Why going viral is overrated, and the six big mistakes you need to look out for

Almost every marketer dreams of creating viral content that will bring hundreds of thousands of views and likes. But is it all it’s cracked up to be? We explore six mistakes you need to look out for.

It’s easy to get carried away when planning promotion strategies. But hoping to get some viral magic in your campaign could be a case of ‘careful what you wish for’.

In this article we’ll share six examples where going viral backfired for brands. We’ll explore whether viral content with high audience engagement is actually converting. Or whether it’s nothing more than nice numbers from lovers of cycling without attracting real customers.

Features of SaaS marketing strategy

In this article we’re going to explore how ‘going viral works (or doesn’t) using the example of a SaaS campaign. But first, let’s first analyze in detail what is SaaS marketing and what are the features of its promotion.

SaaS (software as a service) is a software subscription licensing model. These include CRM and ERP systems, online document management systems, website hosting services, etc.

It is always challenging to promote a SaaS product, as it can take a long time from the moment the proposal is submitted to the actual sale. It is necessary to convey the benefits and uniqueness of the product to potential customers, which is a challenging and slow process.

SaaS promotion includes three main stages:

  1. Awakening interest.
  2. Product presentation.
  3. Offer.

First, you get people interested in useful and exciting content, show your expertise and ability to help. It can be done through technical publications or webinars.

Next, you need to demonstrate how your product works. Demonstration videos, manuals, free trial, or test period will help here.

Almost every company offering SaaS marketing has this stage of promotion. Even if people don’t go through the entire chain from an acquaintance with the product to the demonstration, they can find a trial version on the website.

The range and popularity of the brand do not matter. For example, more than 90% of PC users know about Adobe Photoshop. However, you can download the trial version and test the product for free for a week.

Another example is all kinds of slots, roulettes, and other gambling products. One could simply attract a person with potential benefits and excitement. However, popular sites allow their visitors to try out the products for free, demo mode, or virtual credits.

The person has learned more about the product and looked at how everything works from the inside. You can move on to the next stage – the offer. When people already understand what they are offered to pay money for, it is easier for them to pay. And here is the time to make an offer.

Thus, the entire path from the first acquaintance with the product to the sale takes a certain amount of time. The potential client does not fall asleep with the thought, “should I buy this application?”

Making a final decision can take weeks or even months. In addition, there is the financial aspect – sometimes, the consumer is simply not ready to allocate funds from the budget for the product.

Given this specificity, using viral content to promote SAAS requires an understanding of the method’s shortcomings. Let’s look at them step by step.

Viral content is only part of the promotion

Imagine that you have managed to create content marketing with a huge reach and high response at one promotion stage. How will a potential buyer react to the information received? Will he run to place an order right away?

For the most part, no. It will not be possible to jump through several promotion stages and push a person for purchase due to a “lucky shot.” It doesn’t work that way.

You will probably have to influence his decision. Encourage purchase by direct call, profitable promotion, deadline, or other means. It proves that viral content should be considered only as one promotion stage while not being perceived as a sales method.

It is more of a good way to introduce the product to the target audience. More people will see your offer, and those who have never heard of it before will learn about it. But nothing more.

High requirements for the originality of the idea

For a person to quickly want to buy your product, the proposal must be revolutionary, with real know-how that can compete with the computer’s invention. Naturally, this is a challenging task, so let’s be realistic and just say, the more original the content, the higher the chances of its virality.

You need to play on users’ emotions and give such sensations that would push them to action – at first glance, knowing your target audience well enough. But in practice, it is difficult to predict people’s behavior.

There may be more attempts to be made. Many companies fail to achieve the desired result at all – ideas one after another turn out to be a failure. Failures are different. At best, the content simply won’t “shoot”; at worst, it will alienate customers.

Even large companies are not immune to failure. This leads us to cautionary take number one: AT & T.

AT & T, a platform specializing in the sale of smartphones and the cloud sale of licensed software, tried to go viral on Twitter. On September 11, 2013, they tweeted with the text “Never Forget” and a photo of the Twin Towers:

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The audience’s reaction was mixed. Some supported the message, while others took it all as an offensive hype:

The scandal was highlighted by more than one media, and the post itself became an example of the worst attempts to create viral content. The speculation on the global tragedy did not turn to a benefit.

The difficulties do not end with the search for an original high-quality idea. Added to all this is the cost of such advertising. It often takes a lot of time and money to create viral content. For example, you may decide to promote your brand through a viral app or video rich with special effects. And if such a campaign fails, losses are unavoidable.  

Short-term action

Let’s imagine that your viral ad triggered and got into the TOP. How long will it last there? Sometimes advertising can remain popular for a long time, but more often, its moment dies out quickly. It is a natural process – people quickly get bored with the same thing, switching to new things.

The question arises – will your ad succeed in a short time? How many clients will it attract? Sometimes content becomes outdated without ever having a return on investment. Therefore, you need to be ready to replace it with another one. Or move your efforts to other stages of promotion.

On the other hand, by creating even an extremely short-term viral, you can firmly anchor your product in consumers’ minds. For example, the Old Spice company at one time literally blew up the market with advertising:

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The ad sold a male product to a female audience. Simultaneously, the entire text created the feeling that if a man uses Old Spice, there will be a yacht, diamonds, and a horse. And this is not said directly, but the matter leads to this idea.

