When it comes to marketing, it’s every business’s dream to go viral. After all, having millions of people see your message, whether in the form of a blog post, video or infographic, can only help boost sales and build a customer following, right?
In many cases, yes. Viral content can give a small business a level of exposure that would otherwise take years to achieve, and help an established company build its brand. However, there is a downside to going viral as well. For companies that aren’t prepared, the sudden and extreme boost in Web traffic (and hopefully sales) can actually spell disaster and create problems that are difficult, if not impossible to recover from.
The Downside to Going Viral
Imagine you own a chain of restaurants, and late one night, your employees decide to film themselves acting inappropriately in the kitchen. When the videos appear online, they go viral — but instead of driving customers to your restaurants, they send them screaming in the other direction.
This is exactly what happened to one popular chain restaurant. While the video wasn’t produced or approved by management, it was still viewed and shared millions of times, damaging the public’s perception of the restaurant, its employees and its food. The incident served as a reminder that viral content is great — but only if it shares the message that you want it to.
However, even if you have complete control over the message that goes viral, such an extreme boost in attention can have other negative effects.
- Your server may crash.This is common among bloggers and small businesses, many of which use shared hosting services that are designed to withstand only a certain amount of traffic. When your site suddenly sees an upswing in traffic thanks to a popular post, the server may be unable to keep up with all of that traffic as well as the traffic from the other hosted sites. The result is that your site loads slowly, if at all — which could drive traffic away, never to return.
- You may not be able to serve all of your customers. Not only will slow sites and server crashes drive traffic away, but also a sudden influx of orders or requests for information may result in less than ideal customer service.
- You may get one-time traffic. It’s unreasonable to expect that every visitor to your site who comes because of viral content will become a loyal customer or follower, or even consider making a purchase. It can be difficult to measure the actual results of a viral campaign because they move so quickly. In addition, it’s all but impossible to gauge what made a campaign go viral; in other words, you cannot use much of the data gathered from viral content because it’s so hard to tell what made it go viral.
Getting the Most from Viral Content
Given the downsides to viral marketing, you might wonder whether it’s worth even trying to go viral. Some marketing experts even caution against actively trying to go viral; it’s better to focus on creating quality content that people will want to share, and allowing the audience to grow organically.
Either way, you can benefit from viral content if are prepared and have the right tools and plans in place. First, ensure you have a reliable server that can handle the increase in traffic. For example, PowerEdge servers are high quality and can manage the high levels of traffic that come from viral content. Before you begin producing content that could potentially go viral, be sure you are technically ready for it to happen.
Second, be prepared to relinquish some control of your brand. Obviously, the best way to protect your brand is to carefully develop a message and maintain control, but there is always a possibility that viral content will take on a life of its own. Be prepared to respond and shift the conversation if necessary. Most importantly, before you release any content, consider all of the potential risks, and prepare to respond.
Finally, have a plan in place to engage visitors beyond the single “viral visit.” Develop ideas on how to keep visitors on your site longer than it takes to watch a video or read a post. For example, offer links to similar content, or make it easy to sign up for a newsletter.
Viral content can be a major boon to your business, but you have to be prepared and manage it properly. If you do, you can avoid some of the downsides, and see a major boost to your traffic, your sales and your bottom line.