How to Tell Your Boss that Going Viral Isn’t the Goal

8 minute read

Upland Admin

On a fateful day in March, I picked the University of Virginia to win the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship (otherwise known as March Madness).

For those of you not unhealthily interested in collegiate athletics, this admission probably means nothing to you. But those of you who witnessed one-seed UVA fall to the sixteen-seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)—the first such occurrence in the entire history of men’s college basketball—will understand the shock I experienced that evening.

But far more likely, you’ll remember the fun that ensued.

Even I, who had gotten my bracket smashed to bits in the very first round of the tournament, gleefully watched the Retrievers take down the Cavaliers. And this delight was due in no small part to the UMBC Athletics Twitter feed.

UMBC Athletics Tweet

Sure, the historic upset was excitement enough for all of us who tune in hoping for crazy games. But it was the pure force of human joy radiating through America’s social feeds that really won the hearts of a nation. (And took down the school website.)

Tweet: UMBC website crashes

The Retrievers’ Twitter account increased its follower count by more than 100k in less than three days and lost no time capitalizing on its fifteen minutes of fame.

Tweet: UMBC searches for building sponsors

Like many that night, I loudly declared myself a born-again Retrievers fan.

The man behind the account even scored a profile in the New York Times.

Moments like this—products of good luck and quick thinking—are what marketing dreams are made of. Who among us hasn’t fantasized that, suddenly and without warning, we’ll find ourselves the brains behind something so pure and loveable that everyone in the world is—at least temporarily—on our side?

Admit it: we all dream of going viral.

The Appeal of Going Viral

A quick Google search for “how to go viral” yields nearly 15 million results hawking foolproof plans for internet fame in various numbers of steps.

This isn’t surprising. Going viral is appealing because it’s easy to understand. For those of us buoyed by the belief that more is more, the prospect of millions of views, retweets, and shares is comforting in its simplicity. The more attention our content gets, the easier it is to chalk our efforts up to a win.

For many B2C marketers, this line of logic is, for the most part, pretty sound. Companies like Pepsi Co. and Walmart have target audiences that include more or less everyone with a pulse. The more eyes these companies can draw in, the better. Their buyers’ purchasing decisions are made with minimal analysis, enabling marketers to count on customers’ individual, impulsive decision making to lead the way.

When I bought car insurance, for instance, I was spurred on by thoughts of an animated Australian lizard. On a road trip, I’m more likely to pull over at a Wendy’s than a Burger King due to the former’s outstanding ability to roast its competitors (and the general public) on Twitter, which has earned the burger chain untold volumes of free publicity. C’est la vie.

Buzzfeed: The Person Who Runs Wendy's Twitter Deserves a Raise

And while positive brand association is important for all of us, the ROI of gimmicks and broad appeal decline steeply in the B2B universe.

In B2B, Quality Beats Quantity

Let’s say your B2B company somehow does stumble into viral fame. What would you gain?

Increased brand awareness? Probably. An ego boost? Definitely. Anything more than that? Doubtful.

Would you see a massive increase in MQLs or SALs? Would leads generated by your viral content ever make it to the buying stage? Probably not.

Why? Because the philosophy behind viral content is the exact opposite of the logic driving B2B marketing.

As B2B marketers, we aim to serve the right customer with the right content at the right time. We craft our content carefully to do the exact opposite of going viral because a piece of content that doesn’t speak to a particular persona’s particular problems probably isn’t doing its job.

That’s because we realize that the right audience is more important than the biggest audience.

In the early days of Kapost, we ourselves were often guilty of publishing gif-filled blogs that were, like, so totally relatable. And while they were fun and attracted hoards of readers, they did little to encourage potential customers to see us as the potential solution to their problems.

Does B2B Marketing Have to Be Boring?

It would be easy to conclude that we marketers are doomed to go one of two ways: we can make fun content with mass appeal or churn out a bunch of mundane white papers no one in their right mind would ever enjoy reading.

That’s where you’d be wrong.

Prioritizing your target audience over the general public doesn’t mean being boring—it means being very boring to most people and very interesting to a select few. The jokes that make a construction executive laugh may be incomprehensible to a mid-level manager in a medical supplies company, and that’s okay. 

Your target audience is a small subset of the population at large, and it’s your job to be the one voice they feel really gets them. Feel free to incorporate the level of personality and fun that fits your brand voice—just make sure it’s for the sake of your audience, not for the world at large.

Me? I care only whether you, dear B2B content creator, enjoys this blog post. Anyone else is merely a bonus.

The Metrics That Matter

The reason that content with mass-appeal is so enticing is that it’s designed to crush it with the old-fashioned metrics that still have the power to distract us. Clicks, pageviews, impressions—they look impressive in the graphs we present to our superiors, require no complicated explanation, and make us content creators feel pretty good, too.

And yes! It’s flattering to create something that rakes in visitors. But once we rub the celebratory confetti from our eyes, we discover the old adage still rings true: all that glitters is not gold.

These so-called vanity metrics are still decent signposts that can point us in the direction of high-performing content. Of course, we want people to visit our sites and share our social media content. But a much more significant measurement is the quality of those that engage.

Say you create a video that goes crazy, pulling in tens of thousands of views from all over the world. “Amazing!” you tell yourself. “We really hit the jackpot.” Your boss is thrilled.

But when you take the time to look closer, the clip’s outward success isn’t translating to the meaningful metrics that make the difference for your company. Many of the people engaging with your video aren’t your target buyers at all. They’re just random people who stumbled upon something they found entertaining. They’re watching your video, maybe even showing it some love, then disappearing forever. Because chances are, they’ll never be in the market for what you’re selling.

Setting Meaningful Goals

You probably don’t need to be told any of this. You know you’re an expert at what you do, and you take pride in creating strategic content that makes a real impact on your demand gen funnel.

Your boss may be a different story.

Getting your leadership on board with what you already know begins with aligning on goals and making sure you’re being evaluated on real results.

Reminding stakeholders about the reasons you create content in the first place can help sharpen their focus. Use real-life examples of your most successful content and compare content that has attracted lots of superficial attention with content that has had a measurable impact on lead generation and sales success.

In the perfect world, you’d create something so popular that it’s featured on Buzzfeed and plays a direct role in securing a huge customer. But if you have to pick one or the other, the choice is clear. It’s important that your boss feels the same way.

UMBC’s social media stardom has the potential to make a real difference for the school. The Baltimore Sun quoted one consultant who estimated the value of their exposure at more than $33 million. They’ll likely see an uptick in applications, alumni giving, and sponsorship interest—which by all accounts seems well-deserved.

The value of my personal attention, though? By jumping UMBC bandwagon, I contributed to results that looked great on paper. But I’m never going to donate to the school, buy Retrievers merchandise from the student store, or apply for admission. My value begins and ends as an amplifier of the brand—valuable, to be sure, but not perhaps as valuable as it looks.

Ready to streamline your content operation, and go from chaos to calm? Get this guide.

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