Let’s face facts – you’re not gonna go viral (and you really don’t need to!)


It is becoming an office routine: we get to work, flip on our computers and immediately check our Facebook page or email. There’ll be work messages, (which are ignored of course), and probably several dozen emails or messages labelled “Watch this! LOL”, “Hilarious”, “Insane Vid!” And with a click we’re treated to viral videos and websites that have peaked in the last few days…and cats…god knows how many pictures and videos of cats.

Some of these sites are garbage, others are gems but nearly all have been shared around the world and back, and have been seen by millions of people. You can probably name several of the better known ones: “Charlie bit my finger”, Rebecca Black’s awful auto-tuned classic “Friday”, the “Harlem Shake” and that great Granddaddy of them all, Psy’s Gangnam Style, which overwhelmed countless cultures, crossed borders and is now closing on two billion views.

These days we rely on viral internet content in the same way we used to rely on frivolous office gossip to get us through dull work days. There is a massive and hungry audience out there, so if you run a website, or post regular content online, the dream is to be talked about by the water cooler every day…the dream is to go viral!

“Going viral” is now a marketing buzzword and the ultimate goal of anyone with either a skateboarding video or a million-dollar ad campaign. Just imagine, with hundreds of thousands of people a day, seeing your output, well that has to translate into big bucks and popularity surely?

Well, yes and no. It just isn’t that simple. A glance at the facts and figures and you will see that going viral is pretty much a pipe dream. Okay, you have an exciting video and witty blog for your business? Good for you.

Now take into account that over 100 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute and more than 11 billion searches are made each month in the US alone. Let’s face it, your content isn’t even likely to get a hit, except by your Mum and friends who have to say they love it anyway.

Why do videos go viral?

If you consider the sites and videos that have gone viral and achieved fame, you might think that, other than cats…lots of cats…they don’t have much in common. But there is an underlying theme that links them – human emotions. Think of the many viral websites and videos you’ve seen and this includes the advertising ones. They were probably emotional, entertaining, sublimely ridiculous or just something that brightened everyone’s day of work for a few moments. And often there is little or no reference to the product at all.

This is a classic example.

A musical gorilla, a Phil Collin’s score and only a brief flash of the product at the end (Cadbury’s Dairy Milk) and with no explanation as to how these things link up at all. Yet the sublimely ridiculous advert garnered over six million views within three months of being uploaded to Youtube and was spoofed celebrated in 70 Facebook Fan groups. And despite the abstract nature of the ad, sales of Dairy Milk increased 9% over the period it was shown on British TV.

When a child giggle’s at his father’s antics, when a someone screws up and falls into the mud or a kid bites his brother’s finger, we can all laugh at it because we can all relate. Wherever we’re from, humans experience the same senses, of happiness, relief, awe, anger, anxiety, physical humor and even fear.

And what’s more, we like to share these emotions – hence the international love of ghost movies, trashy comedy and the inexplicable popularity of Mr. Bean. It seems that sharing strong emotions bonds us. And because the internet is our new community, this bonding crosses borders. For example, look at this video, seen by millions, is a creative advert for Getty but also shows how life’s experiences are something we hold in common.

Music too evokes emotions, and is a primal form of communication that we love to share, This is why the name of a small area of Seoul was on the lips of billions in 2012, despite so few of us knowing the slightest thing about Korea, never mind its language. So here it is again, the most viewed video in the history of YouTube.

According to Dr. Jonah Berger, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, people are more likely to share information when they are in the emotional states that many viral sites and videos evoke. People share strong emotions to bond and connect with each other. When watching certain content, our nervous systems mirror the feelings on-screen – physical changes such as increased heart race or shallow breathing etc. This explains why horror movies and chick flicks remain so popular.

This is the same with textual information. In one experiment, Dr. Berger looked at some 7,500 New York Times articles that were most emailed between August 2008 and February 2009. And he found that people were not sharing articles with practical information on diets or the latest technology. The stories that were swapped were the emotive ones. One that made people laugh, cry, feel angry or shocked. People it seems, are more interested in sharing feelings than fact.

But even if you do have emotive content on your website, the main factor in going viral is good old, but ever undependable luck. With so much content out there, just one random click on your site is a statistical miracle in itself. We all know the theory that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in Paris, can cause a typhoon in the Pacific…so it is with viral content.

