Hoping for a Viral Moment is Like Waiting on Winning the Lottery

Many people at the start of their content journey are set in the belief that they are on the verge of virality. Whilst this is true, and in theory, anyone could "go viral" given the right circumstances, the right piece of content and a bit of pure luck, hoping on a viral dream is much like buying a lottery ticket. In this post, we explore the similarities between lotteries and virality and look to share some key steps to success when it comes to content marketing.

All that Walkers Crisps' marketing managers wanted to do was create a viral marketing campaign centred around Gary Lineker, a prominent ex-footballer, right before a Champions League final. The setup was perfect; fans were to tweet selfies with the hashtag #WalkersWave, and they would have a chance to feature in a short video clip with the footballer holding a picture of their selfies and thanking them for joining the campaign and celebrating the game finale.  


The marketers had set up a system to automatically show the fans’ pictures in a frame without a manual review, and to their horror, they soon found that users were sending in pictures of criminals. For obvious reasons, the hashtag went viral and ended in disaster.


However, this isn’t always the case. Viral marketing can be effective not just in terms of revenue but also bring attention to a great cause.


According to the ALS Foundation, the Ice Bucket Challenge that involved getting doused with a bucket of ice water to create awareness on ALS disease and encourage donations towards the cause, which took the internet by storm by going viral in July–August 2014, had attained its goal. The foundation was flooded with donations (no pun intended), they confirmed. The money had allowed them to increase research expenditure by 187%.

So, what exactly is going viral?


Unfortunately there is no hard and fast definition,” Jonah Berger, a professor at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, informs us.


However, some estimates peg it at around 100,000 to five million shares of your post.

Generally, your post is described as viral when it spreads rapidly on social media, brings traffic to your site, possibly increases your search rankings, and also propels your brand visibility to new, never-before-seen heights. While experts disagree on what the actual number of shares your post needs to be counted as viral, there is little doubt that the speed at which it spreads is a crucial factor.


As scary as it may sound, the fact that it is incredibly hard to go viral is a reality that companies have to grapple with, according to Stanford University and Microsoft. In fact, it is one in a million. Experts argue that you have one chance in 45 million of winning the national lottery. If you do have time to spare and enjoy a bit of juicy scientific research, I would recommend digging into this study by Stanford University and Microsoft Research.

Given these statistics and reasons, it must be clear that posting a few things and expecting to grab the world’s attention is an exercise in futility. It would not be an understatement to say it is similar to buying a lottery ticket and expecting to become rich overnight. 


This may be shocking, but to the expert, it is the basic probability given the deluge of content that users are met with. 500 million tweets are sent out daily, and 5 billion pieces of content are sent out via Facebook every day. Also, on YouTube, a viral video needs to get an estimated five million or more views within three to seven days to be considered viral. Staggering numbers, and perhaps, a bit unrealistic to be hoping on a viral moment.


But there is still hope. Failing to go viral doesn’t mean that social media marketing campaigns are worthless. Putting out promotional or informative content that resonates with the target demographic can lead to large returns on your investment over time even if you don’t go viral. 


There are five pillars of content marketing that allow you to do just that! 


Focus on the Five Pillars of Content Marketing rather than Hoping to Go Viral


1. Consistency

Consistency is the first thing you need to get right if you want your readers to become passionate and loyal to your brand. According to Forrester, customers become more loyal to the brand if they get a consistent experience on all fronts. Also, the importance of consistency has been affirmed by McKinsey & Company, which found that consistency in experience kept the customer happy throughout the journey. Studies have shown that having a consistent brand voice, personality, and predictable posting intervals retains the audience, gets you enhanced social media traction, and also makes the audience trust you more. 


Loop Satisfying GIF by philiplueck - Find & Share on GIPHY

When discussing social media, consistency and content is king. Names such as Gary Vee have continued to drill this messaging home – that maintaining an ongoing flow of quality content will do nothing but good for your brand and accounts. Maintaining consistency within your content will lead you on a pathway to success. This establishes a known style and builds up an expectation from your audience of what kind of content you or your brand shares, and when you share it.


