Friday, August 14, 2009

The NHS: A case of viral love, belief and the enemy

Much time, effort and money is spent on 'making things go viral' - often without making much beyond a ripple on the web's vast ocean.
And that's ok. Really useful things - things that are a really good fit, are a fit for long-tail-like-low numbers by virtue of their true relevance to those who find them useful.

But many a marketing director still dreams of the kind of mass numbers of mass broadcast.
They want their mass cake and eat their niche one too.

The envious eyes hungrily watched the growth of #welovethenhs on Twitter.

They saw it grow so fast it crashed Twitter, attracted Prime Minister Gordon Brown to join in (and his PR savvy wife Sarah) and... finally the mainstream press ran another story about Twitter. Lots.

(By the way, how did the BBC arrive at the claim 'The Twitter campaign has attracted more than a million followers ' - that's not a stat that's publicly available as far as I know.)

An aside on that: This very regular transfer of twittered tales to mainstream media is all a little odd.

1. It seems wise enough of the press to report on how people are talking about stuff. Before social media journalists did vox pops or listened in pubs. We (us people, not them journos) always were the content. But back then we weren't publishers or distributors. Social media allows us to fulfill all three roles now. Which I guess is why the press reporting what we had already thought, published and distributed makes them seem a little like the proverbial spare apendage at a house of ill-repute...

2. Reporting that people are organising to show how much they are prepared to fight to defend the NHS is a huge story politically. Yet the press continues to report on the tools (Twitter) rather than the action. Like I keep saying, we're trying to change the world - not report on it.

Anyway. Back to the matter in hand. Why did #welovethenhs grow so fast and wide?

Here are my best guesses. Feel free to add your own to the comments.

1. It was NOT directed from the centre.
This is no Government-organised PR stunt. As far as I can work out some graduates in Edinburgh started the ball rolling (update: Dan at Twibbon, started the twibbon - which is going wildy well - comment from him below. He also tells me the instigator of the hashtag is Graham Linehan, best known as the writer of Father Ted.

2. It is a belief which people can share, rally to and advocate.

3. It is a belief that was there already. The #welovethenhs became a tool those who shared the belief could use to find one another.

4. It's emotional. So are we. One tweet I saw summed it up. 'everyone has someone in their family who owes their life to the NHS'.

5. Someone threatened the thing we all believe in. Hello Sarah Palin and the American right. Her description of the NHS as evil not only revealed how slippery her grasp on reality must be, it got our backs up - making us more ready to act.

6. The tools were easy to use and perfectly adapted for peer to peer transmission in the wonderfully viral conditions of Twitter. ie twitter's hashtags and trends.

7. Influencers got a simple way of wearing a badge to support the campaign in every conversation they had - the simple but effective twibbon.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?