Right now, the social internet is catching fire. The story that lit the fuse involves a company called Pricehound, and an outrageously inappropriate children’s dressing up kit.
In a little over seven hours, the website breaking the scandal has amassed over sixty thousand page views, while comments on social networks have been seen by millions. Out of nowhere, Pricehound is suddenly big news, and for all the wrong reasons.
What can social media marketers learn from that?
The fun thing is, of course, it’s all a big spoof, kicked off by the amazing (and, from personal experience, absolutely accurate) Buzzfeed post “The 29 Stages of a Twitterstorm“.
But it’s more than any old spoof. It verges on internet-as-interactive-performance-art.
Because, lo and behold, the characters from the story have started to crop up on Twitter, and interact with their audience for real. The Pricehound UK account (wonderfully, it’s staffed by an intern), and of course the hapless and unfortunately-named birdwatching enthusiast William Price-Hound.
All of a sudden, real people from Twitter are themselves taking on real roles in the drama. Caitlin Moran was quick to understand her position as the celebrity columnist fanning the flames, as outraged readers lined up to douse both Pricehound accounts with vitriol.
Others rushed to the defence of Price-Hound, offering support and explaining the situation to the fictional twitcher – then THEY got abused for defending him – and so on and so forth… until nobody was entirely sure who was playing along anymore, and who wasn’t.
It’s headspinning, brain-melting, nosebleed-inducing stuff. And Tom Phillips of Buzzfeed is currently the undisputed king of the internet. It just shows what can be done.
But anyway. I promised you five social media marketing lessons from Pricehound, and five lessons you shall have.
1. Attention to detail makes all the difference
One of the big reasons people have fallen so hard for the original Buzzfeed post is the sheer lengths Phillips and his cohorts have gone to. Every detail of every mocked-up screengrab is perfect and laden with beautifully-observed jokes. For those of us who know Twitter well, there are so many laughs it actually gets quite hard to read.
Tom Phillips tweeted: “The *normal* [Buzzfeed posts] take hours. This one took days. I now have the voices of about 27 different Twitterers in my head.”
Perfect content doesn’t come easy.
2. Think everything through in advance
The real bravura moment here is this: Buzzfeed *knew* what this post would do. By the time it went live, the fictional Twitter accounts were already up and running, with tweet history, and ready for business. The fictional retailer Pricehound UK had a real web address, and everything was tied in.
Likewise, the speed that supplementary Buzzfeed posts – referenced in the original – have started to appear make it pretty clear the follow-up was already stashed away up Buzzfeed’s sleeve, waiting for exactly the right moment.
3. It’s not about one channel anymore
Orchestration is everything. The original post to the Buzzfeed website was great. The Twitter response spread the word… but it was when the supplementary accounts started getting involved that the feeding frenzy really started.
That’s how it is with digital marketing these days: you have a whole orchestra of instruments at your disposal – it’s when you put them together that things get really powerful.
4. A bit of celebrity support never hurt anyone
Life mirrors art. Just as point 8 of the original post stated:
“Famous Twitter users with large followings start to retweet it. It has now reached a tipping point and cannot be stopped.”
So the likes of columnists and Twitter celebs getting their followers in on the joke is what really made the Pricehound gag work.
5. Some people will get it, some won’t
Never assume that, just because you’re following a joke or meme on Twitter, that everyone else understands it. Especially (as it turns out) when you’re jokingly calling someone a racist because they’re kindly defending an apparently innocuous birdwatcher (sorry).
The Pricehound stunt was made all the more beautiful and poignant because of the number of confused people who were caught into the crossfire, and drawn into the argument on all sides. It shows us how quickly people are apt to throw their opinions into the ring.
But that’s also a warning. Social media used to be a small place where unspoken references and in-jokes were the order of the day. That hasn’t been the case on Facebook for some time, and Twitter isn’t far behind. Sad I know, but it’s not safe to assume your witty overtone has been picked up.
So anyway. There you have it. Stage 23 predicted this post. And now it exists.