me of the value of experiencing these things for yourself.

Getting stuck in, I think, helps you become a better practitioner

I know bloggers from other agencies have experienced similar spikes when they’ve done something similar.

I’d be interested to hear what people have learned from what happened to them.

Thanks to Jeremy Hill for forcing me to think a bit about this.