'Ok guys, we need to go viral...'

Over the last week or two there has been a bit of a joke bouncing around about ‘going viral’. The term is regularly thrown around with reference to things such as ‘going viral’ and ‘planning viral strategies’, the notion of a viral strategy is, in itself an oxymoron.

By definition, viral means something that you can’t control and therefore impossible to plan or strategize. I recently read a blog post titled “The Secret Recipe for Viral Content Marketing Success”. The article made some fairly compelling points that are worth noting, but the word ‘viral’ has been stuck in front of content marketing inappropriately. From my understanding this is an article about creating good, engaging content for your social marketing strategies/campaigns with a ‘viral strategy’ to make a lot of noise at the beginning. Ultimately, if you know your audience and the type of content they will like, then your content can be shared a large number of times and ‘become viral’. It seems that viral is just a buzzword that’s used to excite those who may not necessarily understand what it actually takes to ‘achieve it’.

Much like the above, my interpretation of a viral posting is a piece of content that is shared/viewed/retweeted/liked by an overwhelming amount of people on an extremely large, even global scale and in a very short space of time. But surely it must be relative, posting a piece of content to your Facebook fan base of 2,000 people, that is in turn shared by over 1,000 people and receives say, 1,500 likes in one day, would be considered seriously good content marketing. If you were to increase those figures and place a piece of content on a much wider, global scale then it may then be considered viral. If I was posting for a client and received 1,500 likes out of 2,000 Facebook fans, I would be rather chuffed, but I wouldn’t consider that to be an outstanding piece of viral marketing.

So what does ‘viral’ actually mean in terms of the internet? This is the definition I found – ‘Content that spreads very fast on the Internet, usually an article, a picture, or a video which contains funny, controversial or relevant information’.

Where is the line that defines the two? Is it the scale of which the content reaches? Or is it the actual motivation behind the content itself? In my opinion, true viral content is something that is not necessarily intended to be so, it becomes viral. Of course, the intention is always to reach as many relevant users as possible, but some of the best viral examples are not created with millions of users in mind, but with a good understanding of the target audience. It is easy with hindsight to claim that this ‘virality’ was the intention from the outset and if someone genuinely knew the ‘recipe’ for content with guaranteed ‘viral’ results, they’d be extremely well off…

The nature of something ‘viral’ is to become a sensation overnight and so, by definition won’t last long. For businesses, content such as this only serves to make an impact in the short term. It may bring a sudden influx of interest to your brand, but more often than not, viral content (particularly videos) becomes quite irritating, which can potentially be counter productive for your brand aims. To achieve this sort of coverage successfully a team should develop a damn good content marketing campaign – yes that may take longer to plan, implement and begin to see results, but surely that is so much more valuable? If the campaign then also receives plenty of hits and reaches viral levels, then fantastic! But at least the success would have been founded on solid grounds with a strong relevance to your target audience.

When it comes to social content marketing I (like many others) am a strong believer in quality over quantity, the strategy should always centre around quality content rather than achieving that illusive ‘viral’ status.

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