Chances are that one click goes nowhere. But yes, with that one-in-a-billion piece of luck, your site could be recommended and shared…and shared before spreading round the world and back in a week – (and forgotten again in three weeks). But if you are feeling supremely confident your content will go viral, then buy a lottery ticket the day your site goes live. Trust us…you are more likely to win a billion than get a billion hits.

Where does this leave you?

You may be selling anything from farming equipment to pharmacy supplies or running a gym or a grocers, the chances are that it isn’t going to make this emotional connection with customers, however funcional the product or funky the soundtrack.

So, don’t aim to go viral. People still want and need the services you provide, and yes, they will recommend them to their friends. Just don’t expect them to share your corporate video or blog to strangers in bars, send emails to buddies saying, “You have to watch this!!!”

And that’s fine. You don’t have an internet presence because you want to bond with your fellow man. You are not trying to make the world laugh or unite nations in dance. You are trying to sell a product or a service. You are a business person and therefore your site is to sell. And if you have a great product and web presence, people will pass it on.

Give up your viral dreams

Let’s face it, if you are running a small sports shop in Ohio, a gym in Nebraska or a computer repair shop in small-town Australia, having two billion people around the world viewing your you content, won’t make that much difference to your business, as most of your customers will be local.

What would a Des Moines painter and decorator do when a Beijing businessman needs his bedroom painting before the end of the week? And how could your cool gym program in a downtown Chicago studio help a couch potato in Sri Lanka? A couple of hundred local clicks will bring you more business than a billion views in China.

So the best advice we can give is:

Forget viral! Think Relevant!

Sure, you want to improve your business, you want more views, more subscribers and more interaction with customers out there, both current and potential. Just a couple hundred more customers can make the difference between your business failing or thriving – if you are a larger business, a few thousand new leads can bring in enough business for a year or longer.

You do not need your web presence to be viral just to target the right people. Seek out genuine potential customers and build real relationships within your local community. There are many ways that you can ensure your content is liked on social media networks, passed around and shared…

  • You need content that teaches people.
  • Challenge your readers and followers to solve a puzzle.
  • Give your readers exciting new tools or resources.
  • Only use professional, concise content.

And there are other simple ways that you can get people to see and share your web offerings.

Make it easy for people to share
People online tend to skip around fast. They may want to share your content, but if it seems like a hassle, they will simply move on. Make sure you are on the main social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), where liking and sharing is easy. Ensure that your “Like” or “Share” buttons are easily seen on your page.

Draw them in
We’ve already said you need to have professional content, but it has to catch your audience’s attention, especially if they are going to share it. Your website or blog needs great headlines to stop people in their tracks when they are browsing. Get them curious and keep them reading.

Of course, if a picture paints a thousand words, how much is a video worth? People don’t want to read lots of text these days, but videos, be they on Facebook or elsewhere, are more likely to be shared and passed on, especially if they offer engaging content.

Keywords and tags
People doing random searches are mostly using sites like Google and putting in simple keywords or phrases, so try and use these as headlines and descriptions, as well as in the copy. Ensure your pics and vids all have complete titles and tags so your content can be easily found.

Get competitive
Everyone likes to win things or even to test their wits against others – so a contest is always a good way to interact with people, find new customers and spread word about your site and company. It is pretty easy to set up competitions on social media sites and even the prize of a few vouchers can get people engaged.

Use your social media
Your site may be amazing, but these days, it is most likely to be spread among peers on the main social media outlet like Facebook, especially if you have easily “liked” content. This is where people are spending most of their time online after all – so go engage with them and make sure they can link, tweet, share and like everything you are putting out there.

Get the VIPs in
Some of the most famous viral websites and videos have gained a following after being talked about by some celebrity or other big name. Of course, you don’t have to be best buddies with Brad and Angelina or Madonna to get word out. If someone respected and well-known in your industry picks up your content and likes or recommends it, you will find that a great deal of traffic comes your way.

On the internet you are competing with “hilarious” baby and cat videos, amusing injuries and wacky stunts, not to mention nearly every pop song and movie ever produced. If you are not entertaining people out there, they are not going to pay you much heed. Obviously you are not looking for laugh-out-loud content, but even something that raises a wry smile is more likely to be clicked and shared.


So there it is. Going viral is not really something you need to be aiming at. But getting your site shared among peers and customers who are really in need of your services will make a massive difference to your business. Of course, if you are still determined that your video and website will go viral, be seen by billions and become a talking-point around the world’s water-coolers, we only have one piece of advice to offer you…include cats…lots and lots of cats.


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