Engagement Over Exposure: Redefining Virality

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“Going viral” is often perceived as simply achieving massive reach and popularity, regardless of meaningful engagement.

But viral content is not about reaching everyone; it’s about establishing meaningful connections with the right audience. In other words, “going viral” should be about fostering genuine engagement, sparking meaningful conversations, and creating long-lasting impact with the right audience. Forget fleeting popularity or attention, think instead about building a strong and loyal community that truly values and engages with the brand. 

Brands that connect with their audiences on a deeper level, and create content that resonates with them, are a step ahead. 

In this blog, we help define for content creators and marketers the kind of virality that is the true goal–and how it helps build, not take away from, the brand.  

Misconceptions About Virality

Oftentimes, content creators and marketers will chase after social media virality without a complete understanding of true metric ideals. This can lead to superficial metric pursuits like views, likes, and shares, which don’t necessarily translate to real value. The quality and depth of engagement can be overlooked in favor of sheer numbers. This can result in viral posts that are sensational or clickbait-y, but lack substance or value. 

Another caveat for chasing virality for virality’s sake is that it can appear a brand is favoring a more sensationalistic approach that is not aligned with the brand’s values or messaging. This can result in a dilution of the brand’s identity and can ultimately alienate your core audience, erode trust, and negatively impact overall reputation.

The true value of virality lies in the meaningful connections and interactions it generates, rather than simply the quantity of eyes it reaches. A piece of content that goes viral but fails to engage its audience in the way the company intended, can cause problems for companies. Here are some samples.  

Examples of Misguided Social Media Virality

Example 1: Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Ad

Pepsi’s 2017 ad featuring Kendall Jenner sparked controversy and went viral for all the wrong reasons. The ad clumsily tried to co-opt the imagery of protest movements, but it was criticized for trivializing real social justice issues. Despite the ad gaining a lot of attention, it failed to produce tangible results for the brand. The ad was widely mocked and seen as tone-deaf, leading to negative associations with the brand and a lack of meaningful engagement. This misstep highlighted the importance of cultural sensitivity and understanding the context in which a brand operates.

Example 2: McDonald’s #McDstories Campaign

In 2012, McDonald’s launched the #McDstories Twitter campaign in an effort to generate positive brand stories from customers. However, instead of heartwarming anecdotes, the hashtag was quickly hijacked by users sharing their negative experiences with the fast-food chain. The campaign quickly backfired, with the hashtag becoming a platform for customers to air their grievances through social media posts rather than celebrate the brand. This failure to guide the narrative of the campaign led to a lack of meaningful engagement and ultimately did not produce the desired positive impact for McDonald’s.

Example 3. Wendy’s Announces Dynamic Pricing

This example is a recent as February 2024. Suffice to say, Wendy’s created viral social engagement that spun in the negative zone – fast! They announced they were introducing dynamic menu pricing, which meant that menu prices would fluctuate down at low traffic versus peak traffic times of the day. What they didn’t anticipate is that the average customer did not understand what dynamic pricing meant, at all, and instead heard “surge pricing” as in big price hikes. Customers and the press seized on this semantic confusion. Wendy’s lesson learned? Never assume your customers understand what you’re talking about. Plain language clarity is key. It saves unnecessary and costly corrections.  

In all these cases, it was a lack of proper clarity and context, a misalignment with brand values, and an inability to guide the conversation well that led to failed viral content–the opposite of what these brands originally intended.  

Redefining Virality: From Broad Reach to Meaningful Engagement

Let’s take a look at redefining virality to prioritize engagement. This focus prizes building lasting relationships with consumers and fostering brand loyalty. It shifts the focus from simply getting attention to creating meaningful connections, which is essential for long-term success in today’s competitive market.

Strategies for Meaningful Viral Content

To ensure that content not only reaches the right audience but also resonates with and engages them, brands can follow several strategies.

First, they can focus on understanding their target audience and creating content that addresses their needs, interests, and pain points. This requires in-depth research and the development of buyer personas to tailor content specifically for the intended audience.

Second, brands can leverage various channels to distribute their content, such as social media, email marketing, and partnerships with influencers or other brands. By using a mix of channels, brands can maximize their reach and engagement with the right audience.

And, here is a non-negotiable for content creators: it is critical that your brand is aligned with your core values and company mission. This ensures consistency and authenticity, which are essential for establishing trust and credibility. By incorporating brand values and objectives into viral content production, brands can strengthen their image and deepen their audience connections. 

Ultimately, meaningful virality is achieved when brands create content that not only captures your audience’s attention and imagination, it also provides value, resonates with your audience, and aligns with the brand’s identity and goals.

The Role of Genuine Engagement and Meaningful Metrics

Meaningful engagement metrics are more valuable than mere visibility metrics because they provide a deeper understanding into how an audience is interacting with a brand. While visibility metrics, such as the number of views or likes, can indicate the reach of a brand’s content, they do not necessarily reflect the level of audience involvement or interest.

Meaningful engagement metrics, on the other hand, measure the extent to which the audience is actively participating, sharing, commenting, and ultimately forming a connection with the brand.

Prioritizing genuine engagement helps to foster real conversations and build a community around the brand, ultimately leading to more sustainable and meaningful business outcomes.

When brands prioritize genuine engagement, they invest in building long-term relationships with their audience. By actively listening to and conversing with their customers, brands can gain valuable insights into their needs, preferences, and pain points. This not only allows for better product or service development but also positions the brand as a trusted and relatable company. It also informs the type of content creation that wins the most audience engagement. 

If you’re aiming to build a brand community that is willing to stick around with you for the long haul, be sure to keep focused on producing quality content that aligns with your company’s values and mission and speaks directly to the needs of your target audiences. 

And hey, if you’re feeling a bit lost in how to make that shift or just need some savvy advice on creating content that truly resonates, don’t sweat it. We’re here to help guide you through this new viral landscape, making sure your brand’s voice is heard in all the right ways. Give us a shout, and let’s start making some real connections together.

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