What happens after a piece of content you’ve created goes viral?
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to find out the answer to this question when a blog post I wrote about the death of the social media manager got a lot of traffic. Within 24 hours, the article had 1,000 views. Mentions poured in on Twitter. I received the most LinkedIn requests I’ve ever received in one week. And my LinkedIn following easily crossed 1,000. By the end of the week, the post has reached over 50,000 views. Today, that post has more than 86,000 views.
“Viral” is somewhat of a relative term, but for me, seeing one of my posts get more than 50,000 views in one week certainly qualifies as going viral.
It was an odd experience for me because as a marketer, I often think about ways of extending the reach of my company’s content. I am not alone: many marketers want to crack the code for viral marketing. In fact, it’s the quest for virality that’s driving the popularity of real-time marketing. If we can all be like Oreo, then we’ll boost brand awareness and increase lead count/sales…eventually.
From my experience going viral, I’ve learned some valuable content-marketing lessons. Here are 5 of them:
- Tell a story.
I opened my blog post with a story. Shortly after graduating from university, I avoided the social media marketing profession, mostly because of an advice I got from a helpful HR person. In the blog post, I shared how I found my way back to the profession. My story wasn’t deeply personal, but it seemed to have resonated with people.
The entire piece is somewhat of a story anyway. It’s a story about survival. I ended the piece by offering 5 tips for social media marketers on how we could evolve in our professions and become better marketers in the process.
Most content that becomes viral has a story behind it. For example, many Upworthy posts go viral because they tell a personal or a controversial story. The Kony video that went viral a few years back had a story. And practically everything on Facebook’s ticker is a story about something or someone.
Not every blog post or marketing content merits a story. But if you can share one, do it. Remember that it doesn’t have to be your story. Retelling someone’s story can be just as powerful. Even fiction can make a huge impact—just make sure you’re upfront about it if the story isn’t real.
The point is that people like stories. So go tell one.
- Provide value.
I didn’t mean for the presentation to reach a wide audience. I created it for a speaking gig for writers who had little or no experience with LinkedIn.
When the presentation went viral, I was surprised because I didn’t think the content was interesting enough. I thought the tips were too basic. But people have found value in it. What seemed basic to me was interesting and useful 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 as long as they provide value to your audience. Don’t assume that your audience are experts in a topic. Beginner’s guides could be helpful to them if it helps educate them about a topic.
This comes back to a basic rule in marketing: know your audience. Having a deep understanding of the people you’re trying to reach will help you determine what knowledge gaps they have—and where your content can meaningfully add to the conversation.
- Don’t expect to go viral.
Neither of the content 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 placed it online so the people who had seen my talk could access it at a later time.
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. I didn’t pull any strings or ask anyone for favors. I didn’t make them viral.
No matter how great of a marketer you are, you can’t force anything to go 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. It’s not up to you. What you can control is the quality of your work.
- Promote the heck out of your content.
Ok, this might seem to contradict the last point, but hear me out. You can’t plan to go viral, but you should have a content-distribution plan to maximize your reach.
To increase your chance of success, set up a plan to get as many people as possible in your company involved. Reach out to any influencers you know and tell them about your content. Ensure that your content looks great when people share it on social. (You might need to change the meta-tags to make sure that the right description and pictures are being rendered, for example.)
And if your content starts to get some traction online, you have to be prepared to amplify that. Set up monitoring tools so you can thank people who are sharing your content. Check comments frequently so you can respond to what people are saying. And if necessary, listen to what people are saying so you can quickly fact-check or correct information.
When I saw on Twitter that my blog post was getting a lot of traction, I thanked as many people as possible. I also re-tweeted a few people. I followed some of the people who shared my content. Doing these things helped drive more traffic to my blog post and helped expand my network.
- Continue to provide useful content.
To my dismay, none of my subsequent posts ever went viral this year. Some, such as my article about the New York Times Innovation Report, gained some traction and have thousands of views. But I haven’t been able to replicate the success of my viral blog post. Even blog posts that I was sure would resonate with many people have stalled after a few thousands views.
The lesson? Going viral once doesn’t guarantee future success. And going viral means nothing.
But I also realize that not going viral is okay. My goal when I write is to offer my expertise. I write to explore my own ideas and to get clarity on my own perspectives. Getting thousands of people to see my content is just icing on the cake.
If one of your brand’s content goes viral, don’t expect for your next pieces of content to go viral too. Useful content is great, but going viral requires timing…and luck.
Perhaps more importantly, marketers should keep in mind that “going viral” is not a business strategy. For virality to actually result to ROI, marketers need to be clear on the business goal that it is driving. And if you’re in a B2B setting, you need to have a plan to convert the high brand awareness that going viral offers into something that drives leads for your company.
Of course, all this isn’t to say that I wouldn’t want my content to go viral again. It is rewarding to see something you’ve worked hard on to get seen by many people. But I’m also keenly aware that the Internet has a short-term memory. And although going viral hasn’t changed my life, I’m glad it happened to me because it gave me a new perspective on content marketing.
Your turn: What is your experience with viral content? Let me know in the comments or tweet me at @kcclaveria.