Of course, this example is not about a SaaS company, but it perfectly demonstrates viral network marketing. The ad was released in 2010 but is still remembered today. However, it could quickly be forgotten if the company did not regularly release new creative videos that spark interest.

As a result, the brand is constantly heard; plots become an occasion for jokes, drawings, and comedy sketches. At the same time, advertising does not evoke a feeling of clowning.

Lack of spontaneous desire to buy a product

Imagine the picture: Ann walks into a boutique and sees a chic suit. Favorite color, quality fabric, suitable style. The visitor’s eyes light up, and she is eager to acquire a new thing. What will Ann do in such a situation? Most likely, she will go to the fitting room and then simply buy it.

Another example. Thomas went to Spain, which he had never visited before. In one of the shops, he saw a nice souvenir that would perfectly complement his home collection. There is no better way to fix the event with something material. What will Thomas do? He’ll probably buy a souvenir.

It is completely different from a SaaS product. Let’s say a potential customer finds out about a new online game; let it be Batman vs Superman. At best, he has been looking for a suitable site for a long time. At worst, he has been using another one for a long time and is used to it.

The information does not make you want to register but is only saved in the brain.

Further events can develop according to three scenarios:

  1. A gambling platform is really needed, and in the free time, a person is looking for an opportunity to test it or at least study it in more detail;
  2. The site was impressive but was quickly forgotten. To renew interest, you need to make a person encounter such information again;
  3. There is already a profile in another online casino, which is quite satisfactory. A person will remember an alternative offer only when he encounters difficulties with an existing one.

Simultaneously, a person will be interested in a new platform only if it offers something really valuable. For example, a user-friendly interface and additional bonuses for the mobile version users, while competitors are inconvenient to play from a phone.

True, the likelihood of such a situation is doubtful. According to statistics from the Gambling Commission, 55% of people play from mobile devices, and the leading sites have already adapted to this format.

In any case, no matter what product you have, the scenarios are the same. And any of the options developing the situation will take time.

The unpredictability of the result

Viral content isn’t always helpful. Remember, what gets more likes in social media marketing? Long articles with tons of goodies or a selection of funny cat pics? The shorter and stronger information is for perception, the more people are ready to look at and evaluate it.

TheFractl research team found which emotions resonate most in people:

Research shows that virality is closely associated with strong unexpected, or positive emotions. The main thing is to find the right combination of influencing the user and stimulating him with the necessary sensations. This is not an easy task, so such content appears quite rarely.

This specificity creates additional difficulties for the business. By using emotional content with a minimal concentration of value, you can easily alienate existing customers.

If your audience is accustomed to constantly receiving benefits, they may simply not accept content that is unusual for them, or consider it stupid, offensive, aggressive, etc. That is, it is difficult to predict how customers will react to your viral.

And the main thing here, in the pursuit of new orders, is not to forget to focus on the existing ones. Maintaining a customer base is often more important than adding new people to it. Imagine that viral content helped you gain 100 new customers but lose 500 old ones. Was it worth the effort and time spent on its creation? Of course not.

For example, Fogdog, an online sports equipment retailer, launched a “Spot a Friend” promotion and paid for it to attract new customers to the site. Website visitors were asked to indicate 25 e-mails from their friends, who will be sent a coupon for a discount of $ 10.

There was no limit to the irritation of regular customers. The company’s mistake was that it broke the relationship of trust with customers, trying to move from friendship to obvious self-interest.

Loss of control over the viral

Viral content is always a spontaneous process. You cannot predict how events will develop further. Your participation in an advertising campaign ends exactly at the moment when you publish content. Then it’s up to users.

The spontaneity of the process is revealed not only in the life of the viral. If you do not think about all the nuances in advance, it may turn out that your ad will play against your own company.

The most dangerous thing is when viral marketing starts working for a product negatively. For example, this can be due to the actions of competitors. It is enough to spice up your content with abusive information, and you are done with a bad reputation.

Not only did they say something bad about you, but they also tied you to bright, memorable content. It is much more difficult to get rid of it than from the usual competitors’ intrigues.

The point is that negative information spreads easier and faster. People rarely check for negative facts about a particular company or product. They just remember what they hear and see and share it with friends and colleagues.

As a result, blunder at the stage of planning an advertising campaign can work against you. And then the viral content will turn from a small victory to a big defeat.

Summary: balancing strategy and virality as a successful marketing mix

There is no magic marketing tactic. This applies to both viral content and any other promotion method. Tools are only effective in combination, not separately. Moreover, a promotion strategy may well exist without going viral. On the other hand, there are many examples of successful viral solutions that literally blew up the market.

For example, the Buffer application for setting and planning tasks. 

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The Buffer developers posted a viral article “30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself” on their blog, which, despite its large volume, received a record number of responses: more than 500,000 Facebook likes, 20,000 tweets, and 400 comments.

And although the article did not become a decisive stage in the promotion of the application, it maintained an interest in it and attracted new users.

And this only confirms that viral content is effective as an additional tool that goes hand in hand with the overall promotion strategy. You don’t need to give it up, but you shouldn’t put it at the forefront, either.

Have you had any experience creating viral content? How did this affect the promotion of the project and your marketing plan in general?

Mollie Slate is a young entrepreneur looking into ways to grow businesses.

Photo by airfocus