The concept of having a piece of content go viral is a dream, this rarely attained high bar that is supposed to be a symbol of success. It’s a seductive notion, the idea that 100,000 or a million people could see your content and through it, know your company’s name.

Spreading content (or seeds) matters only if it produces a result.

Spreading dandelion seeds (or content) matters only if it produces a result.

Add to that the expectation for how it could affect sales, and it’s no wonder this has become such a popular marketing tactic.

The problem is, there’s no such thing as creating viral content. You can create content but only hope it goes viral.

By its very nature, having a blog post, article or infographic go viral isn’t something you can truly plan for, though having a plan that targets your audience can help.

In addition, you could spend thousands of dollars in man hours and marketing a video or infographic that was supposed to go viral and not obtain a single good lead. This is closer to the norm than actually getting your content to spread like a virus.

Or you could defy the odds and achieve viral success, but the gains for your endeavor could be greatly diminished in comparison with what you spend in time, money and resources to get there.

So even if you achieve virality, is it a success?

Are popularity and success the same thing?

Imagine you created a funny YouTube video and a million people saw it. If you got to one million quickly because the video went viral, you got people who were watching it because it was funny, and sharing it for that same reason.

And of course, yes it’s wonderful to get that kind of exposure and name recognition – a campaign turning viral is hardly a negative event. It’s great when it happens incidentally. It’s just not a smart goal to have.

Even if you got to those one million viewers from planning the type of content and exposure that can lead to viral spread, chances are the people who watched, enjoyed and shared your video are mostly made of people who will never become customers.

What if you were a little more patient?

What if you built a plan that had the same numerical goal, but had the patience to wait six months or a year, if that was how long it took to be exposed to that many people in your market who are online and ready to buy?

What if it led to the same amount of leads in a shorter amount of time? Wouldn’t that be worth the extra time, not to mention avoiding all the potential headaches that come with having viral content on your site?

Patience vs. Procrastination There are exceptions to this rule, but it’s the most consistent reality. If you’re lucky, 1 percent of those people will subscribe to your email updates or content channel, let alone consume your company’s products at some point.

It’s not all bad – 10,000 subscribers is a great gain – some companies are currently thriving on much smaller lists. There’s a big difference between 10,000 subscribers that cost you 3 cents each in manpower and content creation, and those that cost you $30 each. As the cost of attaining them goes up, you may begin to wonder if getting them is worth it, especially if you don’t see a similar boost in sales.

On the other hand, imagine creating content targeted specifically to people in the market for what you sell. Even if you get a response from only 20,000 people in the first three months but half or more of them buy and keep buying, it’s hard to argue that the lower cost in getting them, even over a longer period of time, isn’t better for your business.

Have you bought something because of viral content?

How many products have you learned about because of the viral spread of content have actually inspired you to buy something? With the exception of Old Spice, seeing a popular video hasn’t inspired purchases from me.

True, it got me to notice the company, but there are many ways they can get my attention that are more cost-effective. However a company gets my attention, what leads me to buy from one company or their competition is often the same: personal attention from a brand before a sale that makes me believe they’ll care about me after I buy one of their products.

I like being presented with solutions to minor problems or content targeted to people like me, and that makes me want to become a customer, to remain loyal.

They catch me with targeted content and pre-sales customer service, and I take the bait, happily signing up to their newsletter because I found what I was looking for, or something I know I’ll need in the near future.

Think about why you buy from companies you encounter. Ask your current buyers and subscribers.

“What if you built a plan that had the same numerical goal, but had the patience to wait six months or a year?”

So what do we know, now, about going viral?

You can’t force something to go viral, but you can prepare content to do its best.

There’s a bigger investment in time, research, resources, to handle the result of going viral, some that could be better spent targeting the right people.

It happens more through luck (and contacts or even community) than planning, and since you can’t control luck, it’s not smart to have this as a central goal

Putting more focus into targeted makes it more likely someone will buy – you can likely make more money with less effort by putting more effort into targeting than attempts to go viral.

Going viral is definitely not the worst thing that can happen to a video or article you create. The links, the traffic the attention, and even at a low conversion rate, an influx of subscribers are all good things.

But going viral is as much based on luck and in passing through the hands of the right people as it is anything else. Make the goal of the content you create to inspire actions from the kind of people most likely to buy from you.

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