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Engage the Right People: Why Going Viral Shouldn’t Be Your Main Focus

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Successful content doesn’t have to be popular, but it does have to be helpful.

It went viral! That was your goal, right?

Good luck with that strategy. Setting out to create viral content is like deciding you’re going to map out where lightning will strike. And if you like that analogy, consider this: most viral content has a similar blink-and-it’s-gone shelf life. Something important gets lost when you shift your focus from the message to the numbers. You lose the customer, which is the whole reason for content and inbound marketing.

The new normal

The novelty has worn off. Most people no longer place much value on the number of views or any other measurement of online content. What do they care about? Relevance.

Successful content doesn’t have to be popular, but it does have to be helpful. And, while a focus on popularity means an increase in reach, what’s the true value of those extra eyeballs to your brand? Are they broadcasting it as a form of social currency, or are they helping you reach your target market by selectively sharing it with people they know will benefit?

Which is not to say you should give up on getting people to share your content. Sharing is caring, and recommendation by friends or family is important. But a “like” or a follow resulting from a viral one-shot is not engagement.

True colors

Be authentic. Be transparent. Few would disagree this is a wise approach to creating content to engage people. So, what does authenticity and transparency look like when your objective is to create viral content? To your audience, it looks like you’re trying too hard to impress them, rather than using storytelling to fit your brand into their worldview.

They didn’t seek you out to be entertained unless your product or service is comedy. Depending on where they are in the buying cycle, they might have singled out a piece of your content because they’re looking for the right signals that you understand their problem. How does pursuing viral content help you build a relationship with them?

Lightning in a bottle?

Algorithm. It’s the word we’ve all learned to hate. Algorithms decide who gets to see your content on social networks. Add that sobering reality to the unpredictable nature of virality, and you really start to see why it’s an unpredictable objective.

An article, Tweet, image, or video that goes viral and is shared by millions of people is pretty much outside your control, and it’s not scalable. Adele appears to have perfected the ability to capture lightning in a bottle. She not only succeeded with her second album, but she did it again with her third.

Meanwhile, where’s the follow-up to “Gangnam Style”? How about Dollar Shave Club or Old Spice? Most viral content is the digital equivalent of a one-hit wonder. How does creating viral content fit into a strategy of establishing long-term engagement?

Virality and credibility have nothing in common

The value of content and inbound marketing is that you can target who you want to reach. Never in the history of marketing has it been easier to be so precise. The additional benefit is that because you can be precise, your content can convey an exclusive message.

Unless the content goes viral.

A special message crafted for your target audience gets transformed into spam. Something that was supposedly crafted to resonate with a specific group of people is now being tossed around by a group of unrelated people.

Even worse, you lose ownership. It’s no longer yours, and there’s no way you can shape the conversation that’ll come about as it’s shared by people who probably have no connection to your brand. They don’t have the problem it solves. They’re just amused by it.

Valuable content helps people decide that your brand understands their problem or need. Valuable content helps people decide that you are an expert at finding solutions for a problem or need. Valuable content helps people decide that your brand is what they should buy. Valuable content is what helps people validate their decision and recommend your brand to others.

The success of this content at achieving these steps requires it to resonate at a personal level. It’s about targeting more than reach. It’s about messaging and engagement. It’s about control.

The pursuit of viral content is exactly the opposite. It’s about making impressions instead of engaging with people. When was the last time an impression bought your product or service?