4 min read

How To Go Viral In 140 Characters Or Less

For businesses, short status updates have turned into the quickest and most efficient means to reach customers and if those updates go viral you can attract throngs of followers.

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Feature stories on daily news broadcasts no longer "break" news as they did before the Internet became widely accessible. Today, live updates, direct feeds, and micro-blogging are now at the forefront of news and information trading, relegating postage meters, land-line telephones, and network news broadcast to the dustbin of information transmission technology.

The insatiable demand for information has skyrocketed in the 21st century and some nuggets of information spread like wildfire with videos, blogs, and even pictures going viral at faster and faster rates. The "now mentality" has moved from early adopters to mainstream and our entire culture now depends on the Internet for the latest updates on every subject imaginable.

Some recent events illustrate just how the speed of the viral effect: When Conan O'Brien decided - at random - to follow 19-year-old Sarah Killen on Twitter (@LovelyButton), it turned into a media storm as the young woman attracted more than 13,000 followers in just a few days and is now approaching 30,000.

O'Brien's stunt had happy ending for Killen and her fianc; they received free limousine service, wedding bands, and even catered wine for their September wedding from businesses who had heard about her.

The viral effect isn't limited to entertainers; it has spread to politics as well. In fact, Barack Obama is often cited as one of the catalysts for the social media boom in both business as well as government -- he was the first high-profile politician to actively embrace online communication.

With Obama famously Tweeting and YouTubing during his campaign and through the first year of his Presidency, there's been a trickledown effect within the Beltway. Now John McCain, who shuttered his social media efforts after losing the 2008 race, is one of many politicians using microblogging to get his message out.

Much of microbloggings' popularity is that while short, the posts allow for a much more focused public statement than an entire blog or article would. They give readers headlines and sound bites without any in-depth content.

Another sign of Twitter's reach is that Google has started listing relevant Twitter posts with search results.

Celebrities may have kick-started microblogging craze when they began communicating with fans using Twitter and Facebook updates. The updates allowed people to connect with their idols in real time and, at least in theory, make opinions heard by celebrities.

With Twitter maxing out at 140 characters and Facebook and Buzz not offering much more space, attention spans are narrowing fast. The size of the post doesn't matter - in fact, the brevity seems to make the viral effect even more rapid, because engaging with the content is almost instantaneous.

For businesses, short status updates have turned into the quickest and most efficient means to reach customers. Dedicated Web sites, fan pages, and even digital newsletters require active subscriptions as well as flowing Internet traffic to be effective. The short excerpts and updates on social media sites are at least easily accessible to an audience that seems to have developed a need for speed.

Product updates, new company acquisitions, and even press releases have a better chance of reaching the public if they're broadcast virally over the Internet. If news outlets can be compared to the online phenomenon, then traditional articles are now the 6 o'clock news, and short blogs are the news crawl (or ticker) at the bottom of the television screen, promising even more up-to-date information.

Social media updates are even being used as evidence in court, with numerous cases showing Facebook users being sued for sending insulting messages, as well as professional athletes being suspended for posting inappropriately to their personal Twitter accounts.

While it may be hard to imagine that just a few years ago, the hardest part of entering the current digital age was in convincing businesses that they needed a Web site, it has become rather clear at this point that micro-blogging is at the very least the next step forward.

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David Liu is a writer and comedian based in San Diego, CA. He writes extensively for Resource Nation, an online resource that provides expert advice on purchasing and outsourcing decisions for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

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