Business development 2 March 2018

Going viral: Is it all it’s cracked up to be for brands?

Influencer marketing
“We’d love to see it go viral” is a common utterance from client to marketer

What does it mean to become an overnight online sensation? Mike Rose, executive director of The Mission Marketing Group, helps entrepreneurs understand what going viral really means in 2018.

It’s something that seems to happen every day, many times over: a video or photo or other post “goes viral” and gets shared on social media many thousands of times. Usually, it is something personal, but sometimes brand campaigns spread rapidly across the internet.

There is no clear definition of what “viral” really means. One YouTube personality said that five million views of a video in a three to seven-day period are needed; others may feel that the bar is much lower than that.

Essentially, it comes down to something ‘taking off’ and getting much higher levels of interaction than expected in a much shorter timescale. Whether views or likes are in the millions or the tens of thousands, the volume of feedback and attention can feel significant.

It’s something that many brands aspire to, even secretly hanker after. “We’d love to see it go viral” is a common utterance from client to marketer. But is going viral all it’s cracked up to be? Is it something that a brand should devote too much time to?

From our own experience and conversations in the industry, while I don’t want to take away from the fun and excitement (and raised brand awareness), there are a number of points that do at the very least need to be considered. 

  1. Be prepared for a flood of comments/interactions

Going viral can take up a huge amount of internal resource. People will expect interaction, whether it’s answers to or acknowledgements of their comments. You will need to have resource for this.

You will also need to be prepared for all sorts of comments – positive and negative, constructive or obscene. Agreeing how to deal with these will be important. Being unprepared and getting it wrong could spoil your great moment.

  1. Is this what you want to be known for?

What you go viral with will stick. It’s what people will remember you by and associate you with (until the next thing comes along). So take a moment to think about the campaign and make sure that it does in some way land messages that are on-brand and positive.

  1. Will the message get lost?

Remember the no make-up selfie challenge from way back in 2014? Can you remember what it was raising awareness/funds for? No, I thought not (me neither – I had to look it up).


Does Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 6 campaign breach influencer marketing law?

When Kim Kardashian took to Instagram with a #YeezySeason6 hashtag attached to seemingly real-life photos, hype swelled around Kanye West’s clothing label. But is it authentic exposure or product endorsement?


The point here is that if you’re trying to promote a serious message or cause, be prepared for it to get lost to a greater or lesser degree if and when something goes viral. The activity and fun can take over the message and people are just doing it because everyone else is. That’s fine – but don’t have false expectations that going viral means everyone is taking your message or cause deeply to heart.

  1. It might not last long

It’s great while it lasts – but it could be over quickly. New things go viral every day and there’s not room for everything. Most viral phenomena blow themselves out after only a few days. You have to expect this. Getting back to normal can feel a bit flat!

  1. Is the effort worth the reward?

There’s no doubt that going viral can have real benefits. It creates a buzz, massively increases brand recognition, and can also prove a huge morale booster internally.

However, it can have its drawbacks. The value to the brand can be questionable – certainly hard to track or quantify. Arguably, a solid, well-crafted campaign, with strong messaging, that lands well with a key audience can provide more genuine commercial advantage.

Brands must consider the relative value of real and deep audience engagement but a low number of views, versus a higher number of views with less engaged users. And the nirvana of being able to do both.

It is also very unpredictable. Who knows what will go viral tomorrow? For that reason, I don’t think a brand should spend a disproportionate amount of time and effort ‘trying’ to create a viral piece of content. It will happen if it happens.

For me, it’s far better to focus on the key elements of a strong marketing campaign that you can control: creativity, originality, clear messaging and authenticity. And if indeed the internet does play ball, treat it as a cherry on top.

Mike Rose is executive director of The Mission Marketing Group and managing director of Chapter

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.



If you’ve found the article above useful, but have a more detailed and bespoke question, then please feel free to submit a query to our expert. We at Business Advice will get in contact with them on your behalf and arrange for a personalised response. These questions and answers will then be collated on the site for any other readers who have similar queries.

Ask a question

From the top