Viral marketing isn’t a strategy - it’s an outcome

August 17, 2022

Jayde Robertson

Here’s why, and what you can do instead!

We don't blame you if you're still itching for your brand to "go viral”, constantly checking your notifications and updates for good news. If you’re an institution or brand on social, this is a fairly common aspiration. Why?

Well, it’s simple really. Most brands have a legitimate desire to reach as many prospects as possible - more notably, for those prospects to consume, share - and engage with their content.

In fact, among the top social media objectives for marketers today, increasing brand recognition ranks first. This explains why a lot of education companies see viral marketing as a chance to launch themselves into the oh-so-desirable social media stardom.

But does it still make sense in today's world to chase trends and the possibility of going viral? Surely - social media should form a part of your greater marketing funnel. We can understand if you’re attracted to the idea of viral marketing. Who wouldn't want to see their content spread organically on the web, shared by strangers, and appreciated by prospects?

We thought we loved the idea too - that is until we discovered that a single successful viral initiative won't help you achieve your digital marketing objectives.

First things first - what is viral marketing?

According to its definition - viral marketing simply refers to a technique in marketing a product or a service where users help in spreading the advertiser's message to other websites - or the users create a scenario which can lead to multi-fold growth.

Simply put - it's a technique (not strategy) that relies on social media users for its promotion.

When your content reaches the stage where it is spread by the general public as opposed to simply its intended audience, it is said to have gone "viral." If you succeed, almost everyone will see your message on social media.

But then - how does it work?

The widespread use of memes on social media serves as an excellent illustration of contemporary viral marketing. Although not always connected to a specific product, the fundamentals of going viral and how memes spread go hand in hand.

Consider how seemingly arbitrary occurrences like Baby Yoda, "OK boomer" or “Sheesh” (weird, we know) suddenly dominate your social media feeds. Because they resonate with people, memes are widely shared and promoted, and through "liking" and "sharing," non-meme users participate in meme trends.

Basically - the first step is to develop a distinctive and imaginative marketing campaign, which could take the form of anything from a video to a challenge. An online marketing channel, such as social networking sites, forums, communities, blogs, news websites, direct messaging services, or email, is used to spread awareness of the campaign. Let's pretend for the sake of argument that you produced a campus tour video. After posting said video to your social media accounts, it quickly attracts a few hundred viewers. These viewers could download the video and share it with their friends on another platform. The video is then shared by one of their friends with their own friends, and before you know it, millions of people have seen it - you may very well be trending, or if you’re lucky - a meme will be made in your honor.

So, can anything go viral?

Not all content will go viral. Some pieces of content are inherently designed not to go viral. For example, a comprehensive guide on buying property is unlikely to provide any appeal to the residents of Instagram. That said - if property acquisition is your game, then that non-viral guide will be a whole lot more useful to your target audience than that cute cat video.

Why going viral shouldn’t be your end-game

Yes, the idea of having 10 000 people view your video, or share your meme is enticing. It’s social media popularity after all. But - at the end of the day, what is it really going to do for you, or better - your strategy? Going viral is something that apparently promises to take away all of your daily marketing stresses, much like fame. In truth, this dream is sold by many gurus out there. convincing you to "just keep trying" in the hopes that that one piece of content would go viral and blow up!

Despite what has been mentioned, a single KPI aim for going viral is completely absurd, difficult to track, and unpredictable.

Trust us when we say that most of the time, it makes no difference.

Here’s how we know

Mid 2022, we decided to expand our team by adding a bright-eyed, enthusiastic intern to our ranks! Definitely one of the best decisions we’ve made. Part of her role was to create video content for us, that we would share on TikTok and Instagram. Before we continue - it’s important to note that our goal was never to go viral, it was purely an awareness campaign effort. That said - she ended up creating quite the gem, one that for some reason garnered over 10 000 views. Why? Well - we still don’t quite know.

The video simply made use of trending audio and a circumstance that most education marketers can relate to. It didn’t instantly blow up, in fact - the day that it was posted we saw very little traction. It wasn’t until a week later that our notifications went crazy - quite literally.

Sure, we’re ever so grateful to the algorithm for choosing to favor our video every second week - and the view count does ignite a collective pat on the back - but - the viewers are not in our target audience, and our followers haven’t increased substantially - and the only thing that this video proved was the lunacy behind going viral.

It makes no sense. Really

Most viral content spreads because it coincidentally follows a particular trend. Many pieces of content that become popular online spread like wildfire. The content itself isn't evergreen and frequently has a very limited shelf life. This kind of content is not something that will benefit the lives of your audience in the long term, but it will entertain them. Additionally, creating viral content has no real benefit for your company. To begin with, those 15 minutes of fame are all you really get. And none of that traffic will inevitably result in any conversions. People who don't intend to buy anything, or sign up for anything will make up the majority of the new incoming traffic.

Take this guy for example. Now - while he has served to entertain the whole world (quite literally) - what else has this viral photo done for him?

Now of course there is a time and a place, and value for some brands in going viral. But unless you’re a multi-billion dollar corporation, an influencer, or a Producer promoting your new pilot show - virality will do little for your brand.

Okay - so if going viral doesn’t matter - what does?

Generally speaking, when a piece of your content goes viral you end up with some very great, high-quality links. And that is fantastic. There will undoubtedly be a temporary improvement.

But if you only have one successful viral campaign and don't produce anything noteworthy or of perceived value for years (few shares, links, views, etc.), Google's algorithm can probably already tell. (It's reasonable to anticipate that the algorithm will also keep improving, which in this case won’t do you any favors.)

Focus on giving your audience value - rather than trying to make everything you produce a runaway success.

What it really takes to make your campaign a success - is a mentality shift.

Not everything is going to go viral. If it does - great! If it doesn’t - you haven’t necessarily failed. Don’t turn your back on a strategy just because it doesn’t promise you social media fame. Instead - keep your eye on the real prize, and focus on things like:

  • Creating Awareness: What can you do to get your institution mentioned by respected publications, prospective students, alumni, or faculty?
  • Facilitating Authority: How do you build your institution’s industry authority - how do you become the trusted advisor?
  • Adding Value: What can you create to help your target audience and prospective students handle the problems that they’re facing? How can you make their lives easier?

Essentially, you need to become useful

A better long-term strategy than attempting to capitalize on a trend and cross your fingers is to concentrate on creating content that is helpful for your target audience. If it goes viral - super, but you shouldn't be disappointed if it doesn't. By regularly creating excellent content that your audience enjoys, you may succeed in content marketing. One extremely popular post does not guarantee future success.

Going viral is not a wise marketing strategy, because it will prevent you from reaching your intended audience. Choose a longer-term approach that is more reliable by consistently creating helpful and informative content. As a result, your marketing campaigns will be highly targeted and more likely to be successful in directing prospects into your sales and enrollment funnel!

Are you a marketer curious to learn about the aspects that affect our industry?

Or do you want to tap into our expertise to sharpen your tactics? Look no further than our free downloadable resources. We work hard to research our content - and offer it to you - free of charge.

Going viral isn't the key.

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