The Secret to Going Viral: #PrankTheInternet April Fools’ Edition
Here’s a very quick story:
I once met a beautiful writer in college and with her help, I was able to grow boogie [out of college] to a team of 8 operating in Albany and Brooklyn, NY. I decided to propose to that writer on Valentine’s Day 2014, and it was one of the happiest days of
her life my life. We created a video of the proposal to share with our friends & family but a few days later, it had over 40,000 views on YouTube. Some really nice folks saw our story and loved it so much that they decided to sponsor our wedding.
Shortly after the wedding, I wrote a piece called ‘The Secret to Going Viral: My Wedding Proposal Edition’. In the post, I shared some of the secrets that marketing professionals use everyday to get their products and services to gain viral attention.
The post stimulated a lot of interesting conversations surrounding viral marketing so I decided to write another edition, but rather than discuss how something emotional and sentimental can catch on, I’ve outlined 5 reasons why our April Fools prank, Chute, caught on.
It was late-March, and April Fool’s Day was right around the corner:
During a strategy session for one of our clients related to April 1st, we decided we’d have a little fun and come up with an initiative of our own.
Our Objective: #PrankTheInternet
We gave ourselves exactly one week to come up with the viral initiative, conduct market research, create a brand identity, design the necessary promotional pieces, develop a website, write copy, create an email subscription process, and reach out to the press.
Within that week, we came up with Chute (short for word parachute), an iPhone app that prevents your phone’s screen from shattering.
“It uses your phones gyroscope and accelerometer in the background to measure your phone’s orientation and to determine when it’s free-falling. Chute responds by using the vibration motor in your phone to emit pulses at various frequencies, forcing your phone to shift on impact and preventing your screen from shattering“ -Dahcia Bastien (told you she’s good with words).
First we designed Chute’s logo, mobile app, and created Chute’s website (featuring FAQs, and an option for early sign up). We then created Chute’s social profiles and Mailchimp account (for easy communication). Lastly, we created a product video (looks very cheesy) and drafted up our press release to be sent out to a few tech startup writers.
The Results: What Made Chute Catch On
We launched Chute’s website on March 29th, 2015. Within 48 hours, Chute took off! The app itself received approximately 6 million impressions all over the web and 3,004 people sign up for early access— 85% of them signed up within the first 5 hours of launch. Chute was published on a few online magazines a number of publications expressed interest in sharing Chute with their audiences including Mashable, USA Today, TechCrunch, and many more. Though, not everyone enjoyed learning our app was not real.
We even received a few internship applications from eager potential users who were interested in being a part of Chute’s team in hopes of developing an app for Windows and Android phones.
On March 31st, we decided to let the cat out of the bag early in order to let all of the publications interested in writing about Chute know it was an April Fool’s Day joke. On April 1st, Chute was mentioned in a number of April Fool’s Day listicles across the internet (alongside the likes of Google, Uber, Tinder, and more), and even landed on the front page of Digg.
A few of my university colleagues in the informatics department learned about Chute and pranked their classes with news of the app, while others used Chute in their lesson plans as a marketing case study.
But how did all of this happen in less than 48 hours? Allow me to reveal our secret to Chute’s viral success.
Start With a Great Idea
Before settling on Chute, we played around with a few other ideas: Surge, an iPhone app that charges your phone as you shake it — no accessories or chargers needed (think ShakeWeight), and aScale, an iPhone app that allowed us to lay the phone on its back and use the screen of the phone as a small weight scale for herbs and such. At the end of it all, we chose to go with Chute because it was the better idea, the most believable, and the one that we [millennials] would be more inclined to share with our friends. Chute aimed to solve a very real problem for mobile phone users.
Optimize for Easy Social Sharing
From the very beginning, we knew that Chute’s success would be dependent on our ‘early adopters’ and our ability to convince them to share with their friends and family.
