The Black Swan: prepare for the best

The Black Swan: prepare for the best

There’s no sure-fire way to make your content go viral – but you should be ready to take advantage if it happens.

It’s not enough to ask whether you are prepared to deal with failure; are you ready to deal with success?

In his book The Black Swan – widely credited with predicting the 2008 financial collapse – Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses society’s inability to deal with random events. He argues that because we predict the future by looking at what commonly happened in the past, we are vulnerable to disasters that are beyond the norm.

Taleb’s point is that we should build systems flexible enough to survive the unexpected. Marketers, too, need to put contingencies in place to deal with these ‘black swan’ events. Take the case of BP, which wasn’t ready to deal with the fallout following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill; the oil giant’s reputation is still tarnished years later because of its poorly-orchestrated response.

Compare that to Subway’s reaction to the recent damaging news about long-time US spokesman Jared Fogle. Even though he appeared in campaigns for the brand since 2000, the company immediately put well-organised damage control mechanisms into action when revelations emerged, and will probably avoid long-term damage.  

But preparing for disasters, then waiting for them to occur, can be depressing. What kind of pessimist only wants to look for the bad in the world? Why not also prepare for amazing, world-beating strokes of good luck?

Case in point – going viral. Why did Gangnam Style get 2 billion views on YouTube, and why did Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches video get 15 million downloads in its first week? Why didn’t some other, equally-deserving, K-pop star or multinational branding campaign get the attention? The truth is, chance sometimes picks the winners.

There’s no way to guarantee that people will take some clever tweet, advert or video you’ve painstakingly composed and share it with their friends. It’s a sad fact that some of what you do will be largely ignored or forgotten, no matter how good it is or how much you’ve invested in promoting it.

But what if you get that black swan moment and something you do captures the public imagination? Multitudes of potential customers could come pouring onto your website. You need to prepare if you want to capture the maximum amount of business. There will only be a brief window where you have people’s attention, and if you’re not prepared you could waste half the benefit of your lucky break.

What can you do to get ready?

  • If you’re consciously trying to create content that has a chance of going viral, have a strategy in place for how you will handle the results so that you can properly exploit any opportunity
  • Make sure your website is up to date. First impressions mean a lot, and you don’t want to drive people away with old-fashioned visuals or clunky web design. If it’s relevant, consider whether people can access your content via mobile
  • Equally, ensure the site is secure in case your content also draws the attention of fraudsters or hackers
  • Always be ready to respond immediately. The internet doesn’t wait, so you’ll want to prolong people’s interest for as long as possible with immediate, fresh and relevant content
  • Prepare to collect relevant data from your new visitors. Having a structure in place to help you understand the data – preferably one you are familiar with already – can help you to tailor any rapid response
  • Use the opportunity to make connections with key influencers that have commented on your campaign

While it’s good to prepare for the worst, you can prepare for the best as well – it’s relatively simple, and will pay dividends when fortune favours your business.

Rob Coston Reporter CPL
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