Buzzkill: What's wrong with viral? (Video)

For most marketers, viral is a coveted word. In a world where social media is king, viral content, specifically video, seems like the dream. A view count of 100,000 is always better than 100, right? Big numbers are what you need, right? So, how can you get them?

What makes “viral” viral?

Everyone knows the definition of viral: content that viewers share on their personal digital platforms, then their audience shares it, and then the cycle repeats. But what qualities actually make something viral?

Surprises and delights: The heart of a viral video is showing your audience something they’ve never seen before. That’s easier said than done. With 6 billion hours of YouTube video watched per month, you need something truly spectacular to stand out… something like skydiving from space.

Short: Attention spans are at an all time low. The new gold standard of entertainment/time is Vine. Ask yourself: can your video compete with a six-second clip of a cat doing something cute — an almost instant payout of entertainment?

Unbranded: 99% of corporate-produced viral content has very little to do with their product or service. There are a few notable exceptions, but as soon as people detect they are being sold to, engagement plummets.

Makes a statement when shared: People share content to make themselves look good.  Someone will share a silly video on Facebook to appear funny or pin an outfit on Pinterest to be seen as trendy. It’s a cynical way to look at social media, but people share content to be rewarded. If your video won’t say something about the person sharing it, your audience won’t have incentive to share it.

Here’s the hard truth: if your video doesn’t have all of these qualities, it’s probably not going viral — and that’s ok. Virality isn’t the end-all of success. In fact, it has distracted us from what really matters.

How does the viral mentality distract you?


Thinking your video will be successful without promotion: 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Even if you have the best content on Earth, it is more likely to get overlooked than not. The success of viral videos seems to have created the belief that good content will sell itself. Unless you have a massive following, posting video to your social media channels isn’t enough anymore. Your video needs promotion.

Imagining success = views (and nothing else): Getting views on your video is important, but it isn’t why you produced the content. What you really want is a particular business goal, like more leads. Your video might get a million views, but how does that actually impact your business? It may seem like an obvious consideration, but for many marketers it’s a gigantic blind spot. This leads to the next point...

Forgetting about CTAs: What are viewers supposed to do after watching your video? Most corporate viral videos have no direct link to their sales funnel. Viral video may be great as a brand-building device, but your company might need a specific action from your audience. If you don’t direct them, who will?

What’s the bottom line?


There’s nothing inherently wrong with virality — as long as it hasn’t distracted you from what your business needs from your content. Video is like any other marketing device: it has to have a concrete goal and an intentional strategy. Do you need mass awareness for your product? A video to change how people think of your company? A short reel for your sales force? These are the questions that need answers before you ask, “So how do we make it go viral?”

Written by Joe Lee, Content Marketing Specialist.

Video by Levi Bethune, Director of Brand Communication.

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