"I Want My Site to Go Viral": The Myths and Truths of Viral Content

Posted on March 1, 2018 | Updated on December 1, 2022

Going viral is the most cost-effective way to market your brand, the 21st century’s equivalent to “good publicity.” As both amateur and professional marketing aficionados have discovered, the cleverest viral marketing depends on several factors. We’ve compiled a list of truths and myths to help increase the likelihood that your content goes viral.

Here are the truths…

Truth: Authenticity Matters

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Some content creators, like the Holderness Family, make videos with the intention of going viral. While it’s worked out for them, it has also led to a backlash from viewers who see their material as cringe-worthy, exploitative of their children and overly thirsty for success. People, especially millennials, crave authenticity.

Videos of families surprising a loved one with a pregnancy announcement or a new dog tend to get more shares, as they do not feel manufactured.

Truth: Controversy Creates Clicks

White Moose Cafe owner Paul Stenson publicly shamed a diner who left an untruthful review on social media, posting CCTV footage directly contradicting her claims. While some found Stenson’s language distasteful, in the end, his business received an immense amount of increased business from new fans siding with him in the controversy. People shared his response thousands of times, and various national publications picked it up.

Controversy creates clicks by forcing an emotional connection with viewers. This emotional connection increases the chances viewers will share the content with others. It’s equally difficult to hide disgust and amazement, and viewers want to share those powerful emotions.

Truth: Humor Captures Viewers

Correctly using humor increases the likelihood that viewers will engage with your content. The Wendy’s Twitter account goes viral often for their witty retorts to customers, like when one customer forgot refrigerators exist. They continuously use their social media accounts to engage customers through Twitter. Wendy’s viral roasts helped them reach 2.2 million Twitter followers.

Poo Pourri similarly rose to viral fame for their prim and proper saleswoman who took no issue with discussing bowel movements — and how to cover them up — in relatable detail.

Truth: Partnerships Help

All it takes is one tastemaker with a large following to open the gate to viraldom for you. If Oprah sees a video of a woman who overcame great odds to achieve a spot on the Olympic team, it may stir up similar feelings of overcoming the obstacles she experienced on her journey toward becoming a self-made media mogul. With one click of her mouse, she has the power to share that video with her millions of followers.

Place your content within reach of influencers. Use relevant hashtags, tweet at them so they will see your content in their mentions and post comments on related websites or fan pages so the people most likely to connect with your material can find it.

Okay, now here are some of the myths…

Myth: You Can Count on Viral Marketing

It’s so common for a business to bank on viral marketing that it’s become an oft-employed trope in entertainment: a scene of discouraged businessmen and women sitting around a table brainstorming marketing ideas until one person finally exclaims, “I know, let’s make it go viral!”

While there is nothing wrong with doing your homework to find relevant hashtags and researching the best time to post a video to increase viewership, you should never build your marketing plan with the explicit intent of going viral. It’s too hard to predict whether your viewers will perceive your content positively. Plus, you don’t know what will resonate with a national, or even global, audience. If you can create something that happens to go viral, congratulations — but viral marketing should never be the sole hope for a brand.

Some of the best viral content comes to life on a whim, without any intention of becoming popular. Focus more on how you will guide your brand strategically to gain increased exposure.

Myth: Viral Content Is Always Positive for a Brand

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Sometimes brands or messages go viral for the wrong reasons. For instance, Urban Outfitters came under fire when they advertised a Kent State University crew-neck sweatshirt with faux blood stains. Critics were quick to point out how the item disrespected the students who died there in the 1970 shootings.

The controversy led some to boycott Urban Outfitters’ stores, and memes became prominent disparaging the company, damaging their brand.

Myth: Viral Content Must Be Intentional

As we discussed earlier, the more authentic content is, the more appealing it is to audiences. Nothing comes across more authentically than passion. Growing up, Nick Confalone’s dad videotaped him and his sister coming downstairs on Christmas morning every year for 25 years. When Confalone edited his father’s footage into one video and posted it to YouTube, he was only intending to share a sweet family tradition.

However, the authenticity and reliability of the video showed through, and the video now has more than 3 million views. Authenticity can burn brighter than any well-tailored marketing campaign. Sometimes the best content is something you created for yourself with contagious passion.

Myth: Viral Content Leads to Profit

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Not all viral content is profitable. Some videos or stories may lose their authentic feeling if paired with a product or service placement. Other viral content, like an ad for condoms or a dating service, might find few companies willing to pair with them.

The various myths and truths surrounding viral content, in addition to the examples within both, provide lessons for designers, marketers and freelancers to consider as they aim for their site or content to go viral.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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