Leveraging Virality: The Ingenious ‘Influencer Marketing’ Strategy of a Chapman University Professor
In April 2023, Professor Matthew Prince from Chapman University in California got creative. He was teaching a cool course “Influencer Marketing”. To make his class even cooler, he proposed a challenge: if any student could become viral on social media, he would cancel the final exam! He later clarified that “viral” meant getting 1 million views in one post. That challenge was given out on the first day of class, and there was a whole semester ahead to try.
While he was making this announcement, a student sitting in the back immediately picked up her phone and recorded it. She zoomed in on the instructions written on the blackboard and also filmed a classmate. She may have originally intended to just make notes, but then she thought, why not put this online and tell the public: my professor said, if you get 1 million views, the final exam will be cancelled!
Guess what happened. Within just one day, the video had already been viewed by 1 million people. The professor then immediately announced that the final exam would be cancelled this year! All the students were overjoyed.
This case is the best demonstration how the most “genuine” videos get viral on the internet. However, there’s more to the story. You’ll find that the truly smart one might be the professor, not the student. This professor was actually one of the senior PR executives at Taco Bell. It’s impressive to see how he was leveraging these young students to gain virality. He knew that young people would think of all kinds of ways, so he was certain there was such a possibility—that these kids could really get 1 million clicks. And indeed, when one student did get so many clicks, the professor did something smart too. He could have waited until the next class to announce the cancelation of the final, but instead he immediately went online and directly announced the cancellation in response to the viral video, thereby driving some traffic to his TikTok account.
This professor truly demonstrated the perfect example of “killing with a borrowed knife”. In the world of social media, authenticity is highly valued. No matter how much the professor tried, his “persona” was still sounding “fake”. But the students were the most genuine. So, how to leverage these “naturally authentic personas”, and not just one person, but the entire class, would give him a high chance of going viral. Look at this video: if there hadn’t been a female student showing up and making a funny face, it would have lessened the fun of the whole thing. Only a professor with so many students could trigger such a “killing with a borrowed knife” marketing strategy. So, the real genius is the professor.