Why you shouldn't focus on trying to make something 'go viral'

Why you shouldn’t focus on trying to make something ‘go viral’

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“I want it to go viral”. A too-often heard phrase in brands and organisations when talking about content and social media. Having seen YouTube videos that have received popular success, or campaigns such as the Ice Bucket Challenge, which have snowballed, brands want to emulate this for themselves. They see ‘going viral’ as the key to success with social media and want strategies and tactics to make something go viral for them. This diverts attention from the real benefits social media brings.

Very few things ‘go viral’ and I’ve written before about why in most cases things aren’t really ‘viral’ (which is about the way content spreads) but ‘popular’ (ie seen by lots of people). Trying to force your content to truly ‘go viral’ is usually a thankless task. And if you want you content to be seen by lots of people you should invest in media spend or advertising.

But ultimately – a focus on trying to create a viral hit will divert your organisation from using social media in a way that might better impact the business.

Even with the growing and vast numbers of people using social media tools, it is not the place to go for reaching the largest possible audiences. We know that users are increasingly segmenting their lives online, and are shutting brands out of many of these places. The social media platforms themselves are also making it increasingly difficult for brands to reach their friends and followers without considerable media spend.

Social media is less about this broadcast-style reach; it has always been about relationships and common communities. Bringing people (and brands) together on topics they care about. From discussing a hit TV show, to using products better, finding a hotel or getting support for your mobile phone. Social is about interactions, not broadcast, and brands will get most success if they focus on truly understanding the role they can play in this mix.

And this requires good planning and strategy skills – understanding the audience you do (and can) reach on social media. Who they are, why they might engage with you and what you might have to add to their discussions and challenges. You also need to have a clear understanding of your own organisation and the challenges you have that social could support. A clear strategy like this will help you identify where social media will have greatest impact with your audience and for your business.

Time spent devising a clear strategy for engaging and adding value to your audience will ultimately be more successful than time spent trying to dream up the next ‘viral success’. And if you get your engagement right you might just get one anyway.