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ROFLcon II: notes from Jonah Peretti's Mullets Mormons and Maniacs

Last posted May 04, 2010 at 11:06AM EDT. Added May 03, 2010 at 02:03PM EDT
7 conversations with 6 participants

Jonah Peretti created a number of virally popular websites a few years back, including Crying While Eating, Black People Love Us, and The Rejection Line prior to starting the hugely successful Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post. Some of us also know Jonah as a board member of F.A.T. Lab.

On Saturday, Jonah gave a presentation called “Mormons, Mullets, and Maniacs” detailing a number of reasons why content goes viral. The most refreshing part about his presentation (and most others I saw) was how he wasn’t trying to sell people on his ideas. There was zero social-media-douchebaggery in his tone.

He raised a lot of interesting points in his presentation, so I thought I’d post the notes that I took. This isn’t a complete summary, but it’s what I took away from it.

The Big Question: How can you spread your ideas and make them “go viral?”

MANIACS: Content is more viral if it helps people to express their personality disorders. This isn’t to say that we need to prey on real disorders, they’re just used to refer to behaviors present in us all at some level.

NARCISSISM: Media is more viral when it is ego-gratifying for the consumer. Elf Yourself, Avatar-Me, and other simple vanity tools appeal strongly to one’s ego.

This tweet was retweeted thousands of times because of it’s ego-gratification: “Twitter is a simple service for smart people, Facebook is a smart service for simple people.” When people read this, the message they receive is “I’m a smart person because I’m reading this on Twitter. I’ll share this and everyone else who shares it also gets to feel clever.”

JEWS VS. MORMONS: Judaism is a high-quality religion, but it has not grown significantly in comparison to how Mormonism has. Mormonism is a younger religion, but evangelism is one of the core features. Mormons want you to also be a Mormon. This is why Mormonism has grown so quickly.

THE NETWORK DECIDES WHAT GOES VIRAL: It’s less about the existence of certain groups of influential people, and more about the interconnectedness of a network structure.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” the success of Hushpuppies is credited to hipsters. Because “the cool kids” were wearing them, Gladwell suggests that everyone else took their cue from them. But the practice of crediting a meme’s spread to its source isn’t enough. It’s not all about the influencers, or even the quality of the content.

Instead, contagious media has three key features:

  • It’s easy to understand
  • It’s easy to share
  • It contains a social imperative.

easy to understand
Weegee isn’t as popular as lolcats because in order to appreciate the meme, one has to understand the context. Lolcats require very little prior knowledge in order to appreciate them.

easy to share
Digg, Reddit, the “Like” button, all of these things make it extremely easy to share.

social imperative
Is there a social reason to share the content? Will it make people laugh? Will it make people angry enough to join a crusade? Why will people WANT to share it?

People say “The internet is for porn” but porn is not viral. This is because the behavior of searching for content is entirely different from the behavior of sharing content. Even if people seek out porn, most will not be motivated to share it. For most people, there is no social reason to share porn. This means you can’t expect your content to go viral simply because it contains sexual imagery. If it’s sexy, it still needs to be funny and/or clever in order for people to be motivated to share it.

And here’s the most important phrase from his entire presentation that I wish EVERY know your meme user would put into practice in the creation of their meme submissions:

Focus on the mechanics of how an idea spreads, not the idea itself.

May 03, 2010 at 02:03PM EDT

Thanks for putting this together. Really, Jonah is one of the few people that knows how-to give a quality talk about viral media without bullshitting and marketing crap.

May 03, 2010 at 03:30PM EDT

Jonah is one of the few people that knows how-to give a quality talk about viral media without bullshitting and marketing crap.

major +1

May 03, 2010 at 04:55PM EDT

Thanks Chris! Great write up.

Last edited May 06, 2010 at 07:05PM EDT
May 03, 2010 at 07:31PM EDT

I want to jump on that ROFLcon subject and everything.
Thuzadian posted a link to the following article on the IRC:

I think it’s interesting to read this view of the event and I’d like to have some of your thoughts about it, if you will.

May 04, 2010 at 03:10AM EDT

To be honest, there were some panels that were snoozers. I walked out of a couple after getting bored, and then checked out other panels. Sometimes there were 4 presentations going on at different times, so if the one you were seeing wasn’t your taste, there was something else to see.

Too often the tone was, “turn your snarky web site into a book--or even a TV show!”

Interesting, that’s not the tone I heard at all. When I attended the panel, “BiG SRS BSNS: Internet Culture, Books, and TV” it seemed more like the panelists were relaying the message that the blog-based book market is totally saturated; relegated to the isle between kids books and the bathroom at Barnes and Noble. If anything, they seemed like they didn’t want anyone else trying to sell books.

Govern, a law student, insisted on pronouncing “meme” with a short e, as “mem”--to barely suppressed audience guffaws. (His pronunciation made me think of the French word “même,” which makes an ironic false cognate for “meme”--no matter the meme, it’s always the same old thing.)

I lolled. But it was kind of endearing. It was nice to know that the guy who sparked the meme off was not part of the meme-obsessed circle. He didn’t plan to create a meme, force a meme, or orchestrate a viral marketing campaign. He was just being sarcastic in a way that people thought was hilarious.

I was struck by the strangeness of the scene: the supposed experts were in the audience, while the outsiders sat on the stage. And the audience throbbed with one question: how do we get some of that Three Wolves Moon mojo? How do we bottle it, aggregate it, monetize it?

So… if we work for websites about memes, are we not supposed to sit in the audience? That aside, I don’t know how palpable this perceived “OMG cash in on teh memes” stuff really was. Most of us who are working in this corner of the web have been geeks and nerds all our lives. I’m really not sure where this disconnect is coming from.

May 04, 2010 at 11:06AM EDT

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