April Fools’ Jokes Just Fun and Games? 5 Components of a Viral Linkbait Prank

April 2, 2009 - Written by Gyutae Park  

april foolsEveryone loves a good laugh. In fact, we have a whole day dedicated to practical jokes and pranks. In case you missed it, April Fools’ Day was just upon us and the online world was abuzz with tons of fake news, pranks, and jokes. If you were looking for useful articles online, you were probably hard pressed to find anything that was actually real.

For example, Google launched CADIE (Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity) a program that automatically writes emails for you based on your personality, Mark Cuban bought the Lakers, Shoemoney moved to Portland, and Reddit fused with Digg to form Reddigg. It’s actually a lot of fun to see what people come up with on April Fools’ – unless of course, you end up as the fool who falls for the joke.

April Fools’ pranks and jokes may seem like light humor and short-lived entertainment, but they’re actually more than just that. They make great link bait and represent big waves of potential traffic and viral exposure. For one day in the year, you can lie and fabricate the most outlandish story or create a crazy offer and be praised for it. Try it any other time and you’ll pretty much be burned alive – unless your name is Lyndon Antcliff and you’re a master linkbaiter.

April Fools’ Day has already come and gone, but what can you come up with for next year? Here are some of my tips on how to maximize the day to promote your online business.

1. Be original – it’s supposed to be funny!
The more creative you are, the better your link bait will perform. Think of new ways to prank your readers that haven’t been done before. Take a look at the April Fools’ Day on the Web list for some ideas.

2. Be relevant to your audience
Connect with your audience with a joke that’s relevant and makes sense. This year YouTube had an option of flipping videos upside down and Sitepoint advertised an “Internet reboot”. Take advantage of your industry and your overall audience to create witty inside jokes that your readers will appreciate.

3. Make it believable, but not too believable
The best April Fools’ jokes are the ones that people can’t tell whether they’re real or not. Did Warner Brothers really acquire torrent sharing site The Pirate Bay? Is Whole Foods really selling organic air? All of these news stories are totally crazy, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be true. Leave your readers feeling intrigued and your prank has the potential to take off.

4. Be consistent – turn it into a fun event
April Fools’ Day can be a fun event where many of your followers look out for your latest pranks. This is a good thing. Be consistent with what you post, but never predictable. If you frequently participate in the festivities, be sure to build anticipation for the next one. Shoemoney does a great job with this as he tells his daily readers what he’s up to and then pulls a prank on the masses. I’ll tell you right now – I didn’t participate this year after last year’s Hummer fiasco, but you can be sure that I’ll get you all next year. 🙂

5. Don’t alienate your readers
Sure a good April Fools’ joke can bring you lots of traffic and attention but at the end of the day (literally) it’s still just fun and games. Never compromise your integrity or alienate your readers for the sake of a cheap laugh. It’ll come back to bite you. What do I mean? UCSD “accidentally” sent congratulatory acceptance emails to all of its applicants, including those who had already been rejected. Ouch. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t find that one funny.

So what will you come up with next year?

Did you pull an April Fools' Day prank on your visitors this year?

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8 Responses to “April Fools’ Jokes Just Fun and Games? 5 Components of a Viral Linkbait Prank”

Kai Lo on April 4th, 2009

Someone did an April Fools’ joke on his blog readers, and he lost about 600 RSS feed subscribers.

Gyutae Park on April 4th, 2009

Ouch! Who was it? I’d like to see exactly what he did to get that sort of response.

Pituitary Gland on April 10th, 2009

Haha, yeah, I noticed that – it was Syed Balkhi from balkhis.com – it was a stupid prank though

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Phil on April 6th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Nice recap, Gyuate. It is a fun time of year to see what is created. I remember your Hummer joke and it had me going for awhile. Google always has an very creative April Fools’ joke, and has been to only one I have fallen for EVERY year, despite knowing it was coming.

Your suggestions/guidelines have given me the perfect post for next April!

Gyutae Park on April 7th, 2009

Haha, I’m glad you liked the Hummer joke. You know, I actually would have given one away if I could – so it wasn’t TOO far fetched.

A lot of people seem to have fun with April Fools, which is what it’s all about. What’s your site? I’ll look forward to yours next year.

 
 
FoxNewsBoycott on April 7th, 2009

Some, like the lost subscribers, can completely backfire. Consumerist ran a story about a retail site that gave its customers millions of dollars in credit, so people make huge purchases, then the company billed the customers for the difference… I’d say they’re toast.

 
Mike Huang on April 7th, 2009

Both John Chow’s and Shoemoney’s were NOT believable as they even mentioned about their “APRIL FOOLS” prank a week or more beforehand.

The reason why they received so much controversy is because they have the readers base that does all the work.

Just imagine if it was someone else with less readers, but a TOTALLY surprising prank…

MLDina on April 8th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

April Fools pranks are hard to pull off, especially online. People come to expect them after the first one.

I think both Shoemoney and John were trying to have some fun- they fooled a few readers along the way, but the main purpose was to give readers a good laugh (and get some buzz, which since we’re talking about it, I guess worked).

 
 
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