by Carol Lundberg
It’s a marketer’s dream: You create a social media marketing campaign that not only grabs the kind of attention you had hoped for, but it also goes viral. It gets millions of views, and The Today Show reports on this clever (genius, really) idea that took the world by storm.
Wake up. It’s just a dream. And it could be a nightmare if your viral marketing goes bad.
It’s true — there are disadvantages to a marketing campaign that goes viral if you don’t have the right team in place to handle it. After you’ve spent much time and money getting the messaging just right, there’s a downside:
You can lose control of the content. It may wind up being shared across the Internet with no mention of you or links back to your website. Or it could be altered without your knowledge. In turn, that can require you to spend time and energy tracking the content, sending out cease and desist letters, etc. And it doesn’t guarantee that it will boost your bottom line.
It’s difficult to measure. Measuring analytics is key to your messaging. But viral campaigns are more challenging to measure because they are passed along by many people, through many channels, and some of the clicks or likes or video views may never even lead a viewer to your digital properties. So you have no way of knowing what the end result was.
It can actually harm your brand. Let’s face it. People make mistakes. Such was the case when DiGiorno, a brand known for having excellent social media strategy, made a most unfortunate error when it fired off a flippant #WhyIStayed tweet. The fallout was swift and severe.
Though the Internet has been forgiving of DiGiorno, in no small part due to the swift apology from the company, it was still at the very least an embarrassing episode that may have chipped away, even a little bit, at its brand.
And consider what happened to the alcoholic beverage Smirnoff brand. Smirnoff didn’t even develop or produce the most viral campaign it ever had, the “icing” phenomenon. Icing was a game, apparently started by college students, that required players to surprise unsuspecting friends with a Smirnoff, at which point the friend must begrudgingly drink it. If the friend declines, then the victim owes a Smirnoff to the other players. Smirnoff enjoyed a boost in sales when a game became popular, but once the sales dropped back off, it was left with nothing but the reputation of being something you would only drink on a dare.
So, should we aspire to produce viral social media campaigns? Maybe, for the same reasons that we buy lottery tickets from time to time.
But remember: While it’s nice to dream about delivering a message that creates nationwide or worldwide buzz overnight, your chances of doing so may be a about as likely as picking the winning Power Ball numbers. A very small number of videos go viral during any given week, and often it’s by accident rather than the result of a brilliant marketing campaign.
Instead, we’re better off keeping our focus on what really works, and what poses fewer risks: producing fully integrated, brand-consistent content that reaches an intended audience and produces great results. Campaigns like that may not reach all corners of the globe overnight, but they do result in audience engagement that grows steadily and organically over months instead of hours, and that engagement is likely to pay off in the long-run.