Why Going Viral is Overrated

World Record Egg

Why Going Viral is Overrated

Written by Harry Aitken, Senior Account Executive

‘Going Viral’ is a 21st century phenomenon, where content is shared and spreads like wildfire. Companies and brands now aspire to ‘go viral’ with their product or campaign, so the world can see who they are and what they do. However viral content is short-lived, quickly forgotten and rarely contains a message beneath it; so here is why going viral shouldn’t be the main goal of your campaign.

It’s all about Quality over Quantity.

A recent viral sensation on Instagram came from a completely new account, with one picture. World_record_egg posted a picture of an egg and asked users to like it, in a bid for it to be the most liked picture on Instagram. The previous record was held by Kylie Jenner, with a single image receiving 18 million likes. The egg now has well over 50 million likes, destroying the previous record.

While the egg received over double the likes; quantity of likes doesn’t mean quality of likes. It has never been easier for people to ‘like’ something on social media. A quick double-tap and it’s onto the next post. Just because a picture was ‘liked’ it doesn’t mean it has impacted the viewer, it doesn’t even mean that they do actually like it. In the case of the egg, the only purpose of liking the picture was to beat the old record, not because it was a beautiful image.

Instead creating content that people want to read, engage with, save, and show each other carries a lot more real-world impact than content they can simply ‘like’ and leave. This is why quality of impact is more important than quantity.

People have short attention spans – content can be forgotten as quickly as it was liked.

Soon the egg will be forgotten and people will have moved onto the next thing. That’s why repeated content around the same topic will have more impact over time than one big viral moment. This will help reinforce a company’s efficacy, value and vision much better than a standalone image or video.

Viral posts can be polarising and sometimes damaging.

Content is regularly shared because it is amusing, offensive, polarising or hurts a certain group of people – they may be sharing it to raise awareness of their own beliefs or campaigns whether they agree or disagree with the content. The recent Gillette advert: The Best Men Can Be, was supposed to be a ‘feel-good-style’ video that urges men to hold each other to a higher standard and step up when they see fellow men acting inappropriately. The video received intense criticism on social media, with many outraged men calling for a boycott of Gillette. 28 million views later and it has 1.3 million dislikes compared to 755k likes and is now the most hated video of 2019.

From a business perspective, the actual impact of this ad is unknown. However, it is safe to say this ad obviously impacted Gillette’s reputation with some consumers, and this could potentially affect future sales.

Another example is the very clever GymBox Brexfit idea, a gym class where you can punch Boris Johnson in the face if the stress of Brexit is just too much. (It was actually his picture stuck to a punchbag but the effect was good). Clearly this will have angered many supporters of Boris Johnson, but overall it has been hugely successful. Positioning itself as the ‘antidote to boring gyms’, Gymbox has followed this up with other successful ad and PR campaigns, all with a light-hearted and unserious feel as part of their wider strategy.

Going Viral can uncover things about your business you didn’t want uncovered

Going viral can uncover bits about your campaign, your company history or your employees that you may not want shared, may have tried to cover up or may not even have known about. Comments on the Gillette ad brought up the moral/ethical practices of Gillette’s owner, Proctor & Gamble, calling them out for being hypocritical when they have a reportedly unsavoury moral history. For example, it was brought up they charge women significantly more money for a razor that is all but identical to the male targeted equivalent.

Going viral is an outcome, not a strategy.

You can’t really choose to go viral, it just happens. You can study all the hallmarks of viral videos, and you can produce the perfect piece of content, but that doesn’t guarantee it will go viral. Sometimes, it’s just a bit of luck; perhaps a celebrity shares it to their millions of followers and it gains popularity that way. And if you do strike success and generate some viral content, chances are slim the reaction will perfectly align with your company ethos and be seen as universally positive is very, very slim.

So don’t plan a campaign around the goal of going viral. Instead plan a campaign that aligns with your business objectives and you’ll likely see greater results in the long run.

Using virality for positivity.

As it turns out, the world_record_egg held a secret that was unveiled 1 month after the original post. Subsequent posts have shown the egg becoming increasingly cracked, until the most recent post which is a video of the egg falling apart. The video contained captions saying the pressure of social media was getting to it, and included a call to action: that if others are struggling they should tell someone. The link then leads followers on to a website featuring a list of countries and the different mental health services available in those locations. Whether or not this was always intended in the first instance, it has evolved into an account that has people talking positively and helping each other out. And let’s face it, that’s what the world needs.