Halley Knigge (Griffin)

Write. Share. Communicate.

On ‘going viral’

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“Let’s make a viral video!”

What marketing pro hasn’t heard these words – from a coworker, a boss, an executive. The politics around the request may be heavy, but the influence of the person making the request won’t make it any more viable an option.

So let’s get this out of the way right now: “going viral” isn’t a marketing strategy.

But why not?

Set yourself up for success

Craving a viral video is what we call “shiny object syndrome.” It sounds splashy and current and to people in your organization without a background in marketing, a video with 100,000 views on it may sound like just the ticket to success and riches.

But you know better. A good marketer knows that it’s not a witty Twitter feed, a clever billboard, an informative blog post or a popular video that makes a marketing strategy. Any one of these things is great, but is nothing more than a medium for your broader marketing message.

Take a moment to think about your industry and what you’re marketing. What are your goals? Lots of video views may make you look good, but how do 100,000 views translate to dollars and customers?

Give yourself measurable goals. In order to know whether your marketing strategy is effective, you need attainable goals that you can shoot for. “Virality” is unpredictable and short-lived, and focusing on the shiny object of the moment misses the point: creating great content that supports your business goals.

Know your audience

Many brands have eschewed attempting to create their own viral videos in favor of capitalizing on viral trends.

This can be a great alternative, marketers need to proceed cautiously. Keep your eye on the prize and beware of “shiny object syndrome” coming to bite you here. Be thoughtful about which trends you want to capitalize on, and always remember that anything you do should support your brand goals and identity.

Most recently, brands around the world excitedly created their own versions of the “Harlem Shake,” a quick and digestible dance video lasting about 30 seconds.

For some brands, this was viral marketing gold.

Say you’re a PR firm and one of your marketing goals is demonstrating to potential clients that you’re deft and reactive, and up on the trends of the day. Making your own Harlem Shake video could fit in neatly with your overall goals. Example: Rusty George Creative, a PR and creative firm based in Tacoma, Wash.

Likewise, a casual restaurant looking to build buzz about its upcoming opening might benefit from a fun video that gives hungry viewers a peek inside the new facility. This, of course, is retail marketing, and lends itself to a variety of viral trends and memes much more easily than other industries. Do a silly dance to sell some milkshakes? Sure. Do a silly dance to sell a dialysis machine? Not so much. Example: Shake Shake Shake, a burger joint in Tacoma, Wash.

For other brands, this was a trend better left untouched.

I work in health care, and was curious to see whether any hospitals or health care organizations had attempted to jump on the Harlem Shake bandwagon. They had. And, yikes. Consider your audience – potential patients who want a trusted resource, and might one day place their life in your hands. Is a silly video set in an operating room really supporting your marketing goals? Needing to include a disclaimer reassuring viewers that patient care wasn’t compromised during the filming of your video may be a good sign you’re barking up the wrong tree on this one. Sure, the video made me laugh, but do I want my grandma getting heart surgery in that operating room? No so much. In this case, thousands of views are not going to reinforce your broader goals. Examples: CenturaHealth, a health care organization in Colorado. Even scarier, mystery hospital hallway edition.

Bottom line? Experiment and have fun, but give yourself clear goals. Stay focused on your brand and identity, and know your audience!

Author: Halley (Griffin) Knigge

Storyteller and adventurer with a focus on new and social media. Ten years of award-winning writing and editing experience, eight years working professionally to share compelling stories through brand journalism, three years as an airline spokesperson, two years as a Tacoma Arts Commissioner and 30+ years of learning something new every day.

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