Why You Don’t Want Your Content to Go Viral

Viral: It’s a word that’s on every content marketer’s mind for obvious reasons — it could mean the difference between the local coffee shop and the verdant mermaid iconography instantly recognizable worldwide. This word that also means “diseased, infected and sick” has a largely positive connotation in the digital age, but there’s a lingering caveat in euphemizing it.

Striving to create viral content can be tempting, and content marketers are right to have widespread attention as part of their goals, but rather than it being the primary objective, it should be a secondary goal — something that results from producing engaging, high-quality content. Here are just a few reasons why you don’t want your content to go viral:

Relevance

Going viral is like sawing off a shotgun of ideas just to hit a wider target. The problem is, you’re sawing into ideas that, if refined, could hit a relevant target. While viral content can increase awareness for your brand, relevant content can lead to substantial increases in sales and ROI as it makes consumers feel more valued and catered to.

To begin persuading your audience, you have to communicate information that’s relevant to local or global conversations — information that people are already conscious of or talking about.

This is why we use demographics, and why we create personas to whom we’re marketing. We want our creative choices to resonate with feelings and thoughts the audience already has. As content marketers, our main goal should always be “right content, right audience, right time”…right?

Permanence

If you think about it, a virus invades the body, takes it over for a short time and then — poof — it’s gone. The same principle applies to viral content. It can be the darling of the internet for a time, but soon enough it will drift off into the digital abyss, only occasionally looked at or shared for the nostalgia. In this sense, viral can be synonymous with ephemeral.

Content is meant to serve as an authentic connection between you and your audience, so when you produce it with the intention of going viral, you’re ultimately designing it with the intent to have a superficial, short-term relationship. This mindset inherently devalues the relationship-building aspect that is key to content marketing.

Rather, consider what kind of content will appeal to your audience over time and make them want to come back to your brand. The customer journey can sometimes be long; one piece of hyped-up, widespread content that’s quickly forgotten may not help you achieve your overall brand goals.

Negative Reactions

Let’s consider the viral marketing campaign Mountain Dew launched during Super Bowl L. I never thought I’d have to type the words “puppy,” “monkey” and “baby” in the same series, but here we are. What, exactly, did a puppy-monkey-baby have to do with soda? Absolutely nothing.

There’s a kind of freedom for a company like PepsiCo to go viral; there’s very little for them to actually lose in that endeavor, but your local handcrafted soda company definitely does.

A viral campaign can surely broaden your reach, but one weird misstep in content or context could bring the whole thing crashing down. While memorable, this ad missed the mark for just about every audience out there, and with the ability for consumers to react in real-time, the negative attention can spread in the blink of an eye. Brands beware:

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So this brings us to the double-edged sword of 21st-century digital marketing: The internet is a (somewhat) unfettered frontier in which your brand can reach anyone, but it’s also the same desert where consumers are looking out at countless pieces of content created by countless brands, and they can only take in so much. Because of this, it’s better to produce memorable, high-quality content that will stick with consumers rather than one piece of viral content that they’ll forget about next week.

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