What Does “Viral” Mean Anyway? (And no, we’re not talking about Covid)


everything to know about going viral on social media

When something is “viral” nowadays, it tends to bring up pandemic pandemonium—but don’t rush out for a Covid rapid test just yet. 

The word viral has invoked more fear than excitement over the last few years. But when we say “viral,” we’re not talking about Covid. Phew.

We’re talking about your brand.

Oftentimes, brands have the steak—a great product or service that’s worth talking about—but they’re missing the sizzle—that wow factor that makes content go viral. 

Do you know what it takes to bring your brand to the next level? You have to connect a moment to what’s already gaining momentum and ride a wave. But ask yourself: What do I want people to know about? What’s happening in the world?

Then connect the dots.

By definition, viral comes from the word virus, and it is often used as a medical term—but it’s also a computer term. Loosely defined, going viral (when it comes to marketing and your brand) means that you create content that is shared exponentially on the internet. Seems simple enough, right?

But it’s more than just writing and posting.

The Secret Sauce

So what’s the secret sauce, you ask? 

It all comes down to timing. What’s going on in the greater ethos, and how does it connect to what you’re trying to accomplish?

When it comes down to it, virality and going viral has a lot to do with luck. So many things going viral nowadays happen by accident. But happy accidents are best left to Bob Ross reruns. In the world of digital marketing, it’s best to plan for these things. 

The real trick with going viral? If one thing doesn’t work, try something different. Persistence is key when it comes to finding the perfect combination that the audience connects with.

Connect to Right Now

In order to go viral, you have to make your content relatable and relevant.

The big question: Are you making people feel something?

There is so much going on in the world right now, and often the topics that make people connect are the ones that relate to something going on right now.

Have a product that would be perfect for the work-from-home crowd? A service that addresses a problem that’s universal and current—Mondays, am I right?—then connect to it and use it!

Treat your audience as if they were judges on Shark Tank; what can you do to make them actually respond, get involved, and get engaged with what you’re trying to sell?

That is what you should be promoting!

Be authentic

In order to be authentic, you have to approach social media with a clear understanding of your brand. What is your voice? What is your story? What do you have to offer your audience? Knowing who you (your company) are is key to creating content that feels real and authentic. 

With a strong understanding of your brand, you will be able to create authentic shareable content that comes from a variety of angles. Some may be more product-focused; other posts will focus on the company culture, origin story, or updates. The key here is that whatever your content is about, it should be engaging

First off, are you creating posts that evoke an emotion? Are you using language, visuals, and video that are eye-catching and inspire an immediate response—whether that’s laughing, feeling empowered, or raising an eyebrow at a bold statement. Are you tying your messaging to something trending, important or popular right now?

Stay connected to your story as you tell it to your audience, and engage your whole self while you’re telling it—after all, showing you’re relatable will win major points for your brand/company.

Be sure to challenge yourself as a storyteller, too. If you’re aiming to tell better stories, try telling them in a new way. Push yourself.

As a storyteller, make sure you’re talking to your audience. Discuss ideas, explore something specific, and, most importantly, do it as you would. The best videos don’t go viral from creators pretending to be something they’re not. They go viral because they tap into something real, relatable, and authentic. That might be something comedic that we can all laugh about or something uplifting and empowering—whatever it is, it should be authentic to your brand’s voice and story. 

Related post: How to Make a Viral Marketing Video

Know your audience

A fundamental component of going viral is the fact that your post or your content is being shared beyond the reach of your existing captive audience. This is great for brand reach, of course, but it can create a misconception that to go viral, you have to broaden your targeting.

Let us debunk that misconception: It isn’t true. 

Your first point of engagement is your current captive audience. It is only by targeting and connecting your current audience with compelling, interesting, timely, and engaging content that they will choose to share that content, thereby broadening your reach and creating the potential to go viral. 

So don’t throw your audience segmentation research out over the goal of broader reach. Instead, think even more strategically about your audience. What will speak to them? What will they want to share? How will your message resonate with their audience? 

The more you understand your audience, the better you will be able to tailor your content and compel them to share your posts with their followers. 

This is where social listening comes in.

When you’re social listening, you’re tracking conversations and mentions related to a certain topic on social media and analyzing them for insights. These insights will guide you towards what actions you can take to improve the experience for customers, and, more specifically, when it comes to brands, it helps you understand the online conversation around your brand.

The more you listen, the more informed you’ll be as to what your customers (and potential customers) want and need. Essentially, you’re getting genuine, uncensored customer feedback without actually interacting with your customers. This will help you better target topics your audience cares about and keep your content relevant in your industry.

It’s About Quality

Think about this: How often do you scroll through Instagram with the sound off? Your aesthetic is your first impression to the audience. A video or digital campaign that’s high-quality is more likely to grab someone’s attention when they first encounter it than something pixelated.

Creativity and a focus on quality will help elicit trust and engagement from your audience. Setting the precedent that your content will be well-written, beautifully designed, filmed in a creative way, etc.—will encourage your audience to actually pay attention to your content. And the more people stop on your post so they can read it, watch it, and listen to it, the more likely they will be to share it. 

Are you trying to film the next viral video? Hang up a background. Light the scene using a ring light. Practice what you’re going to do or say before you film it. You’ll see how much easier it is for an audience to stay attentive when they’re liking what they see.

Related post: Why Quality Content is the Backbone of Any Inbound Marketing Strategy

A Balancing Act

On TikTok alone, there are more than 1.4 billion users, with millions of videos being uploaded every day. As for YouTube, over 500 hours of new content are uploaded every minute. While these numbers can be scary, they can provide some guidance as to what kind of content is the most likely to go viral.

There’s a lot of content out there, and because of that, there is a lot to be learned from checking out successful content. Figure out the type of content your audience enjoys, and see how it might tie to your own offering. Consider the viral posts that appeal to large audiences, and consider what strategies you can employ. 

But use your discretion. Just because some members of your audience share a viral slip-and-fall video doesn’t mean that it ties to your product offerings, your brand voice, and your brand story. On the other hand, just because many in your audience care about a highly charged political issue doesn’t mean your brand is the right voice to comment on it. 

Balance your desire to get shares, likes, and engagement with your goal—increasing brand awareness and creating an engaged audience. 

Across the board, content is more likely to stick and create engagement if it offers something of value. Aim to give your audience something they need, rather than trying to just grab their attention. The value could be educational, motivational, or, to put it plainly, just entertaining. The key here: Standing out is a balancing act. 

Having a single post that has nothing to do with your product offering or brand go viral, while the rest have minimal reach or engagement, won’t do as much for your brand as having several posts get really strong engagement and higher-than-average visibility. 

No matter what you decide to do to try going viral, one thing is for sure: It takes work. Those viral videos and campaigns make it look easy, but what you don’t see are the dozens of hours and manpower that went into them.

And sometimes, it’s hard to find all that oomph alone. Have the steak but missing the sizzle? Reach out if you want help going viral.


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