This week wars broke out over the color of a dress from a Scottish wedding. Some saw it was gold and white, others as blue and black. #TheDress became an instant hashtag and the subject went viral. The question I want to answer for you is, why did this post go viral and not anything that you might have done?

Trigger a Response

The best social shares are those that trigger a response, asking something along the lines of do you prefer “A or B,” for example. In a fast-paced world where we’re dealing with thousands of bits of information a day, we want our engagement opportunities to be quick and meaningful – and we want to have a voice. Make it easy for people to get what they want by setting it out plainly. For richer content in industries that find it tough to simplify messaging, you can steer content around statements that are going to be either strongly supported or disagreed with.

Piggy-Backing off Genius

Had #thedress been a post by a scientific publication or organization, it would have been brilliant. Give the people something easy to grasp on to, something to trigger a response, and then follow up with how this is scientifically explained. In fact, plenty of scientific publications did just that with the highest grossing social shares topping well over the 300k mark for one group that decided to follow up with a video explanation rather than just a textual one. Sure they may not have thought of the idea, but they successfully piggy backed off of it just the same and that’s totally fine. People, already curious about the dress, are going to want to follow up and find out why people are seeing it two different ways. And therein you have a naturally audience. The rule applies to any news item really; you may not have come up with it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t run with it.

Jumping in on the Conversation

Kate Taylor of Entrepreneur writes a great article that gives some examples of the way brands were jumping in on the conversation. She notes that it’s not just about tweeting about the dress, but about steering the conversation so that you’re socially and trend-savvy, but still focused on your product and market. For brands, this meant picking a color combo and showing their own corresponding product. Specifically, check out the example she shows for Pizza Hut vs. Dominos. The former nails it by showing a golden white cheese pizza and going with that color scheme, while Dominos awkwardly shares a picture of pepperoni pizza and follows that up with, “…it’s actually red and white.” Awkward indeed. Dominos’ social share doesn’t work (and receives 20x fewer shares than Pizza Hut) because they weren’t on cue. We’re talking gold/white or blue/black, don’t add other colors to the mix – and by doing so you’re unnecessarily confound a very simple conversation, which was the reason it went viral in the first place.

Taylor also noticed that surprisingly, companies are who affiliated with a millennial market weren’t quick to jump on this band wagon. She writes, “It’s worth noting that the chains most frequently linked to “millennial” customers, including Shake Shack, Chipotle, Starbucks and Taco Bell were, as of 10:45 a.m. ET, free of tweets regarding the dress debate.

The most important take away is the need for all social media strategies to have a responsive strategy to time-sensitive viral posts. You need to be able to adapt, quickly and well, in order to truly be socially engaging and on cue. As Jodi Phillips, VP of Media Strategy at BLinQ Media says it, “While viral moments can’t be planned for, retail brands should always be prepared to take advantage of these opportunities….Having a content strategy that plans for reactive right time/real-time moments is important.”