Stop Trying to Go Viral

If there has been one motif in the digital marketing world over the past few years, it’s the fascination with extreme growth — the rise of virality. We all find something alluring about the company that becomes a household name within months of creation, or the average Joe or Jane who becomes a celebrity overnight. Most importantly as marketers, we want to know how to mimic their success. At least we think we do.

On the Internet, that success is called going viral. Having your video go viral is like winning the Internet version of the lottery. In fact, just as there are plenty of resources on how to strike it rich quick, there are countless guides and rules for making content go viral. But what if I told you that, in this case, focusing on extreme growth — going viral — is all but a waste of time?

We looked at some of the top-performing videos in 2014 from major brands like Coca-Cola, KLM and Budweiser — big players in social marketing, for sure — to see whether having a video go viral leads to long-term success. In this case, that success would be increased activity with the brand on the whole.

According to our findings on YouTube, the attention that virality brings goes just as fast as it comes. We took a look at the overall attention each brand received before, during and after the viral videos were posted. In order for a viral video to have a long-term impact for a brand, it would mean that the level of attention the brand receives would be permanently increased after a video was posted, as compared to the level of attention the brand received before posting. To measure brand attention, we looked at daily video views across a brand’s entire YouTube channel.

What we found was that for brands posting videos that went viral, their YouTube channels didn’t see any long-term increase in the amount of daily video views before the video was posted versus after. In fact, our data indicates that virality has a window of about two weeks. After 15 days from the creation of a viral video, these brand YouTube channels receive virtually the same amount of attention (daily video views) that they received before the viral video was posted.

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Socialbakers

During the traffic peak for its “Puppy Love” Super Bowl ad video, Budweiser’s YouTube channel was getting 50 million to 60 million video views a day — about 10 times the norm. Large and small brands alike benefit from the surge in brand awareness, but making that last is clearly quite difficult. Budweiser even added nearly 50,000 new subscribers over the 30 days following the video, but they, like the other brands, didn’t see a long-term increase on their channel’s daily video views.

So, why do viral videos have such a short life-span, and why do they seem to have such a small impact? There are a few factors that could be at play here.

The life-span of virality has been on the decline as social media use becomes more and more mainstream. While the attention viral content received in the past may have been measured in months, the life-span has gone down to weeks, days, hours and, in some cases, minutes. The average lifetime of a Facebook post, for example, can be measured in minutes. As people consume more content and as more content is created, it’s only natural that each piece of content receives less attention. And with waning attention, the long-term impact of each viral hit decreases, too.

On the whole, the benefits of having a video go viral are temporary. Our data does not support that virality has a long-term value in brand awareness for content creators. Unfortunately, many brands specifically focus on creating campaigns and videos that will go viral. Given that the value of viral is fleeting and temporary, this type of planning could be better placed.

Instead, I propose that content creators focus on shareability. A good video is one that resonates with the consumer and gets strong reach as a result of being something people are apt to share. This means optimizing things like content, length and format effectively.

For example, with modern consumers accessing videos on-the-go with their mobile phones — and thus likely to be in situations where it might be harder to listen to audio — brands may benefit from creating videos that feature a text overlay and don’t necessarily require audio. But this is just one instance of the many different ways content creators can create more engaging (and in turn more shareable) videos. Whatever you decide to focus on, it’s important that shareability is tracked and measured as an indicator of a video’s success.

Rather than making “viral” the primary goal, content creators should first put their heads together to make sure all their content is shareable. Today’s consumer doesn’t get won over by a single video, so today’s marketing strategy must offer a constant stream of content. While the glamor of going viral is enticing, think of it as a positive upside effect of social media instead of something to live by. For brands looking to really make a dent, focus on making shareability your priority.


Jan Rezab is the co-founder and CEO of social analytics firm Socialbakers. Reach him @janrezab and @socialbakers.



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