Why going viral means nothing

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Why Going Viral Means Nothing

Last March, I published a blog post about the death of the social media manager. I wrote the post as part of LinkedIn’s #MyIndustry campaign.

Within a day, more than 1,000 people have seen it. The views kept on coming, reaching over 50,000 views by the end of the week. I got a lot of mentions on Twitter. I received the most LinkedIn requests I’ve ever received in one week. My LinkedIn following easily crossed 1,000. Today, that post has more than 76,000 views.

I’m not sure when a piece of content technically goes “viral,” but at least in my standards, that LinkedIn post did just that. Some of the blog posts I’ve written in the past have reached a wide audience, but those views trickled in over a long period of time. Not this one.

5 marketing lessons I learned from going viral

Going viral was interesting—something I’ve never experienced before. And I’d like to share some lessons from it because for many content marketers, going viral is our holy grail. If we can get more people to see our content, we can increase brand awareness and hopefully eventually attract leads.

If you’re creating any type of marketing content, here are five lessons to keep in mind about going viral:

1. Storytelling matters.

My post about social media managers began with a story—a story of how I avoided the profession and how I found my way back. It’s a short story and not too personal, but it seemed to have hooked the right people.

If you think about it, most content that go viral has a story behind it. The reason so many Upworthy posts go viral is because they tell a story. Many of the blog posts we share on social media also reveal something about the author.

Tweet this! Lessons are cool, but stories are more interesting and more relatable. (TWEET THIS)

Not every blog post merits a story (I know this from experience), but if you can share one, that helps you make an immediate connection with your readers. The more personal, the better.

2. What seems basic to you may not be too basic after all.

Another content of mine that went “viral” is my Slideshare presentation on how to succeed on LinkedIn. As of today, it has almost 100,000 views.

I didn’t mean for the presentation to reach a wide audience. In fact, I created it for a speaking gig for writers who have little or no experience with LinkedIn.

When the presentation went viral, I was surprised because I didn’t think the content was interesting enough. Frankly, I thought the tips were too basic. But people have found value in it.

What seemed basic to me was in fact interesting to thousands of people.

As a social media marketer and blog editor, I’m always looking to elevate the conversation. But this presentation reminds me that sometimes, the basics are fine. People aren’t experts in your field—and they are looking for answers for basic questions. Don’t be afraid to share beginner’s guides. There’s an appetite for that kind of content.

3. You can’t really plan it.

Neither of the posts I mentioned here were ever intended to go viral. I wrote the piece about social media managers on a whim after LinkedIn sent an email announcing the #MyIndustry campaign.

As for the Slideshare presentation, I put it online just so the people who have seen my talk can easily grab it and review the content, if they wish.

But both got shared online a lot. One was featured on LinkedIn’s social media category, while the other was featured on Slideshare’s careers section. I didn’t do anything special to get either one featured.

You can’t really plan what goes viral. Yes, creating fantastic content helps. Yes, having a strategic distribution plan is important. But for the most part, you can’t predict what people will want and what they’ll share with their own networks.

Just keep creating awesome content. Perhaps one of them will go viral. Perhaps none of them will. For the most part, it’s not up to you.

 Tweet this! You can’t really plan what goes viral. Just keep creating awesome content. (TWEET THIS)

4. You have to be prepared for it.

Ok, this might seem to contradict the last point, but hear me out. You can’t plan to go viral, but if it happens, you should be ready.

That means having the right monitoring tools to make sure you thank people who are sharing your content. That means checking the comments frequently so you’re responding to what people are saying. That means listening to what people are sayingso you can fact-check or correct information, if necessary.

On Hootsuite, it’s fairly easy to monitor who has shared you content: Just create a new stream, do a search, select a profile, and then paste the URL in the “Enter Search Query” box. Make sure you have this set up each time you have new content out—not everyone will @ mention you on Twitter!

5. Going viral means absolutely nothing.

After my post on social media managers went viral, I—perhaps foolishly—expected my subsequent posts on LinkedIn to get the same traction. I was wrong.

My next post—about Facebook tactics that marketers should try—has 700+ views, fantastic in most respects but an oddly small number compared to my previous post.

My second hit on LinkedIn was about the New York Times Innovation Report. It has almost 4,000 views as of today. Again, a pretty good number but it’s a fraction of what my other post got.

The lesson here is that going viral once doesn’t guarantee future success. Going viral means nothing. But at the end of the day, that’s okay: my goal when I write is to offer my expertise and to explore my own ideas. Getting thousands of people to see it is just icing on the cake.

Tweet this! Going viral means absolutely nothing. Going viral once doesn’t guarantee future success. (TWEET THIS)

Will I get another viral hit? I don’t know. And frankly, it probably doesn’t matter. There is something very satisfying about getting your content seen by many people, I must admit. But remember that the Internet has short-term memory: the next viral thing is just around the corner, and your viral content today will be old news by tomorrow.

What is your experience with viral content? Let me know in the comments or tweet me at @kcclaveria.

NOTE: A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.

© 2014, KC Claveria. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please link back to kcclaveria.com

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