Special Guest Editorial by Azeem Khan @AZ33MKHAN
So, anyone who’s anyone in hip hop knows that there’s a huge beef going on right now between Drake and Meek Mill. Even people who know nothing about hip hop have been talking about it. It all started out of nowhere when one evening Meek Mill started tweeting some serious claims about Drake not writing his own songs. A few days later the 6 God dropped a song called “Charged Up” as a jabbing diss towards the Philly rapper. This being the most exciting time in hip hop music in years, fans started anticipating that Meek Mill would be releasing a track very soon. That’s when Funk Master Flex of Hot 97 stepped in saying that he had the record, and would be playing it in two days. He wanted everyone to tune his show at 7pm that Monday. The time came and went without the diss record, and the entire Internet wanted to burn down the building of Hot 97 that evening. Understanding the moment I decided to capitalize on starting a petition through change.org calling for the resignation of Funk Flex for lying to the fans.
Change is a website where people can independently go to create petitions for things they believe strongly in. There are tons of real world examples with people using them to try to do something for the greater good. One of the more recent examples of a petition that viral was one to ask for the resignation of Ellen Pao who was the CEO of Reddit at the time. The userbase of Reddit hated her, and was blaming her for many of the things going wrong with their beloved website at the time. It garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures, and she actually ended up resigning soon after. Well, I thought it would be funny to do something similar in asking for the resignation of Funk Flex because it was evident the entirety of hip hop was angry at him in the same way. I went on the website, create a petition, tweeted it out, and within an hour had almost a thousand signatures. Complex had written about it right away, and other outlets started contacting me nonstop the rest of the night. Within three days I had gotten press mentions in every single major hip hop publication, briefly gotten it trending on Twitter, Funk Flex mentioned it on air, a mention in the Washington Post, and over 10,000 signatures.
Understanding what I was able to do with my petition called for a case study. What was it that allowed something I made in my bedroom while in my pajamas something that people all over the world were interested in reading, signing, and sharing? We have all seen the concept of virality in action, but I was finally behind creating something viral. Since the day it launched I’ve been trying to pick apart what it really was that allowed me to do this. Maybe if I understood what I did there I would be able to recreate it?
Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. It breaks down the steps of virality from an academic perspective to try to explain why things like this happen. Below I try to break down the steps for those of you who might be interested into six steps that I think allowed the Funk Flex petition go viral.
Social Currency – For an idea to be sharable it needs to have social currency. Another way to say it is that it has to make us look good to those around us. Information that makes the subscriber feel good, or look good by passing it along will be much more successful. At this time on the Internet, people had been tuned into Hot 97 for almost three hours, and they felt like they had been duped. Starting a petition to have Funk Flex step down was something everyone thought was funny, and would be great to share, especially at a moment like that.
Triggers – A trigger is something that is easy to remember about a product or idea, which helps to ensure it stays on the top of the mind. This may be one of the most important parts of virality. It’s hard to say exactly what was the trigger here because there were a couple of them. The strongest one had to be the website, and ability to sign the petition itself. There was an action that could be done to voice themselves so more people did it.
Emotion – Messages with an emotional component are more likely to be shared than ones without. This is simple enough, and I don’t have to explain it to you. Everyone was angry at this point so the idea of sharing it was just an impulsive reaction to how strongly they felt about Funk Flex at the time. The vitriol on Twitter couldn’t have been more palpable. My timing was perfect because if this had been before or after the event when emotion had died down then it could have never worked. This was likely the strongest of the factors.
Public – When something is built to show then it is built to grow. Having the content be something that is worth sharing to the public is a great step in creating virality. This petition was simple on the Internet, and was being passed around by everyone. It also tells you how many votes there were, and with that number ever increasing that evening, it made it even more public. People just kept refreshing the page to see how much the numbers had gone up.
Practice Value – If something isn’t relevant then it makes it very hard to get it to go viral. You should always be looking at the practical value of what you are offering your audience. In this instance, people were voicing their dissent with Funk Flex and Hot 97, and how they thought that it could really materialize into having him step down. If it did indeed work then the people would have gained what they considered serious practical value.
Stories – There is a rich history of telling stories among humans. The best stories get passed down from generation to generation. It’s almost as much a part of the human experience as eating food or needing sleep. The story here was as compelling as could be. Funk Flex promised that we would be giving a record on a certain day, and it didn’t happen. Not only that, this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened before. There were many instances of it. So the idea of trying to get him to leave the station because of this, and then the fact the petition was going viral made for a story everyone wanted to share. It was fun being part of the joke that was going on.
In the end Funk Flex didn’t end up stepping down, and I haven’t been killed yet even though many people told me there’s probably a price on my head. It’s also possible that I’ve been blackballed by certain people for doing it, but I haven’t seen any evidence of that yet either. Hopefully it wasn’t taken too personally, but you never know. When he mentioned the petition on air he said that he respected it, and understood the people were upset. Regardless, it was an interesting to be involved in something like this because studying it from the inside looking out for once was a really valuable experience that I won’t ever lose.
The steps outlined above will help you add structure to marketing things. None of this is to say that using these steps can guarantee something will go viral. Much of has to do with the right time and place. And even has an added dose of necessary luck that needs to be involved, which you can’t plan for. That doesn’t mean that you can’t prepare yourself in some fashion though using the steps. If you’re interested in checking out the book itself then make sure to pick up a copy on Amazon.
Make sure to reach out to let me know if you have any thoughts. Maybe you thought about some other things that really helped with creating the petition’s growth that I didn’t think of. Just reach out to me by email or on social media, and I’ll get back to you!
Azeem is a 26-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim living in Brooklyn, NY. He graduated from Boston University in 2010 with a, B.A in Biology, and from Boston University in 2012 with an M.A in Medical Sciences. He is a currently a freelance business development consultant for startups. Follow him at @AZ33MKHAN