Attention: Virality needed! - Cendrine Marrouat Photography
The other day, as I was admiring an old building in Toulouse, my home town, I caught a conversation between two passersby.

"Did you see this video that got 2 million views in two days?"

"No, but I heard of it. I wish my videos were that famous."

"I don't understand, though. It wasn't even good stuff. It was kind of silly, even."

"Why isn't my song as successful as theirs?" 

That short exchange reminded me of a conversation in which I had taken part on Quora weeks before. A musician was looking for answers as to why his death metal track only had a few views, when "songs by nuts like 'One Direction' and 'Psy' have in the millions or billions of views."

All the people who took the time to listen to the tune agreed:

  • The lyrics were hard to understand and promoted violence
  • The audio quality was subpar
  • The chorus was everything but catchy

  • Don't get me wrong, death metal deserves its place in the music industry. I listened to it when I was a young adult and even attended a few concerts with friends. However, the number of people who listen to that genre is limited compared to fans of Psy and One Direction. And they also have specific tastes and expectations.

    The mistake we all make

    When we talk about virality, we often tend to compare apples and oranges. Seeing an image, video, book, or product get shared widely within a few hours or days makes us believe that it is the standard for every industry. Forget the niche, audience, and competition. All we focus on is the number of views.

    Psy's Gangnam Style has not been watched more than two billion times because it is an earth-shattering song. Whether we like it or not, its virality is due to its catchy tune, funny video, and easy dance moves. In a nutshell, it's entertaining, a little silly, and a few more things.

    "Tastemakers, creative participating communities, complete unexpectedness, these are characteristics of a new kind of media and a new kind of culture where anyone has access and the audience defines the popularity," says Kevin Allocca in the very interesting video below.

    Two legendary bands that did not have social media to make a splash

    If talent alone was the key to success, many would be millionaires by now.

    Before becoming two of the biggest bands in the world and history, Genesis and Abba spent countless hours in their studios rehearsing and recording music. Before audiences screamed their names in concert halls, they had to perform in front of smaller groups that barely knew them.

    Genesis' first album was a complete flop. Their big commercial break only came a decade later, when they decided to create more radio-friendly songs. As far as Abba is concerned, only fans know that the foursome had a life before Waterloo. The song that helped them win the 1974 Eurovision Contest is not on their first release (Ring Ring), but on their second. And each member had been involved in music years before coming together.

    Genesis and Abba paid their dues in more ways than one. They worked hard, studied the market, learnt from their mistakes, but made sure that their unique styles were preserved. That's why, years after splitting up, they continue selling albums. Their music is celebrated by tribute bands on the five continents.

    Shifting focus from numbers to people

    Let me put it bluntly: Mainstream virality is a trap. The likelihood of it happening for your business or product is close to zero...

    ...Unless you understand what your audience needs, how they think, and what makes them tick. You cannot build a business on guesswork.

    Likes, views, and shares are nice. But what happens after your audience has taken action? What do you do to acknowledge and entice them to continue supporting you?

    "Make it your goal to build relationships, not just collect people or followers" - Rebekah Radice

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