“Networked literacies are marked by your participation as a peer in these flows and networks — you contribute to them and in turn can share what others provide.”
Miles, Adrian. “Network Literacy: The New Path to Knowledge.” Screen Education Autumn.45 (2007): 24–30.
Media as we know it is constantly changing in its form and usage, as are the ways it is hence developed to spread and share information on a significantly universal scale. An increasing trend can be seen in the way new electronic media is being used as it is implemented into our lives in more integrated and consistent ways, meaning that strategy has now become of importance to content creators in considering the tendency of people to share content online, presenting them with the opportunity to manipulate or conform to trends in order to popularise their work and ideas.
This concept is known broadly as ‘viral marketing’, however it is not always so successful in a marketing sense as it is in its ability to spread the work of online content producers to an increasingly large audience of people. As K Plangger and AJ Mills state in their editorial piece Viral media & marketing: strategy, policy and exploitation (2013), “Viral marketing describes marketing strategies, tactics and processes aimed at encouraging the spread of branded content through consumers’ social networks. Not all marketing content will go viral, and not all content that goes viral is brand-related…” I feel that having an understanding of the trending topics and styles of various social-based networks will be a crucial part of being successful in the future media industry, whether it be as a revenue raising tactic or as a way to spread the word and to advertise more traditional media-based products such as films. As A. Friedman states in her article Going Viral (2014), “Social media channels provide content creators with relatively easy and inexpensive access to an audience of, potentially, millions.” Because of this, I am of the belief that to stay afloat in a media landscape that holds this capability, one must learn how to access that potential audience.
In terms of why viral marketing is such a successful way of spreading information to a specifically receptive audience, Plangger and Mills continue to state that “our digital worlds mostly mirror our offline experiences. We tend to use the internet to find people who are like us, and we talk to them about stuff we’re already interested in.” This could be a huge part of understanding how things spread on the internet, as people tend to trust their friends more than they trust the media as a stand-alone entity, and so knowing how to get people to relate to and to then share your content will be ever more important as the media progresses. In YouTube partner Benjamin Cook’s video TomSka on asdfmovie! | BECOMING YOUTUBE XXXTRA, fellow YouTube partner Thomas Ridgewell is interviewed regarding his expertise as a viral video creator and the knowledge that is required to create something with the intention and a likeliness of it going viral:
He explains that making a video relatable is important when aiming for such mass reception through the sharing of your content, something that E. Botha and M. Reyneke also comment on in their article To Share Or Not To Share: The Role of Content and Emotion in Viral Marketing (2013), where they propose that the various emotions which are associated with content are key to understanding why individuals choose to share certain material.
Sticking with the case-study of YouTube, it’s interesting to note that in a list that appeared on top10for.com of the ten, highest paid YouTubers of 2014, Toby Turner (better known as online alias Tobuscus) – a self-proclaimed viral marketer who companies can actually pay or endorse to create videos and campaigns for their products – is listed in tenth place, whereas video game commentator Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg (better known as online alias PewDiePie) – who has in various videos commented on his accidental rise to fame and unplanned popularity – is listed in first.
What does this then say about one’s ability to intentionally create viral content?
Of course, Toby does still have a net worth of 2.18 million dollars, a considerable amount of money! However, Felix has gained a net worth of 8.47 million dollars, despite how unintentional this revenue stream may have been. Why Felix then? With all these facts lined up as to how to make something viral, surely experts such as Toby should be on top in this respect?
Then again, this doesn’t put a lot of thought into audience participation, or the logistics of viral marketing.
Firstly, many viral campaigns – particularly those of Toby Turner – can be quite transparent in their intentions, such as the video “viral song”:
Or his advertisement for Hot Pockets:
These might be fun as stand alone videos, however they may not be the kind of thing that attracts a fan base as opposed to a viewership. More people subscribe to PewDiePie because his content is familiar, caters for a particular audience (those interested in gaming) and is consistent where Tobuscus is not. However, it is important to note that Toby would also be getting paid by the companies endorsing him, and so he may not be losing out here. It all depends on the aim: revenue from paid advertisement in the videos, or revenue from a larger fan base.
Although right now these two options may equal out, as someone looking to go into the media industry I believe that the fan base is the future, and to explain why I think this, I’m going to move away from YouTube and jump into the world of Tumblr. *
Tumblr is a blogging website, which despite catering for any and all interests as a user-based platform, has gained a reputation for its use by various fan bases through the sheer amount of “fandom” blogs present on the site. This is where understanding audiences can be important, as on Tumblr, it only takes one person to rave on about a show or film or piece of media before it is blowing up and reaching more and more people on an exponential scale. As Max Sebela, a creative strategist at Tumblr, states as a part of A Carlson’s article America’s Most Popular Podcast: What The Internet Did To “Welcome to Night Vale” (2013), “It really comes down to the right person posting about something, being the first to expose their network to it… And if you can get up to date really quickly, it’s easy for everyone to establish a hive mind around something and just start gushing about it.”
The monthly podcast Welcome to Night Vale, created and written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Crano, owes a lot of its success to the site. The podcast itself is free to listen to and relies heavily on public donations to continue production, however with the huge fan base it has accumulated, there is no issue getting the funds that are needed. In fact, the large numbers of people listening to and supporting the show have led to merchandise being created and sold, and even to the appearance of live shows. In talking about Welcome to Night Vale and its relation to Tumblr, Sebela stated that the fandom began to “spiral out of control” around July 5th, where within seven days there “were 20,000-plus posts about ‘Night Vale,’ with 183,000-plus individual blogs participating in the conversation, and 680,000-plus notes.” (2013)
“It took us about a week to figure out that it was just somehow we had exploded on Tumblr and we don’t know why or how that happened,” stated Fink in response to the podcast reaching no. one on the iTunes charts, fellow writer/creator Cranor stating that “What I see mostly are people talking to each other and people saying, ‘Thanks so-and-so for introducing me to this… Or the other one I see a lot of is, ‘What is this shit all over my Tumblr?’” (A Carlson 2013)
From this I feel as though the power of the audience – and more specifically the network literate fan – will override the power of sponsorship and endorsement in the future, as they will on their own be able to support a project once it has their attention, as well as be satisfactory as a media product’s sole source of advertising, taking viral marketing to a more personal, word-of-mouth level.
Even if micro-blogging sites such as Tumblr begin to die out as new media evolves and technology progresses, I feel as though fan bases and the audience’s presence online will be one of the most important things to keep knowledgable about as someone moving in to the media industry in the near future, and that by following trends and understanding how, what and why people share content and to whom they share it, I will be half-way there to becoming a successful media practitioner.
* I am aware that as someone going into the future media landscape, it is important to consider a wider scope of websites and the range of social networks that exist, and in particular the possibility of platforms that do not even exist yet. However, for the purpose of my arguments, I have chosen to stick to a more case-study basis, hence the focus on a site that caters for production-based media (YouTube) and one that caters for social micro-blogging (Tumblr). I feel that these are two diverse sites and hence lend a lot to my discussion, but I do not wish to discredit the diverse media landscape that exists, and am aware that there is more to this argument than these two sole websites.