The following is a guest post by Lana Richardson. Her bio is at the end.
Be honest. Every time you hit publish on a brand new blog post or piece of content, you secretly hope that it will go viral.
As marketers, likes, shares, tweets, follows, pins and comments are our lifeblood. We live for those numbers and we all get a thrill when we see them jump into the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and for the lucky ones, the millions.
However, going viral has been somewhat of a dark art since the phenomenon started around ten years ago. None of us really understand the science behind what makes the likes of Grumpy Cat such a wonder and more importantly, we just don’t know how to orchestrate that level of engagement simply because it’s so organic in nature.
With over 2.5 million blog posts shared every single day, drawing attention to your content is hard, which means going viral is almost impossible. Nevertheless, it does happen. Things go viral every single day. Every time we log into Facebook, we’ll see a new animal video taking our newsfeeds by storm or there’s a brand new hilarious hashtag dominating our Twitter timelines.
But what happens to that viral content after it has spread across the internet? What impact does it have on the creator – especially if they are part of a company or brand? Do sales increase? Do social media followers skyrocket?
A huge peak in viral traffic does, undoubtedly, have an impact on a brand but it’s the reactions in the aftermath of the surge that really determine whether the outcome is a positive or negative one.
Know your goals
Goal setting is a vital aspect of any marketing strategy and viral marketing is no exception. But there’s just one problem – viral success rarely happens on purpose. Most viral activity, especially in the first instance, is completely accidental. This makes it very difficult to set and measure goals; and it’s something that many marketers learn the hard way – including me.
The first time I went viral was wholly unexpected. I shared a blog post on our company Facebook page, which I thought was pretty funny but had no idea it had the potential to spread so far and wide. Unfortunately, when it did, I was poorly equipped to benefit positively from the outcome.
As hundreds of thousands of new visitors landed on our website, they bounced straight back off after reading the post, as I did not have the data capture tools and calls to action in place to engage these users and drive them towards conversion.
It is therefore important to have set objectives before publishing any blog post, to avoid the loss of any potential customers. Know what you want to gain from your blog traffic – whether it’s direct sales, sign ups or increased Twitter followers. And ensure that you have the capturing tools in place to achieve these goals.
By introducing simple buttons (see below) that entice visitors to enter into the sales funnel, I have noticed a huge decrease in my blog’s bounce rate, whilst pages visited and session times increase.
Prepare your website
This is an obvious but important point. If there is a chance that a huge spike of traffic could land on your website, make sure that you are fully prepared. The last thing you want is for visitors to flood to your site only for it to crash, or load too slowly, or be incompatible with certain devices or browsers.
Viral lightning rarely strikes twice. So, if you miss out on the peak the first time, chances are that it won’t make a return visit.
Once your website is ready, turn your focus to the first conversations. Likes, shares and comments will start rolling in and it is in your interest to pay close attention to every new notification.
There is a technique that I like to call ‘Conversation Mining’. By identifying the key points and issues that people discuss in the comments sections, you‘ll be able to have a clear idea of what people connect with. You’ll be able to identify what made the content so successful, which will help you replicate the engagement again.
Just as conversations begin to flow, so will customer inquiries. This is especially true if the content you produced is closely linked to the product or service you are offering.
Answering these queries should be your top priority. Enhanced user experience and instant customer service are key digital marketing trends. You should embrace them. If necessary, invest in customer service management tools to help streamline the process.
In addition, closely monitor your social media channels, especially Facebook and Twitter, which are powerful means of communication between brands and consumers.
Face the hate
If your content is particularly polarising or makes a strong opinion, you should always be prepared for some negativity. This will even happen if you have written something as inoffensive as “101 cutest puppies of all time”, actually.
Most of the comments will be pointless and arbitrary (e.g., “this is rubbish”, “this isn’t funny”, “this is the worst thing I’ve ever clicked on”). Ignore or block them them if you deem them to be especially offensive.
That said, all negativity should not be ignored. Criticism can be constructive.
A good rule is to turn a blind eye to negativity unless it could possibly serve your community or your business. For example, if someone makes a complaint about your business, address it by apologising whilst also trying to move the conversation offline.
Once people discover your viral success, especially if it occurs more than once, you may notice the emergence of ‘new friends’ or ‘business connections’ who want to ‘have a chat’, ‘meet for a business lunch’ or ‘talk over coffee’ – basically to uncover what secret spell you cast on your blog post to create such viral success.
How you react to these requests is entirely personal. Some fare towards transparency and believe that sharing techniques and strategies benefits the entire community of bloggers. Others prefer keeping tight lipped about their methods to maintain a competitive edge.
Regardless of your preference, you should prepare for these requests. Try to determine who genuinely wants and could benefit from your advice, compared to those who want to get a grip on your secret recipe and run away with it.
Back in September 2015, I published a blog post for a Northern Irish based courier service, NI Parcels titled “40 Things That Northern Irish People Do”. The article was targeted specifically to Northern Irish people – a relatively small demographic, and included very niche references which were only relatable to this audience. For that reason, I knew the article had viral potential. Overnight, the post had organically racked up 250,000 views and almost 50,000 social shares.
Before publishing, I was aware of the importance of establishing a goal and putting measures in place to achieve it. As my goal was to increase brand awareness and generate more leads, I, therefore, took three steps to capture the traffic and help move visitors down the sales funnel.
- I placed call to action buttons throughout the blog post. Instead of leading directly to a ‘Book Now’ page, I linked these CTA buttons to an educational landing page which gave users more information about the service provided by NI Parcels. This resulted in a very successful 10% CTR to the landing page.
- I set up a Facebook advertising campaign, targeting users who had visited the blog post, again pushing them to the educational landing page. And then, set up a further campaign, targeting visitors to the landing page and pushing them towards registering for our service.
- I created an email marketing campaign, targeting users who registered as a result of the blog post, and sent them an e-shot to thank them for reading and to introduce them to our service.
September ended up being our best sales month and we saw significantly more users sign up to our service. Since then, we have also seen a noticeable increase in search volume for our brand name and, five months on, we still receive a very steady flow of traffic from this post alone.
Although it seems daunting and there’s a lot to prepare for, going viral really is great. There’s no denying that if feels good to see so many people reading, talking about and sharing your work – watching numbers increase can be quite a thrill. But viral traffic, in its nature, peaks and drops very quickly. Therefore, getting the traffic is not what’s important – it’s what you do in the aftermath that really, truly counts.