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Audience engagement: Why going viral isn’t enough

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Essentially, it comes down to something “taking off” and getting higher levels of interaction than expected in a short timescale. Whether views or likes are in the tens of thousands or the millions, the volume of feedback and attention can feel pretty much the same.

It’s something many brands aspire to, even secretly hanker after. “We’d love to see it go viral” is a common utterance from client to marketer. But is going viral all it’s cracked up to be? Is it something a brand should spend any time or effort trying to achieve?

There’s no doubt that going viral can have real benefits. It creates a buzz, increases brand recognition and can also be a huge morale booster internally. However, it can have drawbacks. The value to the brand can be questionable – certainly hard to track or quantify. Arguably, a solid, well-crafted campaign, with strong messaging, that lands well with a key audience can provide more genuine commercial advantage.

While I don’t want to take away from the fun and excitement (and raised brand awareness), there are a number of important points that do at the very least need to be considered by brands either with viral aspirations, or which have unexpectedly gone viral.

Is this what you want to be known for?

It’s important for bosses to consider that what they go viral with will be what people will remember the company by and associate it with (until the next big thing comes along). So take a moment to think about the campaign and make sure it does in some way land messages that are on-brand and positive, enhancing rather than damaging the brand.

Be prepared for a flood of comments

While from the outside you may think that when your content goes viral, you can sit back and watch it happen, this isn’t the case. Going viral can take up a huge amount of internal resource. People will expect interaction, whether it’s answers to or acknowledgements of their comments.

You will need to have resource for this. You will also need to be prepared for all sorts of comments – positive and negative, constructive or obscene. Agreeing how to deal with these will be important. Be prepared or risk getting it wrong and spoiling your great moment, as well as potentially damaging your brand.

It might not last long

It’s something that seems to happen every day, many times over: a video or photo or other post goes viral and gets shared on social media many thousands of times. Usually, it is something personal, but sometimes brand campaigns spread rapidly across the internet.

It’s important to remember that there’s not room for everything. Most viral phenomena blow themselves out after only a few days. You have to expect this. Getting back to normal can feel a bit flat!

Who knows what will go viral tomorrow? For that reason, I don’t think a brand should spend a disproportionate amount of time and effort ‘trying’ to create a viral piece of content. It will happen if it happens. For me it’s far better to focus on the key elements of a strong marketing campaign that you can control: creativity, originality, clear messaging and authenticity. And if indeed the internet does play ball, treat it as the cherry on top.

Mike Rose is executive director of The Mission Marketing Group and managing director of Chapter

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