Why Going Viral is a Weak Goal (And Tips to Go Shareable)

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Do you remember Zack Danger Brown’s potato salad Kickstarter?

I recently received a message from Kickstarter asking me to either change or confirm my address so that I could receive my “reward” (a photograph of Zack making the potato salad) for pledging $2.00 to the campaign. In case you forgot (I did), Zack’s potato salad Kickstarter went viral this past July. What started out as a joke raised over $55,000 in just 30 days.

There are plenty of reasons this campaign generated such a huge following, and Kickstarter wrote an excellent blog post discussing them. Press coverage was a significant factor, which sparked the eventual viral success of Zack’s campaign. He appeared on local television within a few days of launching his campaign, and soon after that his Kickstarter page hit 4.1 million views. Zack’s potato salad ultimately reached media outlets in 54 countries worldwide.

This is, of course, appealing to any business. You see brands and organizations like Oreo, Dove, and the ALS Association successfully leverage viral campaigns and you want to reap the same benefits. Who wouldn’t want a presence in 54 countries? A link going viral on Facebook can help an unknown brand or cause find a large audience overnight.

But small businesses and new businesses should take heed. Going viral is a flimsy goal.

Going Viral vs Being Shareable

Brands like Oreo were household names long before Twitter and Facebook. When these mega-brands position themselves on social networks, their massive communities follow them. The viral success of these companies is not a sign that you need to “go viral,” it’s simply proof that strong brand awareness and smart social media posting strategies can engage an existing community.

What about stories like Zack Brown’s potato salad? It’s a phenomenon that is not replicable as a social media strategy. Much like hitting the lottery, viral fame can’t be a plan. It’s something that comes from consistently posting content your audience values.

So, if you put “going viral” at the top of your list of goals, instead of “satisfy our fans,” you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Be skeptical of any article or e-book that promises quick tricks for viral content. Instead, set goals and follow parameters to establish your brand as a generator of highly shareable content that is valuable to your brand.

Here is a list of widely accepted practices to help you go shareable:

  1. Show your expertise with compelling content. Take the time to research, write, and copy-edit your blog posts. Make sure your images and videos meet high standards of professionalism: high-resolution photography, contemporary graphic design elements, and clear web-appropriate typography. Never steal copy. Never steal images. Be original, not cliché.
  2. Build up your network by building up your brand’s voice over time. Be consistent in the tone of your posts. Create a posting schedule and stick to it. Placing your logo on images you plan to post on social media is a great way to remind your community of your brand.
  3. “Listen” to your followers. If one post gets 15 shares and another gets zero, compare those two posts. Test the waters for future blog posts by asking your community a question on Facebook or Twitter. No responses can tell you just as much as 30. Pay attention to what your target audience is posting and responding well to, and react.
  4. Be human! If your gut instinct tells you the content is neither relevant nor appropriate, don’t post it. Injecting humor or empathy in your posts is a great way to connect to your community. Do so with an intelligent, accessible, and non-confrontational tone.

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