Heath Evans is a marketing and communications strategist, innovator, entrepreneur and Coach.
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Stuff I write

What I learned from 882,479 Views from a snake wearing a top hat

It’s an intriguing title isn’t it, and I can assure you the experience was as bizarre as it sounds, but it shook up my thinking in a way I’m forever grateful for.

Many years ago I set a personal life goal to one day reach the front page of Reddit (a little odd, but we all have our dreams and I like my quirks).

My strategy was to post a piece of ‘content’ every day, focusing on different subreddits, with no deeper desire than just to see what sticks and gain a better understanding of this fascinating world.

Many marketers love to quote the 1996 essay by Bill Gates entitled “Content Is King” and present this as the magic key that will help you unlock the golden goose of ‘virality.’ (even writing that buzzword makes me want to smash the keyboard over my head.)

What, however, is so often lacking is that the strategy starts and finishes with the content. It doesn’t actually consider the context with which it will be consumed, and assumes that sharing it via the owned and rented channels of the organisation will simply make the magic happen.

This is rarely the case and is this reason that so many organisations are investing heavily in developing deeper insights to inform their customer journeys, to understand how, where, when and why consumers are engaging with content, recognising that content (like life) rarely travels in such a perfectly linear path.

It is for this reason I was fascinated to get a better understanding of the unusual world of Reddit.

It was July 30, 3014, that I came across this amusing image and titled it in the only way the only way I knew how: “It’s a snake wearing a top hat, need I say more.

I posted it across 3 subreddits — Earth PornFunny and of course SnakesWithHats (it still makes me laugh that this is even a subreddit).

What followed blew my mind. It was the same exact piece of content, yet the response was completely different. In theory you would think the content was at its most relevant and contextual for the SnakesWithHats group, but this was not where it generated the most engagement.

Over the next 24 hours, the image amassed an insane 882,443 views as it took on a life of it’s own, gathering hundreds of votes and comments on it’s way to the front page of the Funny subreddit.

So what was different? Why would the same content generate such a different response?

The answer to this is simple. The content evolved! (sounds like a plot line out of a Stephen King novel doesn’t it).

As reddit users began to engage with it, their comments became the content and morphed into a hilarious world of bad puns which took on a life of its own.

For those familiar with reddit you would realise that like other social networks, this increase in engagement, through comments and votes led to an increase in exposure and the snowball continued.

So what did I learn from this hissterical (pun intended) experience?

It’s a big world out there. If you think you’re fishing where the fish are by just dabbling around in Facebook and Instagram…think again. Just like fishing, why not have a few lines out of the back of the boat in case you land an absolute monster! The best fisherman know the best little fishing holes to target, but they also try something new every now and again to understand what’s out there in the big blue sea.

Be prepared. When I posted that photo I never dreamed it would be ‘the one’. Could I have capitalised on that traffic? Were there other opportunities that could have spawned from that moment? Of course there would have been, but I simply wasn’t expecting it. So make sure you’ve thought about what you’re going to do if you actually manage to land the big fish, because just like a boat, if you’re not well prepared, the size of this monster will sink your platform and you may never see that fish again!

Content, without context, is no longer king. Understanding your target audience and building content that considers the context with which they will engage with it is critical to its success. Marketers have access to deeper insights than ever before, so the ability to deliver contextually relevant content that addresses desires and alleviates pain-points in the moment of need can be so much more powerful than a high-production brand video. So many brands are trying to replicate the story-telling techniques of brands like Red Bull, but are missing the core fundamental role of content to actually add value to the lives of their consumers.

Who’s influencing the influencers? There’s few hotter topics at the moment that the influence of influencers. With the decentralisation of media channels and complete demise of organic reach, the rise of insta-celebs etc has seen brands engaging influencers to promote their products in the hope of renting their credibility and relevance to regain access to the eyeballs of consumers through their newsfeeds. For me this raises an interesting question…who’s influencing the influencers? When considering your customer journey this is an interesting next level to explore. Websites such as Reddit are a fertile ground for the latest trends and are used by many as an easy watering hole to grab fresh daily content. It’s worth considering..could they be grabbing your content?

Be targeted: If you’re in the business of creating hats for snakes I expect a cheque in the mail for sharing this gold with you. It seems so ridiculous that there’s a group for this, but it’s reflective of a modern digital environment where people are willing to self-identify to help build niche communities, knowing that aligning with people, pages, groups that share their interests will help deliver experiences that are likely to resonate with them. So find these groups, understand their pain-points, and see how you can add value to their lives.

As social networks (eg. Facebook) continue to serve the role of aggregator and moderator, to deliver a newfeed that is most relevant to the user, brands need to evolve their marketing strategies beyond a simple advertising mindset.

Producing ‘quality’ content and throwing an advertising budget behind it simply won’t cut it as more millennials continue to cut ads out of their lives. In a 2016 KPMG study, 60% of 16- to 24-year-olds were planning to implement ad blockers in the next six months.

So what’s the answer? It’s the same as it’s always been. Before you start building a product, a campaign, a business, a video, or anything else…consider…how is this going to add value to the lives of my target consumer? How am I going to make sure they can experience it when the time is right for them? This consumer-centric mindset is so often forgotten as brands become infatuated with their own ‘awesome’ content, but by starting with consumers at the core of your strategy it will provide a stark and critical reminder that ultimately it is consumers, not content, that are king!

Heath Evans