In the vast and ever-evolving landscape of social media, one idea seems to capture the attention and imagination of individuals and businesses alike: virality.
The concept of creating content that spreads like wildfire and reaches millions of viewers in a matter of hours has become the holy grail of online success. From heartwarming videos of adorable animals to thought-provoking messages, we’ve all witnessed the power and allure of going viral.
Yet, amidst the frenzy, it’s still important to question whether the pursuit of virality is truly a necessary ingredient for achieving lasting impact. In short–is it really all that? How sustainable is it in the long run? As a business, is it something you should want?
These are pressing questions that inquiring minds want to know. There may not be solid answers for all of them, but one thing is clear: there’s more to going viral than you think.
Everybody wants to rule the world
Did you know that the term “viral” described infections before it was associated with internet fame and glamor?
A viral infection is a type of illness caused by a virus that uses your cells to rapidly duplicate itself and spread all over your body—ultimately making you infectious so you can pass the virus to others. How you pass the infection varies depending on the virus, but the idea still holds.
A viral post works in the same way. It aims to rapidly spread across the internet and appear on your feed through shares and reposts. In a way, you’ve managed to turn your funny meme viral once everybody has at least heard of it.
Everybody knows the song and dance by now; a viral post is essentially synonymous with popularity and thousands (if not millions) of new followers. Some of the other results of virality include, but are not limited to, job opportunities, interviews, and widespread news coverage.
Needless to say, it certainly seems glamorous. One local example includes Ranz and Niana, a pair of siblings who went viral in 2017 because of several videos of them dancing to “Despacito.”
Since then, they’ve amassed millions of followers. Everything from collaborations to even a nomination at the Kids’ Choice Awards has come their way along with every other reward thanks to their massive virality.
With this in mind, why wouldn’t going viral be the ultimate goal for anyone creating content on the internet? Believe it or not, sensationality has its side effects.
Viral, as in a sickness
While going viral can lead you down the path of widespread internet fame, the flip side can also be true. After all, viral content not only attracts approval and validation, but it can also lead to pretty harsh criticism and even trolling.
That’s just some of the consequences of going viral. At this point, perhaps no one truly expects it to be all sunshine and rainbows—but that doesn’t mean you’re well-prepared for the realities of stardom.
Unless you’re fine with a one-and-done kind of success, virality takes work. Once all the shares, reposts, and new followers begin to settle, you’re going to have to work twice as hard as you did before to keep those numbers up.
If you do happen to be fine with striking big just a single time, you aren’t off the hook just yet. Just because you’re fine with once again disappearing into your own corner of the internet doesn’t mean your newly formed fanbase will be.
One of the most dangerous expectations of virality is, of course, the expectations from all the watching eyes. They want more of what they came here for. In this way, someone can turn from a random user on the internet to a machine expected to churn out viral content in just the span of a single night.
Some have gotten virality down to a science. Isabel Hazan from Mind Cafe writes that virality is “the mascot of internet fame and influence.” That is to say, while many may want it and some may get it unintentionally, there are several moving parts to it that not everyone understands.
Many of those parts can lead content creators down a deep, dark hole. Hazan continues, “There’s a dark side to growing infatuated with the idea of going viral, a cost to trying to capture its tempting benefits with each new piece of content.”
The real key to success
A post can go viral like a new trend or fad but in a sudden, spontaneous, and rarely predictable way. This makes the whole plan of aiming for virality kind of futile and even a waste of resources.
Engineered attempts to go viral almost always fail, anyway. Thankfully, virality isn’t necessarily the key to success.
What may work better is authenticity and meaningful, insightful data. Going viral can help you strike it big, but that abrupt spike in followers isn’t sustainable.
In other words: engagement is a long game. You can’t play with the intent of hitting the jackpot every time. Otherwise, you’d just be making blind shots in the dark. On the contrary, you have to make a real, dedicated effort to build your content up, bit by bit.
To make a real and lasting impact, focus on the deeper message that you’re trying to communicate. There are no shortcuts, no hacks, and definitely no easy ways to be successful.
It’s time to look beyond follower counts and towards other measures of engagement that really matter.