Why Virality Shouldn’t Be a Strategy
When something “goes viral,” it wasn’t planned. It happens unexpectedly, usually due to a “right place, right time” series of events that would be difficult or impossible to replicate.
For every piece of content that goes legitimately viral, there are hundreds of failed “viral marketing” campaigns that fell flat, resulting in nothing but wasted money.
Very rarely can you accurately predict the outcome of a piece of marketing content. It depends on how it lands with people, whether it reaches the right people in the first place, and whether people choose to share it. “Going viral” can hinge on a one in a million coincidental event, like a famous person coming across the content and sharing it with a large audience.
That’s not the kind of thing you can plan for. As marketers, we always do our best to make sure we create great content that resonates with the right people, and that we get it in front of an audience that’s going to be receptive to it. But there are an awful lot of variables.
Then, there’s another issue: content that’s designed to “go viral” has a high chance of coming across as cheesy, lame, and forced. It can be downright embarrassing when out of touch corporate marketing types try to appeal to what they think is cool and trendy right now.
When that happens, you just end up wasting your advertising budget on something that ultimately hurt more than it helped.
When It Comes to Reach, Relevance Beats Sheer Numbers Every Time
The great thing about web marketing is that we can get advertising messages in front of very specific groups of people. If you’ve ever run an ad campaign on Facebook, you’ve seen how fine-toothed a comb you can run through their userbase.
Want to target university students in London who have red hair, own a cat, and were born in the month of November?
You actually can do that kind of thing these days. And if you’re selling a “November Redhead University Girls with Cats Are Awesome” t-shirt, those are the people you want to reach.
There are riches in niches these days. You can make a lot more money by catering to a small, specific demographic, instead of trying to appeal to literally everyone. And when you’re focused on targeting a particular niche, “going viral” and making the front page of Reddit reaches tons of people, sure, but not people who will actually buy your product.
Instead of trying in vain to “go viral” — which just ends up wasting money advertising to people who aren’t buying what you’re selling — you’re better off creating high quality, well-targeted content that stays relevant for a long time to come.
Creating Content That Lasts
One of our favourite tools for finding great content ideas is BuzzSumo. This tool lets you enter a topic, product, service area, or keyword, then see details about the content that’s performing well in that niche.
You can see traffic and shares from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, helping you pinpoint good places to share similar content.
We also like Answer the Public a lot. This tool scrapes data from Google searches to produce lists of question-format and preposition-format queries related to a topic or keyword that you enter.
For a query like “fleas,” you can find questions like “how to get rid of fleas,” “where do fleas breed,” and similar prompts you can use as a basis to create new content.
Tracking Social Media Success
Once you’ve published and shared a piece of content, you should be keeping track of how it performs. This can help you gain insight into what works and what doesn’t, what kinds of content your audience responds to the most, and which platforms they prefer to read and share things on.
On Facebook, you can use the “Facebook Insights” tool to monitor post reach, post engagement, and other metrics. You can see if there’s been a spike in activity.
Similarly, you can use Instagram Insights to track impressions, reach, and profile visits from your image-based content. Unfortunately, the information Instagram offers you only covers a limited timescale. Union Metrics is a good third party tool that lets you keep track of activity over longer periods of time.
For all social media, Buffer — a post scheduling and monitoring tool — can provide additional insights and analytics.
As for email campaigns, Google Analytics is a great tool for tracking site visits and conversions. All you’ll need to do is create a trackable URL, which allows you to monitor activity via your Google Analytics dashboard.
Content Strategy is a Trial and Error Process
Content strategy is an ongoing process of experimentation. You’ll need to try a variety of things to find out what works and what doesn’t for your particular brand and audience.
Your time and ad budget are much better spent creating highly targeted content aimed at people with a high chance of conversion, instead of trying to “go viral” by casting the widest net that you can.