Doing a stunt, making a funny video or using a famous celebrity to help you to “go viral” may seem like it’s an effective way to grow a business fast. But going viral can actually prove to be detrimental to your long term success. 

Do you remember Rebecca Black? Her wealthy parents paid to make her dream come true, to record, produce and release a hit song. Her song, “Friday” was so bad that it went viral. The song was, in any measure, a success, but not because people loved it. It got famous because of how bad it was. The terrible lyrics, Rebecca’s singing voice and the cringe-worthy music video was parodied, slammed and shamed from one end of the internet to the other. Rebecca got famous, but not quite in the way she wanted. And today, she isn’t famous, isn’t a successful singer or performer, and is largely forgotten, even though, for just a moment, she was the most well-known teenager on the planet. Going viral isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. 

  • Producing an expensive video doesn’t guarantee success
  • Buying a famous person to share your stuff doesn’t guarantee success
  • Building posts to appeal to millions may mean that you don’t appeal to anyone in your actual target demographic 

Over the last 20 years of memes, themes and viral dreams, one thing has been consistent. Most viral ideas started as low-budget, low-quality posts. In fact, the vast majority of them never set out to go viral. They just kind of fluked it. And that’s part of the charm of things that go viral. It’s the sweet ignorance or innocence of the original poster that made it so relatable or so likeable. 

This is what makes me shake my head when a radio station or local business tries to mimic a meme or attempt to recreate the conditions where something might “blow up” on TikTok or Instagram. For a start, radio stations are awful at trying to go viral. The joke of “walking naked down the main street of town” has been repeated so many times by so many radio stations that it only makes us cringe. Spoiler alert, the goofy, cringey radio host walks a dog on a leash down the main street of town. The dog’s name is apparently, “Naked.” 

This is the problem with most businesses trying to go viral. They are trying to manufacture the viral effect. But going viral isn’t a foolproof process. You could follow the exact Rebecca Black formula but get no attention at all. You could try to be a Cherlyn Barnes, a Kim Kardashian or a “Charlie bit my finger” kid but you’ll almost definitely not go viral. There is no set level of artistic irony, dad-joke cringe worthiness, or template in Canva that is going to make you go viral. Sometimes things go viral. Usually, they don’t. 

And this is why it is such a bad strategy to follow. If you do go viral, it won’t be due to people laughing along with you or admiring your ability to tell a story. It’ll most likely be that everyone is mocking you. And if you don’t go viral, all that energy is wasted. 

Strategies for growth online are best done with a long runway. Not with a short leap into the stratosphere. Growth happens when one person likes you and tells others about you. They then like what you do and pass on the admiration to others. That’s exponential growth that is impressive, even if it isn’t viral enough to reach for the stars.

The beauty of a controlled ascent is that you can grow steadily along with the growth of interest in your business. When you go suddenly viral, even for good reasons, you probably can’t serve all those new customers effectively, so you go from overwhelmed to disliked by people really quickly. Steady growth is the key, not sudden, meteoric growth that isn’t sustainable. 

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Dante St James is the founder of Clickstarter, a Facebook Blueprint Certified Lead Trainer, a Community Trainer with Facebook Australia, a digital advisor with Treeti Business Consulting, an accredited ASBAS Digital Solutions advisor and presenter, and the editor at The Small Marketer. You can watch free 1-hour webinars and grow your digital skills at Dante’s YouTube Channel.

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