The Bone-Ellsworth Effect of Viral Content

Want to go viral? Stop trying so hard.

On Sunday night October 9, the second Presidential Debate was held town hall style featuring candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Without getting political, I think it’s safe to say the two candidates are among the most recognizable figures in the entire world.

But it was an unassuming man wearing a stylish red IZOD sweater that had people talking when the debate was over…and that man is Kenneth Bone. Bone, a St. Louis area native, posed a question to the candidates about smart energy policy related to jobs. The question drew rave reviews from former President Bill Clinton after the debate as he was seen on camera complimenting Bone for his question, followed by an authentic handshake between the two. American TV viewers raved, as well..

Seemingly almost immediately, Bone was an Internet sensation. He was the subject of memes, hashtags and within days had already spawned his own Halloween costume (complete with mustache!) His seemingly earnest question and low key approach turned him into a star. By his own admission in various news interviews after the debate, Bone stated that he had only 7 Twitter followers before the debate. And two of them were his own grandma who had to create a second account when she forgot her password! By Wednesday, less than 72 hours after the debate…he had over 177,000 followers!

That’s what going viral looks like.

In the realm of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the same thing has been happening for months with a performer named James Ellsworth. Ellsworth, much like Bone, has a unique look, an earnest approach and feels authentic. If you looked at Ellsworth next to the other superstars in the WWE, you’d think he was their Uber driver on their way to the arena. But within moments following his first appearance on Monday Night Raw he had become an Internet sensation as well, with fans calling for him to become a WWE superstar despite the fact he doesn’t look at all what you’d imagine a pro wrestler looks like.

But there was something about the Baltimore native that struck a chord with the hard-to-please WWE Universe and he’s become a semi-regular performer on their main talent roster in subsequent months.

That’s also what going viral looks like.

So what can your business learn from the stories of Kenneth Bone and James Ellsworth?

Stop trying so hard to create content that goes viral for your brand’s social media. We hear this phrase so often: “We want to create content that goes viral.”

That’s a simple statement and it’s also very reasonable to want your content to resonate with your audience. But trying too hard is obvious to most social media users and has become a turn-off for your potential followers, customers and fans. People can detect authenticity in marketing and advertising. Going viral simply isn’t something you can really try to do.

You know the friend at the party who’s trying so hard to be the center of attention while everyone else rolls their eyes? That’s what your social channels look like when you’re trying so hard to create viral content. Whether it’s excessive volume, a lack of strategy or just pandering content that rings inauthentic, your audience can tell.

So if you want viral content for your brand…the solution is simple. Stop trying so hard.