‘Go With the Flow’ Takes on New Meaning in Real-Time

With growing interest in understanding how social information goes viral, we are now getting more clues. However, achieving a viral campaign is still a rare and elusive goal. Gilad Lotan, VP of R&D at SocialFlow addressed this topic at the 140 characters conference in New York on Wednesday. According to Lotan, it is a matter of “having a large or influential social network, gaining your network’s trust and posting about the right topic at the right time.”

As the name suggests, SocialFlow analyzes and visualizes how information flows through social networks in order to increase audience size and traffic. Lotan noted that posting information online is the easy part, while capturing widespread attention is the challenge.  He referred to attention as a “bottleneck” and the ability to attract attention as “power.” He also presented illustrated examples of the dynamics behind Twitter campaigns that went viral.

SocialFlow analyzed Twitter traffic prior to the official White House announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s death, from when the rumors began until they later cascaded into multiple retweets. They traced the pivotal source of the Bin Laden death speculation to Keith Urbahn, chief of staff in the office of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (not the well-known country western singer). After Urbahn’s tweet, Brian Stelter of The New York Times quickly retweeted the information and the Twitter universe then exploded with the news.

SocialFlow also examined Urban Outfitters vs. NYC Crafters, the now infamous case where the retailer was accused of ripping off a designer to create an ‘I heart NYC’ necklace. Stevie, the designer who posted her complaint online, suggested boycotting Urban Outfitters. Lotan said that when she was asked about it later, she described her social network as her “tribe.” Apparently her tribe was both loyal and influential, since the news skyrocketed on Twitter and eventually forced a reply from the retailer.

So for those keeping track of how tweets go viral — it’s all in the T’s — topic, timing, trust, and tribe. “Once you get it all right you can generate a massive information flow,” Lotan observed.  If only repeating the process was that simple.