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Student Experiences

Generating Buzz, One Viral Post at a Time

You’re scrolling through Facebook, and a video catches your eye. A man is riding a horse on a beach and telling you he is the man your man could smell like.

a chocolate sprinkle donut next to a laptop

It’s hilarious, and you need to show your friends. Now.

You click share and willingly become an advertiser for men’s deodorant.

Companies are increasingly using viral content to turn casual internet users into advocates—a trend that isn’t lost on BYU professor Jeff Larson. This year he introduced a new assignment in his internet marketing class to familiarize students with the ultimate aggregator of viral content: BuzzFeed.

“The major lesson I wanted students to learn was how to create resonance,” Larson says. “How do you create content that is not only good enough for people to enjoy but that also crosses some threshold so that viewers become promoters?”

The assignment, which was originally developed by a PhD candidate at Arizona State University, challenged students to make a BuzzFeed post that could garner at least one thousand views in seven days. After posting an article, quiz, or video on the site, students shared their work on social media and waited to see how many views they could rack up.

Posts with names like “7 Times BYU Sports Broke Your Heart and It Hurt” and “If Donald Trump’s Hair Matched His Statements” met the challenge, drawing one thousand or more views in the allotted time. Every team but one reached the goal, with a couple posts landing on BuzzFeed’s home page.

The class champion was “What Kind of Donut Are You Based on Your Birth Month?” with more than 400,000 views. Tyler Andersen, who wrote the quiz with his group, says he studied BuzzFeed’s top posts to figure out what type of content could generate the most views.

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Marketing students are breaking the internet with clickworthy content. Their biggest success to date: a very viral donut quiz.
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“I learned to shoot for the top,” Andersen says. “If you’re wondering how to be successful, look at what successful people are doing.” He noticed that donuts were trending and matched that with the simple quiz format also popular on BuzzFeed, and voilà—virality.

Other students targeted niche audiences. Libby Thomas, a marketing senior from Provo, helped write “25 General Conference Moments All Mormons Will Understand.” She says she’s learned that social media is a powerful tool for targeting a narrow but passionate audience. “You have to think, who will enjoy this enough to share it?” she says.

As social media and internet marketing continue to evolve, BYU’s marketing classes are changing to keep up, says Tom Foster, chair of the marketing and global supply chain department. And as students keep learning, they’ll keep creating content that makes viewers work for them.

“The market is primed for this social content,” Larson says. “Nowadays everybody’s looking for the next funny thing—we just have to create it.”


Article written by Angela Marler