Viral website of the week: RockSoapOpera.com

But there's method to Haywood's madness. After graduating from Durham University in 2008, the young lawyer decided to create a website with viral appeal that could be maintained with very little effort (or expense). RockSoapOpera.com chronicles the trials and tribulations of a group of characters played by pieces of rock.

Thousands of fans visit the site every day for the latest instalment of the show. You can expect classic soap storylines, plenty of dodgy puns (one character is called Cheryl Coal - a lump of coal with a pink ribbon) and plenty of quasi-educational geological stimulus.

The site went viral after its launch last year, generating huge amounts of media attention for its utter pointlessness. But the high quality of the site's traffic - RockSoapOpera.com has a growing and fiercely loyal fan base - has now begun to attract some serious interest from advertisers.

"The potential for advertising is immense as cult media really holds on to visitors," says Haywood. "It's not unusual for our visitors to stay on the site for more than a dozen page impressions and our bounce rate is incredibly low."

"Our audience is hugely invested in the story and site," he continues. "They're very receptive to brand involvement.  Rewarding or interactive elements where they can get directly involved in the story or contribute have proven to be very successful. "

The site has been sponsored by Firebox.com and huge corporations including Nestle have been looking to piggy-back on RoackSoapOpera.com's success.   "Brands seem keen to feature their product in the story," says founder Haywood.  "Of course, we are sensitive to our audience's sensibilities and this has to be handled gently."

Luck or savvy?

Haywood is no one-trick pony. The young lawyer has built a portfolio of online start-ups, from other niche media, to more traditional job and dating sites as well as RockSoapOpera.com.

He says: "I find the internet and the possibilities it offers incredibly exciting. The idea for Rock Soap Opera came from wanting to create something free, fun and utterly pointless. Within a few days of our launch a London newspaper ran an article which asked the question, 'Is this the most pointless website ever?' From then I felt that we were definitely on to something."

In choosing a theme for his site, Haywood was careful to pick a concept that could run indefinitely and one that would not automatically exclude any user demographics: "One of the best things about RockSoapOpera.com is that it completely transcends the age and gender barriers," he says. "Most 'cult' media is enjoyed by a young, largely male audience, but ours is a 50:50 gender split, with plenty of older, less tech-savvy bods in the mix."

RockSoapOpera.com even has international appeal. "Because it's largely pictorial with snappy captions, it's easy for audiences from foreign countries to get to grips with too," explains Haywood. "Although our major sources outside the UK tend to be places like Holland, Switzerland and Belgium, who all speak excellent levels of English anyway.

Haywood is planning to capitalize on RockSoapOpera.com's success by launching a range of spin-off projects. The first, 'Virtual Pet Rock', is an online social game. "It will be completely accessible and free, just to keep people on the site longer than it'd take to comment on the latest episode," he says. There are also plans to extend the brand offline with a series of Tamagotchi-style virtual pets.

So does pointlessness pay? Haywood says: "I suspect my parents still secretly wish I'd become a lawyer!"

 

 

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