Saturday, 16 June 2012

NeverSeconds Viral: Well Done Martha!

I just wanted to end the week by sharing a very special story with you all.

You may have noticed a series of news stories over the past 24 hours relating to a little girl that goes by the name of Martha (or her blogger name, VEG).

Martha has been working for a number of weeks on a blog that candidly reviews the school dinners at her school. Called NeverSeconds, the blog has become a viral hit after the famous TV chef Jamie Oliver tweeted a link to her blog. Encouraged by the lift in blog traffic, Martha decided to put it to good use by encouraging her growing audience to donate to a charity called Mary’s Meals - a charity that provides nutritious, balanced meals for children in troubled areas such as Haiti, Liberia and Malawi

People from all over the world started sending her pictures of their school meals. The kicker being that whilst young Martha was never being mean or hurtful about her own school dinners, once pictures of school meals from around the world started appearing on her blog, it became very clear that the quality of food being served up in her own canteen just was not up to scratch.

As a result, she exposed, and upset the her local council. Unable to handle the criticism they faced over the quality of their school meals, somebody at the council had the great idea of, well, we’ll let Martha explain the rest...
“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.

I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.


This is when the story broke. Supporters of her cause took to blogs, message boards, Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness of the issue. As of this lunchtime, the blog, and the story of Martha had gone viral. The world was watching Argyll & Bute Council - and they were in trouble.

The head of the council, Rory McCuish, ordered the ban on Martha’s blogging to be lifted by the council. The will and the power of a local council had been broken by a nine-year-old schoolgirl and her followers online.

How does this happen?

When a story goes viral online, it’s often assumed by people that you can create, or manufacture this kind of buzz. Let me be clear on this: YOU CANNOT CREATE VIRAL.

Viral content creates itself. and it’s not the format or platform that enables the spread - it’s the story itself. 
  1. It often has a focus on one key element (unvarnished reviews of school dinners)
  2. It grabs your attention (pictures, reviews, written by a savvy 9 year old schoolchild)
  3. It engages you (Martha is likeable, you get involved in the cause, making people want to be involved themselves by sharing pictures and reviews of their school meals)
  4. It asks you to take action (donate money to a charity, and prevent a council from shutting a blog down).
The result? As of now (4pm GMT), Martha’s charity page on Justgiving has raised £31,123.67.

Yesterday this number was around the £2k mark.

People often tell you that you can manufacture this kind of buzz. You can’t. Money alone couldn’t buy a story like this. It rarely comes around, and it makes you feel good about yourself, and the world around you.

The best way to be able to attempt this kind of success is to not try - people can smell an attempt to go viral a mile off. It rarely works. Every true viral is a one-in-a-million moment.

So next time you are pitched an idea about a viral, think about Martha’s story, and whether you can better that. If you can’t, then I’d try something else!

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