The key ingredients for a viral LinkedIn post? A fuel pump, dodgy data and NSW Police

As Ben Sharp recovers from being accused of stealing $79.50 from a BP fuel pump, he reflects on the key ingredients that made his tongue-in-cheek LinkedIn post go viral.

Anyone in marketing knows how difficult it is to achieve a huge viral impact with your marketing activities. Striving for significant reach of your message and content through earned media (social) can be a great complement and multiplier to your paid activity.

As a result, when I posted this on LinkedIn on a Friday afternoon at 4pm, I thought it would have little impact.

Just to recap: I’d been using the BPMe app for some time, and on one occasion in early April the payment didn’t work without my knowledge. As a result, the BP fuel theft procedure was enacted and my details were reported to the police. First I knew of it was when receiving a letter from NSW Police.

I thought this would create an interesting piece of social media commentary, and thought: “Do I want to go full activist/tabloid and place it on Facebook, or try and link it to a business issue with relevant commentary and place it on LinkedIn”? LinkedIn was obviously the decision.

My intention in writing the post was to associate business usage of customer data to deliver a good (or in this cases poor) customer experience. Data-driven marketing is an industry that I’ve worked in for some time, so feel I’m well positioned to comment.

Never did I think that this would generate the reach it has. Within a week this post had been viewed over 275,000 times, liked by 1,800 people with over 375 comments. This is at least 10x higher than anything else I’ve posted on LinkedIn – and I’m an active user. Latest stats at time of writing show continued reach of this content:

The impact on my social media following has been significant (and what I think is hilarious at the same time). To increase views of my profile 4,200% in a week is crazy – and potentially something I will unlikely do again.

So it made me think. What was it about this particular piece of content that resulted in such a large audience and why? I put it down to several factors:

1. I’ve already got a significant LinkedIn connection base

But the thing worth mentioning here is that not every piece of content I post gets viewed a lot.

2. We must all ‘have it in for’ the fuel companies

Fuel companies, banks and telcos seem to be the targets and fair game for public criticism. In many cases the community feels ripped off or mistreated by these large businesses. But it must be stated that they’re all very successful businesses, and despite many of their faults all have positive social programmes and provide significant community support.

3. David v Goliath

Yes, in Australia there’s a tall poppy syndrome, always has been. But we bloody well love the underdog and any opportunity to support an individual that takes on a corporate.

4. Police as debt collectors

I’m sure the police have better things to do than chase bad debt due to an error with a business process. And it must really frustrate them when this happens (I got the sense of that when the police officer I emailed responded saying as much). To involve the police when it was not at all necessary, and due to an internal business fault seems to have really riled up the audience that read this post.

5. It’s a great case study

I noticed that many of the people sharing this post, and those making comments, were marketers in customer experience roles. Delivering a great customer experience using new technology and data is what many businesses are striving for. However, it’s a minefield if you get it wrong. I suspect there’s a bunch of marketers that read this, went back to their offices and thought we need to test, test, test, and test again just about every potential variable in our new technology led customer journey to ensure we don’t have a similar problem. (If this is the case – I’m glad I could help).

6. “I’m no criminal”

No matter how good your content is, your outreach strategy or your ad, if you don’t capture the audience’s attention immediately, they’re not going to engage. Maybe it was something about my first line: “I’m no criminal….!!! (got your attention?)” that encouraged people to not only view, but then read and engage with the content.

Or, maybe it’s a combination of all (or some) of these factors plus a bunch I’m not aware of.

I’m sure there’s scientific research that media and creative agencies do to determine the potential success of any social media content strategy, but sometimes there’s a combination of micro, macro and other unknown factors that just mean your content is in the right place at the right time.

The other thing that amused me was the style of comments. They fall into several ‘buckets’:

  1. People I know that either empathise with the situation, or because they’re close contacts think it’s funny as hell this happened to me (I’d probably do the same with a comedic response to my close mates).
  2.  Marketers stating they either understand the issue, or suggest reasons for it happening
  3. Links to NSW Police content around fuel theft
  4. Current or future potential BPMe customers stating “I’ll never use this app again”
  5. But the comments I found most amusing were those I describe as being from the ‘social media activist’ community. They find any opportunity to criticise either BP or myself through their comments. Some of the best include:
    • The piano teacher who initially commented along the lines of “You must have so much time at your disposal to write this”. I then noticed she continued to comment multiple times – so only assume I’ve provided a great source of entertainment for her, and ironically she must have spent more time on her comments than I did with my initial post
    • “Time to go electric”
    • “Omg harden the f up mate ….. I hope you took 5 sick days and got a doctor’s certificate” Probably needs no more commentary… Shows that if you’re going to play in the social media space and put your name out there, you’ve got to have a thick skin
    • And those social media ‘arguments’ where commenters were arguing with each other (thank you Rickie Z. – whoever you are…).
    • All those people suggesting I should receive either a full year’s free fuel, or a free donut with every fill up!

Finally, there was what I describe as a good outcome in BP’s crisis management process. You can read about it here. Through the entire process, I was more interested in if, and how, BP would respond, and was pleasantly surprised with how it was handled.

Ben Sharp is a marketing technology expert.


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