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Going viral is often unexpected - and not in the way you want it to. Preparing in advance, whether that virality is good or bad, is key. Learn how you can prepare for viral content marketing with these tips - and ensure you get the most out of it.

In a way, “going viral” could be viewed as the highest aspiration of any internet content creator. Everyone dreams of making that video, blog post, or gif that takes on a life of its own and morphs into numerous iterations as it makes its way around the internet.

But as much as corporate ad agencies invest outrageously high budgets into the hope of virality, the truth is this: Most things that go viral do so unexpectedly. That’s because it’s remarkably hard to manufacture that blend of zeitgeist, tone, relevance, and humour that causes something to take on a life of its own. That’s why corporate attempts to do so often read as hollow and insincere.

An even more important truth for brands or companies putting out content is this: when mega-brands or companies do go viral, it’s very often not in the way they wanted to. Just think of the recent tone deaf Pepsi ad with model Kendall Jenner. Everyone was talking about it for a week—but not in the way that the ad execs who came up with it intended. In fact, the backlash was so extreme and far-reaching that Pepsi was forced to pull the ad. This was surely a costly decision that hurt their bottom line considerably.

In a sense, there are two ways in which any content creator online can go viral. The first is the Pepsi example, wherein a tone deaf, outrageous, or unintentionally funny or farcical piece of content gets passed around the internet in a tone of ridicule. This one is possible to avoid —having diversity in your boardroom and people from your target demographic “tone check” your content is a good start—but nevertheless, it can happen. The second way is if a piece of content you never thought would matter beyond your immediate audience strikes a wider nerve. This is largely impossible to avoid. A good example of this is the ALS Ice Bucket challenge in 2014. Organisers likely had no idea that their social media campaign, however novel it was, would end up the the fifth most popular Google search term place for all of 2014 and raise $220 million for the ALS organization.

So, what’s the lesson here? If you are a small company putting out content, you need to be prepared for virality in both of the above contexts. Here are some tips on how to do that.

  • Have a crisis management plan ahead of time

We’ve discussed the art of PR crisis management before, but thinking about it in terms of virality is more specific. What if your unwanted moment in the sun happens over a weekend, or a holiday—who will be there to deal with it? Who will be your appointed spokesperson? And who will have the final say over whether the content is pulled down or altered? Going through several possible scenarios for that unwanted type of virality when you’re clear headed is a good way to avoid making rash decisions when the pressure (and page views) are on full blast.

  • Can your server handle it?

If the attention you’re getting is the kind you want, does your technical team have the capacity to handle it? Will they come in after hours to bring a crashed server back online? Thinking about how your internet infrastructure will respond to the best case scenario of a viral traffic situation is something you want to think about ahead of time—so you don’t waste that traffic opportunity!

  • Is your brand in order?

Whether you’re going viral for a good or bad reason, the internet has a knack for finding out everything there is to know about your brand, company, founder, or past whether or not you want it out there. So, do you have some questionable Tweets in your profile from 2012? Is there a factual inaccuracy on your company website you’ve been meaning to fix? Are your social profiles on lock-down or up-to-date and primed for an influx of new followers? While you should put in this kind of legwork whether or not you go viral, doing so ahead of time can amplify or lessen the effects once you’re in the eye of the storm.

Tip #12: Everyone wants to go viral and be the darling of the internet, but it usually doesn’t work out that way. But being prepared to go viral—good or bad—is key.


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