Many refer to growth on social media platforms as a hockey stick, an ice-hockey stick I must add, rather than the European field hockey style. By this I mean a slow and gradual growth, followed by a sudden growth in following which continues on a rapid upward trend. This is what is known as the snowball effect. Many influencers, especially YouTube creators comment on how hard the first 1,000 – then 10,000 subscribers are to attain, then how the compounding growth surprises them. The creators of STORROR channel recently commented “It took 7 years for us to reach 1 Million Subscribers, but only a few months to go from 1 Million to 2 Million.”


2. Quality

Sharing high quality content is the next core fundamental for success when it comes to growing your social media presence, increasing traffic and gaining true followers and fans. By leading with quality content, you are establishing a brand identity that separates you from the noise of millions of posts online. You are not only competing against other brand’s for your target audiences’ attention, you are fighting an uphill battle against your customers’ friends, family and the people they follow. This includes inspiration accounts filled with high quality images and engaging videos. If your content isn’t of a consistent quality, you are running the risk of being pooled in amongst low quality and amateur posts in the eyes of your followers – and in the end, less likely to earn engagement.


Travel Click GIF by Shay Mitchell - Find & Share on GIPHY

Churning out high-quality digital content is also a great way to boost SEO. Search engines prefer content that is 2,000+ words long, so posting long-form content that is well-written and presented will not just make you a favourite for search engines but also shows you as a domain expert who can be trusted. When your audience sees you as an expert, they are more likely to buy from you. Google’s clever algorithms also pick up on this, and adding complimentary video content within your articles is another way to further improve your standing in the highly competitive world of search engines.


3. Finding Your Niche

Discovering your niche in terms of audience and topic will give you an edge over the competition. Regardless of marketing budget, company size, or industry, content marketing has seen a shift towards highly personalised and targeted content that has a specific audience in mind. Finding your niche helps you use the right tactics to grow your business based on the people who are interested in it. 


This should always be a place to start, asking yourself: what is it that my audience wants to see?

We like to run through the following checklist before creating our social media posts, articles and content strategy for clients – think of it as a simple pre-post checklist:

·       Will this piece of content provide value to my target audience?

·       What is the 1 key thing they will get from it?

·       Is the image or style reflective of what my target audience likes to see?

o   This can be a hard one to answer. But think of these questions: what kind of images do the people they follow post, what is the visual style of the magazines they read, what mood and tone would resonate with them?

·       Will my customer be likely to like or share this?

·       Finally, our most valuable question for anyone creating content: If I saw this online, would I engage with it myself?


4. Providing Value 

Providing value for the customers is a great way to make your audience feel respected and convince them to visit your site again. Find out exactly what the audience is looking for, and ensure that you cater to them through unique insights, tips, and data. Note that great content is findable, shareable, actionable, readable, and also understandable.  


The Best Digital Marketing Quotes to Inspire the Modern Marketer |  DigitalMarketer
Imagine via DigitalMarketer

5. Being Authentic

As the world becomes more media literate and tech-savvy, coming across as authentic is extremely important for your company’s content marketing efforts. This is especially pertinent given that 84% of millennials distrust traditional marketing, according to Hubspot. Audiences can increasingly figure out that you are trying to cash in on a trend, so it is prudent to incorporate transparency and honesty into your content strategy. A noteworthy example of insincerity failing is the backlash following Ram Trucks’ decision to market its products with speeches of Martin Luther King after the Super Bowl.


Final thoughts


As you can see, there is no formula for going viral, and anyone telling you otherwise is misleading you. In the long-term, it pays to post regular and compelling content that caters to the needs of your target audience. Be patient, and you will see that trying too hard for a viral moment was never the answer. Consistency and authenticity will be what takes you the distance. 

This article was shared by
Sulie Sritutti
Director of Business Development