Is the Harlem Shake Stupid?

by Jason Keath on Mar 07, 2013

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harlem shakeThe answer is yes. Yes it is stupid.

And the internet loves stupid. All of us. I”m looking at you.

And it”s ok. Really it is.

The Harlem Shake viral video trend that is almost done blanketing the entire internet with awesomeness (maybe?). And there is actually one really simple and super useful lesson that every marketer should take away from this meme.

As a marketer, I am tasked by the powers that be (aka Chuck Norris) to extract marketing trivial insights from every pop culture trend, hot meme, and timely event in the world.

It”s a rule, I swear.

If you have the handbook you know.

I don”t usually like to jump on the “social media lessons from XYZ hot story of the day” posts. But the Harlem Shake is fascinating. And I think this key lesson, while simple, is not so trivial.

And not just because no one in the Harlem Shake videos are actually doing the Harlem Shake.

Why It Went Viral

harlem shake brand versions

It is really interesting to compare the Harlem Shake phenomenon, which has to date grabbed 44 million total views across 12,000 total uploaded versions of the meme, to the Gangnam Style video trend the the internet only recently escaped from.

Gangnam Style was a very intricate, multiple angle, multiple scene, multi-language, high production quality, professional music video. That is to say, if you wanted to recreate Gangnam Style, it took a lot of work to do it well.

Not to say they everyone did it well.

But it was not an easy video to parody.

If Gangnam Style parody videos are the equivalent of planning a parade marching with a band, floats, and celebrities, etc. Harlem Shake videos are more of a one trick pony. It takes a little effort to go out and find a pony, but not nearly as much coordination as it takes to pull off a parade.

The Simplicity of The Harlem Shake

If you want to do a Harlem Shake video, here is the entire equation:

  • Find any place in the world
  • Film one person dancing (wearing a helmet or mask optional) for 15 seconds
  • Film four or more people dancing their minds out for 10 seconds (masks, costumes, and bad dancing required)
  • Slow down the last two seconds of the video for a slow motion ending
  • Edit the video clips together with the Harlem Shake song excerpt and publish

Honestly, those 5 bullets even make it sound more complicated than it is.

And there in lies the biggest marketing lesson from the Harlem Shake.

Make It Easy For People To Contribute

A lot of social media contests, campaigns, loyalty programs, etc try to get consumers to “get involved”. To contribute. To create content or vote or participate on some level.

You might even be trying to get new members on a community, get people to download a new app, or just want them to signup for your website.

All of these efforts involve a barrier to entry. The trick is to lower that barrier to entry.

The Harlem Shake has the lowest barrier to entry of any video trend I have seen online. It is dead simple for any office, business, group of friends to decide, film, and publish their version of the video in a few hours.

Even if you ultimately want to drive a deeper more meaningful participation from people, getting them on board for the first step should be easy.

The next time you are making an ask of your customers to do something or sign up for something, ask yourself if the barrier to entry is more like Harlem Shake (easy) or Gangnam Style (complicated).

Post Author

CEO and founder of Social Fresh, the social media education company. Jason is a social media consultant, a social media speaker and industry analyst. He consults with corporations and agencies on social media strategy, building community, and influencer...