Behind the scenes in a virus – some observations on kulula and Santam

Last week was pretty interesting in King James and Society with first kulula and then Santam going supernova online. (Disclaimer: We were very involved in the former and only a very little in the latter campaign so these are just observations from my perspective – Dan).

Behind the scenes in a virus

To give you an idea of the scale of things:

kulula’s Fourth Wife Flies Free was released (initially via a press release issued by Atmosphere) on a Friday PM and had been picked up the news wire SAPA/AFP within 45 minutes. By the time we got home there was early coverage on websites as far as the Malaysia and Twitter was abuzz. Since then its been covered by most major news outlets in SA and globally has hit Good Morning America, USA Today, Fox News, New York Post, Huffington Post and Daily Mail amongst many other places.

In the other example Santam’s response to Nando’s spoof of their ad trended on Twitter in SA within an hour of being released and stayed amongst the top stories for the next few days. It also attracted substantial media coverage almost immediately. The YouTube clip was viewed 186,000+ times.

These are our observations on what went down and what it means:

- Things move very, very quickly. Once released both stories spread uncontrollably at a very rapid rate. The story of course totally ignore normal office hours… (what used to take days that then took hours now takes minutes)

- Everyone involved (agency, client, partner agencies) need to move very quickly to spot opportunities and release content before the story moves on. It’s easy for anyone that’s stuck in 24 hour approval periods and normal working processes to get left behind (and become irrelevant). Santam is a good example of the story changing rapidly as it mutated as different parties reacted.

- What goes viral is the idea, the content (ads, video, press releases) just give people tools to package and share the idea in different ways. You can’t say either campaign was an ad or social or viral. It was all of this and something else that’s more hard to define. Consumers may not interact with all of the content: they may just see one piece or they may bounce between several pieces (even just a tweet for example).

- Twitter was really the engine of viral spread, many media and bloggers etc picked the stories up from the massive amount of tweets and as more media broke more articles were shared creating a snowball effect. There is a close link between traditional journalists and viral buzz as each “traditional” media hit resulted in a flurry of social sharing.

- One of the first steps was thinking of people that could most effectively get this snowball rolling and giving them the tools to tell the story in their own way (e.g. put the ad on youtube before it was aired in Santam’s case).

- In the case of kulula events forced us into releasing the story on a Friday afternoon (pretty much suicide in PR 1.0 times) but because of the speed of online coverage this didn’t hold back the story at all which peaked over the weekend and was dying down by the start of the next week.

- Facebook probably had a more under the radar spread which is harder to track via sharing on personal pages (although we tracked plenty of activity on the kulula page I suspect only a small part of the activities audience ended up there).

- In both cases traditional advertising space was booked but used 24 – 48 hour after the story launched. These had relatively low reach (for TV/Print campaigns) but the act of booking media space gives a credibility to the activity that a purely online response maybe lacks (the ads act as a public statement and commitment to the story).