Knowing that fact, we started optimizing Chute and the Chute website for easy sharing and discovery. We made a conscious decision (and went through a few rounds of AB testing) to ensure that the page title, meta description, and social meta represented the best option for easy sharing and the best option to get other people to click on the link when shared on social media networks. We also created an image graphic of an app and added it as the share image for more visibility and brand awareness.
Finally, once a user signed up for the app, their confirmation email gave them an opportunity to get higher on the waiting list to receive access to the app before anyone else.
So the ideal website interactions looked something like this: Homepage —> Learn more [call-to-action button] —> FAQ section —> Sign up fields.
Add Gamified Scarcity
Initially, the idea was to market Chute as a free iPhone app (and make revenue with in-app advertisements… bear with me, this isn’t real but we did think through all the details). Later, we decided to market Chute as $2.99 to make it a bit more believable. Adding a price to Chute also gave us another opportunity to drive user signups by offering them incentives for specific actions.
We noted in the sign-up confirmation email that the first 1,000 people who downloaded the app would be able to access it for free. So once a user finished with the signup process, they had the opportunity to move higher on the waiting list by sharing a specific tweet and/or a Facebook post with an auto-generated link. The tweet below was shared over 150 times with 95% of shares occurring the day before April Fools Day.#OhChute! An app that prevents your phone's screen from breaking when it falls? @Chuteapp Click To Tweet
The more times the link was shared, the more sign ups poured in.
But there’s just one mystery… where did our first 50 – 100 signs up come from?
Use the Power of Social Media
With any new product, the first 100 customers/users are the most difficult to get. We knew that our process (above) worked so all we had to do was get a few people to the website and the cycle would begin and continue on its own.
First, we shared the news about Chute on our personal profiles. Y’know, the thing that millennials do when they stumble on something so great that they can’t afford to not share and get the social currency for. We shared with our networks and started to get some early traction (about 20 – 30 signs ups).
Then we did something that poured in our next 50 – 100 sign ups:
We used Chute’s Twitter account to search for and engage in conversations with people mentioning a few relevant keywords including: ‘cracked screen,’ ‘broken phone,’ ‘broke my phone,’ and more. Using this tactic, we connected directly with potential Chute customers (offering a solution to their problem at that moment in time) and that’s when we started seeing exponential growth in our early sign ups. Users were retweeting us, tweeting to their friends about Chute and ultimately helping us prank the internet.With any new product, the first 100 customers/users are the most difficult to get. Click To Tweet
With all of the user generated content (and excitement) that we were able to get, we then decided to contact a number of tech writers in hopes of getting Chute media coverage. We’d hope that the initial user comments and excitement would convince journalists to write about Chute.
And it worked. Chute was later published in a few online publications.
Invest in Great Design
We truly value and know the importance of good design at our agency. It’s one of our core values, and something that we emphasize in the work that we do for ourselves and our clients. Investing in great design for your mobile app or digital product will make the user anticipate a great overall experience with the product while increasing their trust in the product. Having trust in a brand’s product or service is a major deciding factor in the buying process for millennials. So when it comes to millennials, design matter.When it comes to millennials, design matters Click To Tweet
We took Chute through the same branding process that we take all of our real projects and it paid off.
After our big reveal, we received many responses from potential users who were genuinely disappointed that Chute wasn’t real:
“[GREAT prank, Daniel]. i really got suckered into this one! good job, especially that professional look you guys took time to make.”
“[I was] fooled by a good joke! The success, by the way, was in the details. Well done.”
Paying close attention to the details made Chute more believable which then drove more users to share it. I should also note that design is very specific to mobile products as many viral videos caught on as a result of the more genuine, home-video-like visuals.
ideas secrets mentioned in this post are what we used to make this app prank catch on but there are many other ways to make your product a hit with the audience you are targeting. If you have a new product that you want to get some free press and traffic for, try sharing on ProductHunt, Beta List and these other web resources to begin your journey while applying a few of the tactics I’ve outlined above.
What are ways that you’ve piqued your audience’s interest and made your products/services catch on? I’d love to hear all about it in a comment below.