Engineering a Viral Result - Dilbert Blog

Engineering a Viral Result

I recently engineered a Robots Read News comic for maximum viral potential, using what I have learned on that topic, and succeeded. It was my most popular tweet. Can I repeat that success with the same formula? That is not clear. But I will share what I learned about creating viral content for Twitter so you judge for yourself.

Lesson 1:

To achieve a viral outcome, each creator needs a different approach, because the messenger is part of the message. I could say something brilliant on the topic of automotive repair but because I do not match that message, it would go nowhere. So the message has to be compatible with the messenger. In my case that usually means sticking to comics and making observations about human nature.

Lesson 2: 

On Twitter, the standard for success is the “retweet.” When people forward your content to their followers they are, in a sense, endorsing it. People will only endorse content that matches their brand ambitions.

I have learned through trial and error that folks will not retweet content that targets one person or group. The exceptions are activists, but generally their numbers are limited. For a strong viral effect you need content with nearly universal appeal. Hate tweets are divisive by nature.

Being “nice” is a challenge for a humorist because humor generally has a target. I can game the system by making the target “everyone” or “idiots” because none of that seems  terribly personal, and everyone agrees that people can be dumb sometimes. 

Lesson 3:

The content has to have a minimum level of quality, but it does not need to be amazing. In the case of humor, it has to make people laugh. But you need not be in the top 2% of hilarity to generate a viral response. You just need to be a safe, guaranteed, harmless laugh that people feel good about retweeting.

In the comic at the bottom of the post I combined three of the six dimensions of humor (mean, bizarre, and clever). A three-dimensional comic is generally a winner if executed with commercial-quality writing and timing. 

Lesson 4:

Freshness matters. A lot of humorists and writers are covering the same topics. Finding a fresh topic is hard but necessary because people will not retweet content that feels stale. The trick is to come up with a topic that is on people’s minds but for whatever reason few people have discussed.

In the comic below I picked the topic of ancient construction mysteries. The History channel is running lots of shows about aliens and pyramids and whatnot. I figured the topic was likely to be on the minds of most channel-surfers, but because it is not headline news, it was a relatively fresh topic.

Lesson 5:

In order for content to go viral it needs to appeal to a big, general audience. But your Twitter following might be a narrow audience. To break out of the narrow audience to the full audience you want content that appeals to your narrow audience without offending your wider audience. Many of my readers have engineering mindsets, so a comic with a whimsical view of how the ancients did engineering was likely to click with my core followers without being too narrow for the general public.

If your company firewall is blocking the comic image here, you can view it on Twitter here.



In other news, soon you might be able to 3D print your own robot friend and give it a personality suited to your situation. That’s my interpretation of this technology anyway.

At the same time that humans are printing and programming robots, machines will be rewiring human minds (essentially programming humans) to solve all kinds of brain problems if this company is successful. The future is humans and robots programming EACH OTHER.

@ScottAdamsSays (my dangerous tweets)

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My book on success: “Best book I’ve read in years” – 5-star review on Amazon.com, Andrew Chowning.