When active on social media, many individuals and companies can’t help but hope that they’ll go viral one day – preferably when it is convenient to them, their campaign and their objectives. But the reality is, even as a seasoned social media manager, nothing truly prepares you for the first time you open a social media app with notifications in the 5-figures.
With multiple videos getting over one million views on my personal social media account, I have had a few close encounters with going viral. What it means, how it works, what triggers the algorithm – the good, the bad, the very ugly… And here are 5 things I learned, sometimes the very hard way:
- It does feel good… at first.
I would be lying if I said that seeing numbers going up and countless people validating a piece of contentI created doesn’t feel nice. Vanity is something we all suffer from – we are only humans after all. But virality is like a good night out, it is fun, it is elating, but it also ends as quickly as it started, and the morning after can be rough.
Going viral is the exception to the rule on social media and can be hard to manage. Your account gets flooded with comments you need to be equipped to manage, your content will travel well beyond your feed and will require extensive monitoring, and as much as it is boosting your numbers, it can’t be used to define new benchmarks for your brand because…
- Going viral doesn’t make you successful
If you are a brand wanting to exponentially increase its sales, or a social media manager desperate for the algorithm to help them achieve their KPIs, I am sorry to tell you that going viral isn’t the solution. Will it help? Of course. However, this will result in only a fraction of the people who engaged with your post visiting your profile or website and consuming more of your content. I also found that more often than not, the content preceding and following a viral post only obtains the regular engagement rate of the channel.
A viral post is only very temporary and as a result, you shouldn’t lean on it too much to reach your goals or redefine your channel strategy. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, going viral will rarely result in an exponential increase in the number of followers or sales, and if it does, expect it to only last a few days or a couple of weeks at best.
- You feel completely out of control (and you are!)
The moment a piece of content goes viral on social media, it doesn’t belong to its creator anymore. Copycats, users downloading and reloading the content and claiming it’s theirs, online outlets and accounts using the content without giving credits… The list of ways you will lose ownership and sight of your content goes on and on.
So think about your community management and social listening processes, and prepare for any potential scenario, so that the day it happens you don’t panic. Just like with everything you put online, going viral is accepting the fact that you can’t control how people will consume and use your content.
- Sometimes the best and only option is to delete or block
Talking about control, you can’t control how people will react to your content, and that is one of the hardest lessons to learn… People can get annoyed and angry over pretty much everything and anything online. Under the cover of online anonymity, they will be brutally honest and inappropriate. Sometimes it is a general dislike of something mentioned or shown, sometimes it sadly becomes a personal attack on someone’s looks, race or origins. As an immigrant myself, you can imagine that I get my fair share of online hate, and it can be exhausting.
Getting ready to go viral means getting prepared for the trolls and digesting some pretty difficult things to read. I found that the healthiest way for it not to impact my mental health is to just say ‘no’ when my ‘ethics line’ is crossed. I respect criticisms and opposite opinions and I tolerate a level of attack on myself, but if it leans towards extreme misogyny or blatant xenophobia I immediately intervene. As a company and as an individual I would strongly encourage you to identify and draw the line which, once crossed, will result in the comment being deleted and the user reported and blocked if needed, so things don’t escalate.
- It requires a lot of hard work and almost never happens
Every now and then you hear about that one person who posted something and immediately went viral, but this is very much the exception to the rule. Just like with everything in life, an overnight success often involves years of work. For the past 3 years, I have been producing 4 to 5 videos a week and out of all of these only 8 have reached the 1M+ views mark. No social media algorithm gives a clear step-by-step recipe to go viral. The only secret is to keep a very good hand on the pulse of the current trends and your audience’s interests.
Produce what your followers want to see, if it is topical, produce it very quickly, post it and wish for the best. It sounds simple, right? However, what people don’t see are the countless tasks a brand will have to commit to if they want to give social media a real shot and see the numbers going up. Script and copywriting, storyboarding, images/props/locations sourcing, shooting, editing, voiceovers, colour grading, listening, pivoting… If you are dedicated to growing online and maybe going viral one day, you need to commit to the work (and budget!) that goes into making it happen.
And remember, going viral is a pleasant by-product, but it should never be your objective if you want sustainable and continuous growth.