The word “viral” is used extensively and loosely today, but that does not stop many people in the digital sphere from attributing almost mystical characteristics to it. Viral news and narratives that are transmitted through them are not coincidental and have a very clear causal relationship. There is a formula for them.
News becomes viral only when the narrative is directed through emotion toward some action. In other words, when the content is created and presented in such a way that it activates signals on the networks that then give it reach. Although there is paid and organic reach, we will not deal with a paid reach now. Paid news is limited by money and can rarely approach naturally viral posts that spread on networks for days or even months. Such virals can have a reach of several million people, and media outlets that do it professionally have several viral texts whose reach exceeds half a million every week.
Speaking the language of money, one viral text whose reach exceeds half a million has saved companies up to 5,000 euros. Speaking the language of politics, one viral text whose reach exceeds half a million has secured the favor of entire cities for you.
What can diplomats learn about viral content, how can they use it, and in what circumstances should they fear it?
The screenshot doesn’t believe in sarcasm
It is enough for someone to find one comment from 2008 in which you wanted to be sarcastic and said that “only Vojvodina is missing to secede,” and the damage can be enormous. Everything you comment on or like on networks can and will be used against you. It is crucial to understand the privacy settings on accounts, go back to old pictures on networks, and make a big spring cleaning of all somewhat inappropriate posts.
When to respond and when to stay silent
Problems on social networks always escalate very publicly and very quickly. The art is knowing when putting out the fire will actually extinguish it, and when your firefighting rotations will further attract attention and cause a new disaster. The intensity and manner of your reaction should be proportional to the reach of crisis posts. If you have a few negative comments on Twitter, and those people are not relevant to the topic, and there is no spread of posts, sometimes it’s wiser to let them simply flow down the timeline. However, if you notice that the post is gaining importance, prepare a ready-made response. Keep an eye and do not be afraid to apologize if you notice your mistake. You will save a lot of time and negative reactions from the public and your superiors.
Social media often behaves like a living organism, with its pulse, character, and rules. While the algorithm plays a powerful role, people still can manage it. Beneath the surface of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and especially TikTok, there is a signal system that determines who sees what content. Many professionals tend to overlook two factors: the importance of SEO optimization and the significance of groups.
After Google, TikTok has become the second most visited search engine, despite initially not being designed for this purpose. By searching hashtags, keywords, and following different niches, diplomats as well as other experts in the sphere of information, can gain valuable insights into public opinion, particularly among the younger target group, which is often underrepresented in many surveys. Due to the way modern social media algorithms are designed, the “shadow rulers” are precisely the users, the masses, and those who can manipulate their emotions promptly. Enter #Serbia on TikTok, and you will find a right-wing and left-wing war that is fiercer than the parliamentary podium. Look at unbranded Facebook groups and the way content is shared from them, and you will soon understand which political party is behind them and which direction they will move in the next period. Underestimating the power of YouTube could result in losing a whole segment of young voters.
Social media is the hidden pulse of citizens, and if you want to understand it before it spills over from the virtual world to the streets, you must know how to measure that pulse. Social media is not just about extensive profiles, and those who thought so have stumbled dangerously. Facebook groups, particularly opposition and activist groups, are one of the key factors in viral content on social media, thanks to their high level of interaction. The importance of TikTok, which now gives micro-influencers a reach larger than some media, cannot be emphasized enough. The internet space, with all its platforms, is made up of network-specific ecosystems, and those who know how to manage them will govern the public space, which is the arena where the battles of the future will be fought.
They are already well underway.
Nina Gavrilović-Miladinović is a long-time journalist and social media editor for the largest media outlets in Serbia. She is now the Head of Google and Facebook-related operations at “Ringier Serbia”.