Why Going Viral is Less Exciting Than You Think

Back in the day, everyone hoped to get their 15 minutes of fame. But no one really expected it, at least the way they have since the rapid rise of the social media influencer. Now, nearly every person, brand, and even barnyard animal feels entitled to the spotlight. Deep down, you probably think it’s just a matter of time before you or your brand is suddenly thrust into the public eye. With it, you hope for a huge boost in sales and longstanding brand recognition.

Why Going Viral is Less Exciting Than You Think

But here’s the rub: that kind of abrupt success can also come with a lot of challenges. You’ll need to carefully control your messaging and possibly make huge operational and staffing changes to your business. A viral sensation can’t stay one without the logistical resources to back it up. Sometimes the work required is more effort than the sales actually end up being worth. Here’s what you need to know about the dark side of going viral — and how to make it work.

1. No Promise of Payoff

Going viral is a bit like gambling: You might throw a lot of time and money into the pot, hoping for the chance at a big payoff. But if it doesn’t work, you’ve just wasted a whole bunch of resources that could’ve gone into your marketing or ad spend. Sure, the right viral campaign could earn you a big spike in visibility, but there’s just no guaranteed ROI. Not to mention you’ve lost the opportunity to spend those funds on new product development or other growth initiatives. 

A better strategy might be working with a digital PR agency that can help you position yourself well to win in the long term. By mapping out a meaningful marketing strategy and tracking important KPIs, you give your brand a better shot at lasting success. Your options might include producing authoritative content, building a community of followers, buying target ads, or more. But whatever path you choose, it’ll be a slower, steadier one that helps ensure future growth.

2. Lack of Targeting

Going viral can mean overnight exposure to thousands or millions of new potential followers. Folks who’d never even heard of your brand suddenly start getting constant exposure to it on the news, on TikTok, and through all of their friends. But while a successful viral campaign may reach lots of people, it doesn’t necessarily get you in front of your target market segment. People may hear about your brand, but they won’t necessarily be the ones most likely to buy from you.

There’s also the risk of alienating your true fans and loyal customers with the wrong campaign. By trying to get everyone’s attention, you risk sending a message that’s too general or too watered down. Folks who once worshiped your brand values or mission might find themselves feeling like less of a priority. To keep them around, you’ll need to make sure high sales numbers don’t lead to less inventory availability or worsening customer service.

3. Infrastructure Issues

If you’re in the business of selling physical goods, going viral can quickly become a logistical and supply chain nightmare. With a sudden spike in numbers, you may have issues nailing down suppliers and producing enough goods to meet demand. Or, you might not have the inventory management tools you need to actually get your products to your rapid influx of new customers. Customers who want your products might get left in the lurch, waiting for backorders or deliveries to ship.

A huge traffic increase can also quickly slow down — or take down — your website, no matter your industry. You’ll need to quickly triage your tech stack to avoid lost sales and customer service complaints. And then there’s staffing: You’ll need more people on payroll to keep business flowing. But when your traffic dies down, you could be left making painful layoffs. A more incremental growth plan could give you the consistent cash flow it takes to keep paying salaries and adopting new solutions.

4. Risk of Getting “Canceled” and Harassed

A giant leap into the spotlight can also come with massive risks to the reputation of your business. Just look at all the brands and celebrities who’ve quickly found themselves getting “canceled” after rising to viral TikTok fame. There’s no real way to be absolutely sure that nothing in your campaign or in your past could land you in hot water. Before going viral, you’ll need to lay the right groundwork and contingency plans to avert a potential PR crisis.

It’s not enough just to have a brand that’s consistent with its values and its messaging. Landing in the public eye can make you and your associates the target of harassment. Bad actors on social media might actively look for information that hurts your brand’s image and credibility. You might need to work overtime protecting your employees or partners, especially any influencers who’ve worked to promote your brand.

Focus on Building Your Business

With the right strategy and planning, going viral overnight can still be a great thing for your brand. But it can take careful forethought — or aggressive emergency action — to pull it off without serious consequences. That’s where the real problem lies: investing too much in going viral means pulling resources from other aspects of the business. You’re spending all your extra cash at the metaphorical slots when you could be putting a down payment on a surer thing.

By all means, let your social media strategists do what they can to earn followers and gain traction online. A share-worthy video or trending hashtag can provide a necessary sales boost for your brand. But be sure you’re also making more gradual progress with strong customer service and an excellent product. And upgrade your tech stack early and often, so you’ll always be ready for more sales, no matter how fast they happen.