I’m going to tell you a secret: going viral is not a marketing strategy. Yet, there are endless job descriptions with the phrase, “Responsibilities: Create viral content.” Brands are scrambling to get a chunk of the limelight. It’s time to stop focusing on viral marketing. Instead, you need to focus on slower, steady growth.
In this article, we’re going to dive into…
- Why striving to go viral is a waste of time
- How viral marketing has the potential to destroy your brand
- Why slow, steady growth is where you should focus your strategy
- And how to achieve sustainable growth (and non-dangerous virality)
What does it mean to “go viral”?
The trouble begins when you try to quantify virality. The idea is that millions of people see and share a piece of content in a short amount of time. But professionals don’t agree upon the definition of viral content in exact numbers.
The phrase comes from the medical definition of a virus – a disease that passes quickly from person to person. As a result, the spread can be difficult, if not impossible, to contain. With an infection, the aim is to stop the virus from spreading. But in the case of content, people often see the spread as a goal.
Brands have used viral marketing as part of brand marketing to supercharge brand awareness. But this comes with several downsides.
Going viral is a waste of time
One problem with chasing a constant viewer-high as a strategy is that there is no set formula. One brand may spend a massive budget creating a video that ends up flopping. Another may have an employee shoot off a quick tweet that spreads like wildfire.
Algorithms can be unpredictable
Social media algorithms are finicky. Creators who have been getting hundreds of thousands of views for years can suddenly struggle to get content in front of their audiences. You may discover a strategy that regularly results in overwhelming views for a while, but algorithms can change anytime, putting you back to square one.
Instagram and TikTok push content into users’ feeds regardless of whether they follow them. So even if someone follows you after seeing your viral post, there’s no guarantee your future content will end up in front of them.
Views don’t equal sales
Brand awareness is great. After all, how can you attract the right audience if they don’t see you? But when your goal is to chase a certain number of views, you focus more on quantity than quality.
You’re not targeting your niche. Sure, you might end up with millions of views, but how many of those views are relevant to your brand? Sometimes content spreads because the promoted product or brand interests viewers. But more often than not, people are just interested in the content itself. They may never become your customer.
You lose focus on customer retention
Startup Genome’s report on Why Startups Fail looks at sales made by brands that go viral. It suggests that early traction could come from early adopters rather than your target market.
Having someone buy your product when it’s gaining global attention doesn’t mean they’ll remain customers for the long term. Customer acquisition costs have been steadily increasing over the years. As a result, many brands are increasing their focus on customer retention and improving lifetime value.
You’re setting your brand up for failure
By trying to force viral marketing, you’re forever chasing an unrealistic goal. With people uploading more content daily, securing a spot in the viral hall of fame is more challenging than ever. Because of this, you’ll often fall short of your intended metrics and KPIs. Not to mention, your marketing team risks low morale each time they miss the mark.
Chasing views as a business strategy is like relying on the lottery to build your retirement fund. There’s a chance you’ll hit the jackpot, but it’s a risky bet. And finding success one day doesn’t guarantee that it continues to sustain your brand. Going viral should be a great surprise! Not a common objective.
Think about it. A few popular posts or videos from five to ten years ago may live on in your memory. But most of them only come to mind again in “Best Videos of 2012” compilations on YouTube. That’s because the things that go viral today erase what went viral yesterday. Our memories, like our attention spans, are short.
Viral content could destroy your brand
It may sound extreme, but viral marketing could be your brand’s downfall in several ways.
Inauthentic or downright offensive
First, there’s “bad virality,” meaning your brand has gained traction for all the wrong reasons. “Any press is good press” is a dangerous motto in today’s culture, where brands and people alike can be “canceled” for an ill-thought-out planned post.
If you’re trying too hard to be popular, you may come off as inauthentic and “cringe.” Newer generations have grown up online. They’re digitally fluent and often see marketing schemes as disingenuine. Millennials and Generation Z especially crave more authenticity and relatability from brands.
Some brands push too hard to appear trendy and relatable. Instead, they come off like a parent trying to use their kid’s slang – uncool and embarrassing. Something like this isn’t likely to destroy your brand. But people mocking your content may make connecting with your target audience harder.
In other cases, you may offend people. There have been many cases where brands – even large, global corporations – have gone viral due to people’s outrage at their campaigns. Pepsi’s advertisement with Kylie Jenner is just one example. Large brands have the funds to survive a few months of backlash. But, unfortunately, it’s far more difficult for small brands to survive PR nightmares.
The dangers of “good virality”
It might surprise you to learn that achieving your viral marketing goal, exploding brand awareness in a short time, and facing a massive influx of sales and attention can do more damage than good for your brand.
But this “good virality” is more likely to sink your brand than “bad virality,” especially if you’re a small business or startup. International attention and being the talk of the internet is most startup brands’ dream. But with a shocking 90% of startups failing, the Startup Genome report shows that fast growth may be the issue.
When a startup ramps up its sales before building an efficient and sustainable strategy for achieving profitability, it enters “a vicious cycle […] wherein the more a company grows, the more it farther away from profitability it becomes.” The report states that brands need to focus on the driving metrics of their growth.
