Helpful is more important than Viral

Alternate title: Why JAMES is the NBA MVP instead of BOSH.

For those of us working in social media, having a “viral” video or blog post is one of the goals to which we often aspire.

In some ways it seems like the ultimate validation, like butane lighters flicking on in tribute at the end of a musician’s concert. Seeing the view counts climb steadily – or even explosively – provides a great jolt of adrenaline or some other helpful brain chemical.

Some have identified keys to virality, which you can remember using a mnemonic involving the surname of the third amigo of the NBA champion Miami Heat:

  • Brevity – The “rules” vary, but most would say two minutes is the outer limit of post-modern attention span
  • Oddity – The more unusual, the more likely viewers will pass along to their friends
  • Serendipity – an unexpected twist; a pleasant surprise that makes you laugh, which leads to the last key…
  • Hilarity – If it makes people laugh, they’ll want to share.

If you have other factors to suggest (and maybe a revised mnemonic), add them in the comments.

But in health care social media, the keys to virality don’t usually apply. Diseases aren’t funny. A video about an unusual condition is generally less relevant to the online masses, and therefore less likely to spread. You can’t manufacture serendipity. And because of the complexity of our subject matter, brevity isn’t always in the interest of patients.

This isn’t a knock against viral videos. I enjoy them as much as anyone, and my sense of humor is, as they say in genetic counseling, overexpressed.

So viral shouldn’t be your goal in health care social media. Shoot for helpful instead, and instead of Chris Bosh, use the MVP’s last name to help you remember:

  • Jiffy –By jiffy I mean make the production relatively quick. Don’t overcomplicate it. Keeping costs low is a major key to cost-effectiveness. The rest of the mnemonic focuses on the “effectiveness” factor in the equation.
  • Accessible – Explain the subject clearly and in a way patients will understand, without jargon. Also make sure you optimize your video title, tags and description to enable users to more easily find it.
  • Meaty – Don’t let arbitrary time limits keep you from conveying the information that would be valuable to your audience. But do edit the video to make it as fast-paced as possible. Take out the filler so the most important content can shine through.
  • Expert – The expertise of your physicians and scientists is the most important resource you have to offer. Their willingness to share specialized knowledge is extremely valuable.
  • Solid – While production should be Jiffy, it shouldn’t be sloppy. As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to say, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” Always use a tripod to keep your camera steady. Shoot your video in a quiet room, especially if you are using a camera that doesn’t allow an external microphone. Avoid back-lighting that makes your subject look like a part of the witness protection program. Don’t distract viewers from expert, meaty content.

What do you think? What other characteristics are important for helpful health-related videos?

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Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of seven, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

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