The Two Types of Viral Content

  • Chester

Two_Type_of_ViralUs marketers like to see our work go viral. Many of us see it as proof of success – proof that our content truly, madly, resonates with the global crowd.

But have we really given thought to what we are achieving with this contagion?

Brad Neathery of SocialRest has an answer to that, in this wonderfully illuminating piece about how viral content might not be what we think it is – and why we should be focusing on producing shareable content instead. It’s well worth a read – and shows that viral content can come in two kinds.

Night fever

Neathery uses the example of a hyper-successful Twitter giveaway campaign he ran early this year. Yes, it got SocialRest massive exposure and a 1200% increase in follower count, but the moment the winner was announced, the magic twinkled out. With nothing more up for grabs, followers stopped engaging.

In the end, all SocialRest got out of their viral campaign was “a couple weeks of vanity fame across an audience that couldn’t care less about who we were or what we had to say”. This is one type of virality – the catchy, ‘sexy’ appeal to people’s primal emotions.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t gain us much in the loyalty department. It simply makes us one of the endless distractions available to the modern consumer – something to enjoy for a short time (for free, at that) before moving on. It’s like the fever you go to bed with, that’s subsided by the time you wake up the next morning.

Which is the antithesis of content marketing. Viral content is great for boosting traffic but to retain viewers, we need to stay focused on delivering something informative, or actionable. We do not want to be the ‘flavor of the week’. This is doubly important considering the kind of competition we face these days.

The flu

CMI’s Joe Pulizzi nailed it, as usual, when he wrote that content marketers’ true competition isn’t just “three to five business competitors, it’s Gangnam Style,Candy Crush, and The Walking Dead.

In other words, anything and everything that grabs our customers’ attention. Especially entertainment. So, if we want to produce content contagion that won’t just be cured by a night’s sleep, it has to first get past all the other non-marketing, non-advertising stuff in newsfeeds and streams.

This is the other, and far more potent, type of virality. There are some things we can do with our content to work toward this:

  • Tell the story from the customer’s perspective. Don’t talk about what the offering does for them – talk about what they get out of it. And go beyond brochure benefits to how it impacts them personally.
  • Let others do the talking sometimes. Whether it’s guest blogging or an exclusive interview, letting reputable peers, with their own followings, tell your story their way can do wonders for your content.
  • Mix things up. Don’t be afraid of a little controversy. Challenge customers’ thinking. Make them want to spread those ideas – whether it’s out of disbelief, indignation, humor, or just plain old appreciation.

Like the common cold, truly valuable content that goes viral doesn’t go away that easily. And only in such cases can virality really be considered a measure of success.


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