Another pitfall of viral marketing is overexposure. Research on Mitigating Overexposure in Viral Marketing showed that excessive exposure could result in negative evaluations by reaching people outside a brand’s target audience.
The article discusses that the more exposure a brand or product receives, the lower the reviews or ratings. So it’s more proof that getting the “right eyes” on your content is much more valuable than just getting the “most eyes.”
Focus on a slower, steady growth
Don’t go viral. Successful brands don’t seek to be the next shiny new object. They know a new shiny object will replace them. So they seek to be a vital solution to their consumers.
The Startup Genome report identifies five core dimensions of a startup that must stay balanced with one another:
- Business Model
When one or more of these dimensions grows quicker or slower than the others, startups struggle and often fail. However, keeping these dimensions in balance can speed up the growth of a business.
You don’t need speed
Slower growth builds a foundation that facilitates the consistent development of each dimension. It also allows you to plan your marketing and make strategic decisions rather than reacting to an influx of attention. A slower approach gives you the ability to make small mistakes. You have time to get feedback from your target audience and optimize your brand before growing – which could save your reputation.
Speed almost always requires sacrificing somewhere else. If a business goes viral, that sacrifice could come from finances, customer satisfaction, product quality, or personnel.
Profit over sales
Revenue is not the same as profitability. While a brand may see huge sales after becoming a global sensation, this doesn’t always translate into profitability. Instead, making money quickly often causes small brands and startups to increase spending by hiring more staff to meet demands and growing spending on product development.
But a few months or years later, the confetti stops falling, and the world goes bananas over the next thing. So now, the once-viral brand is spending more than they’re making.
An article in the Financial Post says it best: “‘Scaling slow’ lets you set longer-term, and more holistic goals, creating a business that’s relentlessly focused on building customer satisfaction while developing sound internal processes for getting things done.”
How to achieve sustainable growth – and go viral the right way
So how can brands achieve growth that moves them forward consistently but doesn’t overwhelm their resources?
Build a community
One of the most essential strategies brands can use is community building. Your customers are your biggest asset. Making sure you build a loyal consumer base who’ll return to you again and again, grows profitability. A repeat customer is more valuable than a new customer.
Creating niche content is a great way to reach your ideal community members. Produce content that appeals to those who’d benefit from your products or services. As a result, you’ll lower the risk of wasting your marketing budget on the wrong people or tarnishing your reviews and reputation because you are casting too wide a net.
It’s far more valuable to spread within your particular niche than to have your content applied indiscriminately.
Invest in mutually beneficial relationships
81% of consumers stated they want to form a relationship with a brand to whom they’re loyal. But building these relationships takes time and effort from your brand. Connect with consumers on social media. Involve them in decisions via surveys and feedback. You can use a tool like Jotform Survey Maker for this purpose. Address complaints and collaborate with your community. These are all excellent ways to build rapport and brand trust.
Customer loyalty, influencer, affiliate, and brand ambassador programs are all strategies brands use to give back to their loyal consumers. Even if you are in the world of web3 and NFTs, partnering with web3 Twitter influencers can be a powerful way to drive brand awareness and loyalty. These produce mutually beneficial relationships. Brands receive promotions and exposure and reward consumers for their contributions.
Incentivise word of mouth
Word of mouth is one of the most potent forms of marketing. Consumers trust other consumers over brands. And usually only after hearing about a brand more than once.
Research suggests that when people make purchases based on online content, it’s often after repeat exposure. For example, purchases are more likely when consumers discover a product through word of mouth.
Liz Corbus, a Client Solutions Manager at TikTok, states that influencer content gets double the engagement of brand content on the platform. She suggests brands collaborate with content creators. For example, use a mix of word-of-mouth marketing and paid, boosted content rather than relying on organic content to go viral.
Incentivizing word-of-mouth marketing feeds back into building a community. Brand ambassadors and influencer marketing offer brands a unique opportunity to strengthen brand loyalty and consumer relationships. At the same time, they benefit from the influential power of authentic, user-generated content and social proof.
Go viral…the right way
Viral marketing starts with sharing content about and from your brand. But who shares this content? People who love it. So by focusing on slower growth through community and relationship building, you amass a large group of people who are more likely to love and share your content.
Brands that create successful viral campaigns often already have a large consumer base and loyal fans. So they aren’t going viral to kickstart their collection of followers. Instead, they rely on people already familiar with them to spread their content.
A study entitled “Social media and its implication for viral marketing” supports this idea. It states that you must build and reinforce trust with your audience to harness viral marketing. It stresses the importance of relationship marketing and co-creating with consumers and influencers.
When creating a marketing strategy for your brand, you must push boundaries and strive for goals that challenge your team. It’s critical that those goals are achievable and you can expand upon them in the future for continued, sustainable growth. Striving for viral results is unrealistic and can be detrimental to your brand.
Hopping on social media trends and creating content solely to get views can cause brands to neglect creating a unique voice that resonates with their target audience. But by focusing on genuine connections and building a community of loyal customers and fans, brands can build sustainable growth and increase their chances of going viral in a way that helps more than harms their business.