03.11.20166 min read

Viral Marketing Small Business Realities

The dream of going viral is real. Fame and fortune seem to be a mere click away, the possibilities seemingly endless for those with stars in their eyes. The fault in such stars, however, is the fact that they never seem to burn bright enough to leave a legitimately lasting impression.

Even as we look back on some of the biggest “viral” videos of yesterday, such content is met with a mere “meh” or “Oh yeah, that happened, didn't it?” Millions of views and thousands of comments later, do the numbers really add up to anything meaningful?  It's no surprise that small businesses and brands want to go viral. They want to be associated with buzz, obsessed with the notion that bigger is always better.

In a world where viewers count and followers are often seen as the most meaningful metric out there, why wouldn't marketers attempt to hop the bandwagon and go from struggling small business to overnight success story?

The “need” to go viral

The need to go viral is, unfortunately, infecting the minds of otherwise sound marketers, digging through “12 Tips for Viral Success” and other content mill fodder, throwing random content at the wall until something hopefully sticks. Yet, in an era where time is money and both are becoming everever-so-scarce chasing the viral dream even a viable marketing option for small businesses? Consider that:

Pulling viral out of a hat

Bottling the lightning behind viral hits such as "Gangnam Style” or the Harlem Shake is the holy grail of modern marketing. Regardless, attempting to generate the “next big thing” is almost always a futile exercise. Viral content is organic in nature, with little rhyme or reason behind the sensation.

Sure, some special effects and a linkbait title might help drive some shares, but it's certainly not enough to win over millions of users at the drop of the hat. And even if you somehow could catch the eye of millions in a matter of days, isn't it possible that your ability to create viral content could backfire? Just ask GoPro, whose high-quality, first-person cameras have become synonymous with YouTube and viral hits.

Yet when a video entitled “GoPro: Man Fights Off Great White Shark In Sydney Harbour” popped up on YouTube, red flags immediately went up for a number of viewers. The video has largely been dismissed as fake, and it doesn't help that the video was uploaded to the mysterious channel of “Terry Tufferson” with no additional videos or activity. Over 25,000,000 views later, however, does it even really matter?

With far more “likes” than “dislikes” on the clip, the legitimacy of the video itself seems moot. With its ever-so-clickbait title and outrageous scenario, why wouldn't such a video go viral? When companies such as GoPro have so much power in the viral marketing sphere, small businesses may feel like their own marketing efforts are light-years away from ever making a splash. What are small businesses to do in the face of such competition?

Does viral content have a cure?

There is no tried-and-tested formula for viral content, because again, it's organic in nature. While many legitimate marketers and buzz-junkies alike have tried to crack the code of what makes something “viral,” the good folks at Moz seem to have a decent idea or two on what drives “viral” content. Most importantly, Moz's analysis of viral potential is based on data first and foremost, and examines what exactly impacts what makes content more “sharable.”

Size matters

When it comes to content, the more, the better. Longer articles and blogs have greater viral potential, somewhat conflicting with the notion that users don't have the attention span for lengthier content. Regardless, it's hard to really get to the juicy, sharable center of content in only a couple hundred words.   

Emotion and the three A's

The emotions of awe, anger, and anxiety supposedly drive the most shares, and why not? Such emotions naturally fit with the clickbait titles that have become oh-so-commonplace (“Shocking, You'll Never Believe What She Did Next!”). Users want a sense of surprise and suspense, plain and simple. In addition, emotional appeal is a huge factor in keeping users on the page. Are you tugging your users' heartstrings or pushing them away?

There's hope for small businesses

The study describes humor as the “universal appeal for viral content, additionally noting that 60 percent of viral content is created by “smaller companies.” While such principles cannot guarantee viral success (pro tip: nothing really will), it's obviously better for marketers to poise content for sharing rather than not.

The bottom line

Rather than chasing the viral dream, small businesses should consider something much more tangible. That is, creating sharable content that combines emotion with entertainment and purpose. The name of the game remains quality over quantity, especially in a marketing world where instant gratification is the norm. While crafting content based on the principles above may seem tedious, the most important attribute of small business content is the ability to be shared.

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.comShe specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

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