Some friends of mine have been having success getting attention for their videos, blogs and other creations on Reddit, a social news website. In this short TED talk from 2009, Alexis Ohanian, the founder of reddit, talks about the power of the Internet  to determine and promote memes and what it takes to make those memes work for you. As an example he tells the story of how reddit users named a Greenpeace whale avatar “Mister Splashy Pants.”  Greenpeace resisted and then finally relented and found a marketing campaign in the process. It’s a win-win-win story for everyone including the whales.

In a nutshell, here’s how Ohanian says social on the Internet works, what he jokingly calls that “great big secret.”

  • The Internet is a level playing field. All links are equal. To rise, you need to catch some attention. Attention is the new currency. Do something fun and cool.
  • It costs very little to get  content online. Video, audio, writing, photography, your thought processes, whatever — all it costs is your effort, a little time and the willingness to explore to publish, produce and promote yourself.
  • Put yourself out there. Distribution costs are little. What you need to do is win an audience. And when your  audience has  audiences, iteration is  cheap.
  • Be genuine. Be honest. Be up front. This is the  hardest principle for some to swallow. We’re used to operating in a command and control mode.  Let it go, take yourself less seriously. Tell the truth. And have some fun!

One founding principle underlies all this: Messaging is not top down anymore. Its grassroots up and coming from all sides. It’s a good thing. It can keep us more on target. As Tech Soup, an NPO consultancy to nonprofits, said:  “We’re often very different people from our supporters. The most successful marketing campaign might not be our favorite.” In this case losing control worked.

As Ohanian says: “Everyone wants to hear their news anchor say, ‘Mister Splashy Pants.’  ”

I know I do.