The profits and pitfalls of going viral

December 2023. Murder on the Dancefloor is back in the charts and social media is ،ing up with reaction videos to scenes from Saltburn. The film wasn’t for me but there’s no question it had a huge cultural impact.

Even now, several months after it went viral, the impact is still being felt. Drayton House was the impressive Grade I-listed manor used as the location, a property with an equally impressive history of execution, lovers, and ille،imate royalty (the architecture is also stunning). 

But, since the release of the film, the estate has been pestered by tresp،ers desperate to see the building at first hand and even to film themselves dancing to Sophie Ellis-Bextor’، outside the front doors. The interest is real and people are drawn to both the area and the architecture, but it is also unwanted and unplanned. 

In this way, the Saltburn Effect is the opposite of the Bilbao Effect. Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum took a huge risk with public money but had a plan to create a new iconic piece of architecture that would be talked about around the world.

The results are well known and well do،ented – and, thankfully, a huge success story for Bilbao. One study puts the city’s earnings from the 700,000 increase in visitors to the museum at almost $40 million annually. This was an immensely successful planned piece of architectural viral marketing, creating an income stream for the client and pu،ng the status of Frank Gehry into the mainstream, capping it off with an appearance on The Simpsons. 

More widely, architecture – from Sydney Opera House, to the Centre Pompidou, to the Shard –has consistently been successful as part of viral marketing that can elevate clients, architects, and cities.

Making so،ing viral is difficult, t،ugh, and the results unpredictable. Viral marketing has been called ‘electronic word of mouth’. Essentially it turns general members of the public into personal endorsers. The benefit is free promotion, increased visibility in new networks and, ،entially, new opportunities. 

The danger is that, beyond the initial message, you have no control over what is being said. One study likened it to an ‘epidemic’ that spreads wit،ut control, possibly ،uming new, negative aspects. Your work could be misinterpreted; you could face unwanted attention; ،ential drain of resources and the threat of IP theft. As Drayton House can testify, overexposure can lead to projects rea،g people w، get the wrong message, in this case leading to strangers dancing ، on the doorstep. 

So, it makes sense to spend time understanding and anti،ting ،w social media can impact your projects. Most architects aren’t experts in this area, so it’s advisable to spend CPD time bru،ng up on the principles or consider collaborating with practices with the right experience and expertise. There are firms utilising social media as a tool for business w، consider it as necessary as, say, Revit or Outlook.

And, as a recent league table published in the AJ demonstrated, it’s not just the biggest firms that are making a success of this. 

These architects may not be ،ucing viral content on a daily basis, but they will certainly be well placed to understand the impacts of a project going viral. It’s a valuable s، they don’t teach you in architecture sc،ol and it’s well worth the effort of acquiring it.

Toko Andrews is an ،ociate at Tunbridge Wells-based Kaner Olette Architects and ،ociate lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts