“Tea Party Downgrade:” MoveOn Grabs a Meme and Maximizes Its Viral Potential

Here’s a quick example of using the strengths of one medium to reinforce another, in this case to boost your message’s chances of viral spread: MoveOn.org capitalized on David Axelrod and John Kerry’s use of the phrase “Tea Party Downgrade” on the Sunday talk shows this morning by sending out an email to their massive list this afternoon, asking supporters to post an image to their own Facebook pages:

Front page: Heckuva Job, Tea Party!

When you click on the “share” link or the image itself, this pops up right away as the Facebook post:

Facebook post

And if you click on the link, you go to a page that STARTS with Facebook, Twitter and email “share” buttons before you even get to the full graphic. A few points to note here:

  1. First, this is a good example of using the strengths of different channels to reinforce each other. Email has a relatively high response rate, so MoveOn starts with an email to its members asking them to act. But Facebook is a PUBLIC medium with the potential for a message to spread from one person to another and a great place for the actual action to take place — it’s a natural channel for viral spread. As we’ve heard here before, if you’re trying to spark a wildfire, it’s better to start a LOT of small fires at once, and MoveOn’s members are holding millions of matches.
  2. Second, note the structure of the Facebook posting — it’s almost begging someone to click on it. You can’t see the whole image, for one thing, making the curious more likely to click on it just to see what the message is. The text is click-bait, too: “The Tea Party won’t like this” equals “please click me.”
  3. Next, despite the Facebook angle of the primary ask, this campaign includes several different channels for viral spread. The email itself can be forwarded either directly or via a tell-a-friend link, for one thing, and the Facebook link landing page includes Twitter and email links as well as a Facebook link. Including these options gives MoveOn members the chance to use their own preferred channels, not just one the campaign managers chose FOR them.
  4. Also, talk about grabbing a wave! The phrase “Tea Party Downgrade” popped up in public this morning, and MoveOn was rolling out a new campaign by the afternoon. Just as in air combat, “speed is life” in online communications — if you wait a couple of days (or sometimes, a couple of hours), the critical moment will pass.
  5. Finally, every aspect of this campaign includes a viral ask, from the email to the Facebook posting to the landing page. If you want people to forward something, ask them to do it! And make the process easy on ’em.

Overall, it’s hard to think of too many ways MoveOn could have improved on this message’s chances to spread across the internet. At a time when each political party is trying to blame the debt-ceiling debacle on the other, MoveOn’s seizing and spreading of the “Tea Party Downgrade” meme might just cut through the clutter and catch on. They’ve certainly given their campaign every chance — nice work.


Written by
Colin Delany
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  • You missed the biggest strategic piece of this puzzle: their leadership has designed an approval process that allowed them to respond that quickly and trust them to do it. Too many orgs I’ve seen have that “noose” around their online people’s necks and rapid response isn’t so rapid. Kudos to MoveOn for hiring the people they trust to do the job and letting them go and do it.