Avoid Viral Marketing Fantasies

Sometimes viral content is crafted by typical internet users, but some of it is developed by brands. Many organizations hear about branded content going viral and wonder how it was accomplished.  These brands often equate the virality of a video or blog post as a marker of success; if everybody knows about it, it must be great. If everyone is talking about a trendy viral video, everyone will be talking about the brand as well.
The relevant question every brand should ask is: is that what we really want?

Why Do Brands Crave Virality?

Let’s explore why people would like their content to go viral in the first place. It’s not just a cat meme or a funny video, it’s a piece of content that moves people and makes them want to spread it around. A piece of content going viral means it has value in the broader cultural zeitgeist. If something goes viral, it means other people are sharing it for you and vetting it for their network, which is extremely effective word-of-mouth advertising. While this happens with content all the time on a small scale, something going viral is simply the extreme of it.

There is no hard-and-fast checklist to guarantee a piece of content goes viral. However, in his book Contagious, Jonah Berger there are a few key points on what makes products memorable and these rules can be applied to content.
1. Social currency. Consumers like new content which is relevant to something going on in society.
2. Triggers. This is anything reminding people of your content after they consume it, and this can be done in the story or the visuals.
3. Emotional impact. If the content affects someone emotionally, they are more likely to remember it and share it.
4. Visibility. Make it easy for people to show others the content; this works great for videos and images, not as easy for blogs.
5. Practical value. People share news they can use. This is the foundation of all good content, and oddly enough less relevant in viral content.
6. Stories. This is the most important point and the thing brands struggle with most. We explore it more here.
A couple examples of viral content in recent memory are “Real Women, Real Rewards” by Dove, and the popular Dollar Shave Club video.

Many of the items on the list should be in your content, simply to make it effective. It can be difficult to have all of them, but at least commit to have most of them.

Why would a brand not want to go viral?
Think of viral content as an actual virus: it spreads indiscriminately.
It all comes down to the question of control.

Controlling Your Content is Critical

avoid viral marketing fantasies 1There are two problems with having viral content: you’re likely speaking to demographics you don’t want, and you lose control of your message.

The entire point of a viral video is to get the most views, or the most exposure. It’s not to get sales, or qualified leads or conversions. It often has very little to do with your actual, measurable goals. The more widely something is tailored, the less focused it is both in appeal and measurement.

Brands typically want to find leads, encourage sales, and achieve authority in their space. While viral content can lead to heightened awareness, it can easily be awareness from people you do not need or want. Furthermore, those very people can turn on you. You’re dealing with the people who took the story of Harambe and made it into such an ironic joke, meaning now the meme is more widespread than the original story. It’s what happened to McDonalds when people hijacked their hashtag and torpedoed the entire campaign. The wider you go with the message, the more likely you are to hit the fringe.

The popular hashtag you thought was fun and open could easily become a political nightmare if the wrong groups get wind of it. Parody reaction videos may emerge. Now you’re a part of conversations you may not be comfortable in. This is one of the many reasons brands who dabble in controversy can have it turn on them, like Sony’s controversial ad for the PSP.

As a brand, ask yourself this: is your message actually wide-reaching? If not, do you want to risk trying to make it wide-reaching?

Start Small, Stay Focused

avoid viral marketing fantasies 2

The more widely a message is tailored, the less focused and relevant it is. While you get a wider audience laughing along, you miss out on the target demographic which may have become strong community members if their questions and desires were catered to.

A virus invades the body, takes it over for a short time, and then it’s gone. The same principle applies to viral content. It may stay stuck in the heads of people for an extended period, but those people may not be your demographic. Consider how difficult it would be a person to remain popular, with everyone, for an extended period of time. If a person were to say they just wanted to be famous and for everyone to like them, you would think that person strange. The more mature a person is, the less they have this goal.

Instead of focusing on reaching a massive audience, marketers should focus on something small; a specified segment or target of ideal customers. Rather than convert the general public into consumers, convert your target market into a community. You can hit all the markers of exceptional content and make it viral within a targeted group, ensuring exposure to the right people: ideal customers.

Don’t dream of having your content spread to all people, focus your content on reaching your people. 

Don't make content to spread to all people, make it for YOUR people. Click To Tweet
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Nick Rayner

Nick Rayner

With years of experience in content creation, digital marketing and working with emerging brands, Nick embraces the Social Media and Content Manager role with gusto.

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