#WPRFviral series: An introduction


This weekend I’m speaking at the World Public Relations Forum, one of the largest global gatherings of PR professionals. I’m thrilled to present my findings on three topics I’m immensely passionate about: social sharing, word of mouth and viral content. During the presentation, I will demystify how to create an effective social media strategy and engaging content for your organization, client or brand. It is my hope that this information will help your business and truly change the world.


The forum’s theme, Communication  Across Cultures is not only integral to the advancement of the PR profession, it is also necessary for the overall progression of society as a whole. The media landscape is changing, distrust in institutions is rampant and it has never been more important to develop trustworthy and authentic content to reach audiences in the convoluted and noisy digital landscape.


Tune in every week as I publish a #WPRFviral blog post with more insight on how brands can create shareable content with the potential to go viral. Have you ever wondered why certain information gets shared viciously while other messages barely engage anyone? What makes content go viral? Why do people share online?

It’s important for every industry to consider the relationship-building elements of PR to keep audiences engaged. In this series I will demonstrate a simple model to help you understand viral content. But first, here’s a brief introduction to why word of mouth, social sharing and viral content are important in the first place.


Many people and organizations are fearful and skeptical of social media, arguing that it can damage a brand’s reputation, disintegrate relationships and create a loss of brand control. It’s clear that social media has deeply impacted the way relationships are created and maintained (especially those between audiences and brands). Mobile tech, easy internet access and social media dependence have created a decentralization of power, moving control away from corporations into the hands of audiences. People have a new voice and they’re using it to make or break corporate reputations.

Photo from: http://socialmediaimpact.com/

According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer trust in the government, business, media and non-governmental organizations were at an all time low in 2015, falling below 50 per cent in two-thirds of the countries surveyed. Although these numbers have greatly improved in 2016, audiences are still skeptical of authoritative establishments.


Distrust in media

We demand information 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. Journalists are struggling to keep up as news breaks on social media first. This causes an ethical dilemma between publishing the truth and using rumours to increase engagement.

According to Craig Silverman:

Viral content warehouses like BuzzFeed trade in unverifiable schmaltz exactly because that is the kind of content that goes viral. The digital data stream is polluted with un-sourced information that is being shared faster than ever before.”

Distrust in the government

Trust in politics is decreasing. Politicians are the least trusted profession in England, only 19 per cent of Americans fully or partially trust the government and 42 per cent of Canadians have faith in political parties.

Distrust in ads

Seventy per cent of consumers distrust ads as they coerce them into buying things they don’t want or need. Twitter users spend more time on links tweeted by third parties and click on more content that is not shared directly by brands. Approximately 198 million people reject online ads, using ad-blockers to hide paid media content.

If people can no longer trust institutions for information, where can they turn for trustworthy content?



We rely on our peers for trustworthy and objective advice. Nothing is more infectious than a personal recommendation from someone we know. Utilizing the power of word of mouth can help organizations gain attention while spreading content in an authentic way. Companies should establish relationships that are based on trust to create a base of support that can be leveraged in a crisis.


47 per cent of consumers will boycott a brand that uses misleading social media tactics

63 per cent of audiences will not buy from a distrusted company

58 per cent will pass brand criticism along to those they know

Yet, 80 per cent will buy from brands they trust and 68 per cent will recommend those brands to friends. When a brand pays attention to its customers, it turns critics into fans. Customers that receive a response to a negative review are 33 per cent more likely to post a positive one and 34 per cent will remove the original negative post. 



So how does this relate to viral content?

Viral content spreads through word of mouth and social sharing.

Before we can create something viral, it’s important to know the characteristics in the anatomy of viral content and to understand why people share online. 

We will take a deeper look into viral content next week.

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