Everybody is intent on going viral in this day and age and who can blame them? “Viral marketing” has been a buzzword for the past couple years and for most marketers it’s become the sought after holy grail of marketing. In some cases, “going viral” could mean thousands or even millions of hits for doing something funny or creative. That 15 minutes of fame, while short-lived can work wonders for your online campaign, right?
Surprisingly,no. The statistics on viral marketing are less promising than you might think. According to one research project by BuzzSumo who analyzed “hundreds of millions of articles”, the statistics for viral content were largely generalized. For example, long form content was shared sixteen times more than short form content, regardless of how funny or creative the content was.
Posting images with articles also increased total sharing and list format and infographics were shared thousands more times than traditional articles. In other words, so called “viral marketing” may be nothing more than users sharing content that follows a predictable and visually pleasing format.
When you analyze the behavior of users, you will notice an equally alarming trend. According to a breakdown of 10,000 shared articles, the emotion most users associated with shared content is “awe”, going as high as 25 percent. Laughter and amusement and anger related content were shared significantly less. This indicates that while emotional content is widely circulated, it is not as commonly shared as awe-inspiring viral content.
The sad fact of the matter is that most viral content created solely for the purpose of going “viral” is laughter or shock oriented. Most of it wouldn’t be considered “awe inspiring” and is thus less likely to produce the intended result.
Even more alarming is that many authorities are now suggesting that Facebook viral stories can actually backfire and do more harm than good. At best, bloggers and businesses who do succeed in going ‘viral’ might receive a temporary traffic or sales spike, but after the initial surge, their business is back to usual.
This blogger commented about going viral and talked about how he achieved great success with one article after it was shared around the world. However, he stated that after the initial wave of traffic came in, the spike ended and soon traffic and business went back to normal—which was practically nothing.
Another notorious viral campaign actually did more harm than good. The Black Dot viral campaign was quickly suspended just as it picked up momentum because of the threat of domestic violence escalating, even though the campaign was trying to speak out for victims of domestic violence.
To sum it up, you cannot control the reactions or perceptions of a virtual flash mob. They all flock to viral content for awe, but then use your content to benefit their own purposes. Just look at how viral memes like Overly Attached Girlfriend or Bad Luck Brian turned out—pictures that became a running joke, though hardly anyone remembers the intent of the original photos.
One-time results from a viral campaign can wane quickly and if you’re not careful it may have you second-guessing your own business strategy. If you hit 100,000 shares for an unrelated photo or post, do you re-build your business strategy on a whim? Or do you follow the same path of logical and cohesive sales?
Consistent marketing efforts pay off better over the long term because you can manage your public perception, handle publicity on your own terms and better target customers who are actually ready to buy, as opposed to people who have no intention of supporting you at all besides an occasional like. Rather than falling to the Ice Bucket Challenge temptation, or whatever is its descendant, invest in your branding and develop that awe-inspiring content that will keep customers coming back for more time and time again. Stay the course and remember that there’s no substitute for a solid and consistent marketing strategy. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.