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October 29, 2013

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What made the Facebook “giraffe” riddle so viral?

If you logged on Facebook yesterday, chances are more than a few giraffes were on your news feed.  No, it’s not an adorable Panda Cam, or anything like that.  It’s the result of a bizarre meme that spread like wildfire through the Facebook core demographic of women 25-45.*

But what about this meme…or the bra color meme…or the “I’m traveling to X country for X months” meme makes them so viral?

  1. It made people want to be in the know.  For the same reason that vaguebooking is so annoying, people skimming their newsfeeds are looking for information, not innuendo.  And what might be irritating in some situations, the giraffe challenge gave people a chance to see what was going on.
  2. It challenged your intellect.  Facebook users are generally well-educated, which means that an affront to the brainpower was worth the risk of public shaming.
  3. It was low-commitment.  For the same reason those phishing Facebook posts looking for “a movie that doesn’t have the letter A” or a “state with out the letter I” attract thousands of responses, it provides people with a chance to be right (and show their friends) without a lot of effort.
  4. There was safety in numbers.  As the giraffe faces spread, participants knew that their failure would make them part of a large group of wiser (if sheepish) participants.  Notice that there wasn’t nearly the attention given to those who knew the answer.
  5. It got attention from the mainstream media.  From the Today show anchors to the Chicago Tribune, it shows once again that traditional PR can influence social…and the other way around.

Just an aside (to save you the trip to snopes.com), reports of the riddle being a hacking attempt by Anonymous are false.  And you don’t have to chance your picture to the Anonymous mask if you got that wrong.

*Unscientific study of my own Facebook feed. – LM

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