Has “Going Viral” Gone Too Far?

“Going viral” is now a badge of honor among web publishers and advertisers, and some web publishers feel left out of the social media slipstream if they’ve never experienced the heady thrill of internet virality.

Viral content can inform and entertain, and it can help people feel they're a part of important world events.
Viral content can inform and entertain, and it can help people feel they’re a part of important world events.

But is virality in and of itself a worthy goal? What is lost when virality is the end goal? Here are some points to consider.

Engagement is Critical for Successful Web Publishers

Successful web publications must engage with readers. Different web outlets engage with media consumers in different ways, but even the most ivory-towered web publication must acknowledge the importance of understanding what readers want and attempt to provide it. Many web publications go further, engaging with readers through blog post comments and on social media sites. An engaged audience is a receptive audience, and today it’s difficult to successfully monetize an audience that is passive. Having a story, video, blog post, or Tweet go viral can jumpstart a site’s engagement with visitors. If the site uses the sudden popularity to put its best foot forward, it can build its brand and raise its profile in a short time.

What Does the Scoop Mean Today?

The days of a daily newspaper scooping its competition and watching gleefully as competitors play catch-up the next day are over. Today the traditional scoop has a lead time measured in seconds. One problem with viral, snack-sized content is that it can be devoid of substance. While this is not a problem if the viral content is a silly cat video, it cheats readers when the real meat of a story is left behind after a snippet of content goes viral. The real scoop today is giving readers the clarity and understanding necessary to put context around viral news content. This goes directly back to the fundamental rule of sustained online success: providing valuable, usable, “meaty” content.

When Virality is the End Rather than the Means Toward an End

When your web publication pursues virality over solid content, two things can happen. If a piece goes viral, you set the stage for greatly increased reader engagement, but you may not know how to take advantage of all the attention. If it doesn’t go viral, it can dilute the quality of your overall content. Pursuing virality isn’t enough. Your publication has to know the answer to the question “What now?” if a piece does go viral, or it may miss out on a great opportunity.

If you're prepared, you can leverage viral content short term and long term.
If you’re prepared, you can leverage viral content short term and long term.

Virality’s Double Edged Sword

Viral content can accomplish things that were unthinkable only 20 years ago. It can help society bear powerful witness to important events, or it can merely provide a momentary diversion in a constant stream of information. One commenter on a 2012 Huffington Post article about virality and social media likened the virality/social media phenomenon to a leaf blower: “In the right hands it can quickly and efficiently create order out of chaos. For the inexperienced, it’s just the opposite: significantly more noise and chaos.” The question is, if your publication consistently publishes high quality content, is it ready to respond with skill and expertise if content from your site goes viral? If so, your site stands to benefit tremendously. But pursuing virality for its own sake is ultimately an empty endeavor.

The Role of Virality In Today’s Online Publication

It is possible to create content that is not only informative and valuable, but also has characteristics that could increase the chances of it going viral. Your content may perfectly distill a concept or account into a brief format. You don’t always have to give up quality for brevity. You can also include highly shareable elements, such as well-executed infographics, and make them as easy as possible to share, greasing the skids by first sharing them on social media sites. Finally, you can set the stage for viral popularity by having a site that already engages readers, so that when a piece goes viral and draws plentiful new traffic, you’re not left wondering how to deal with the influx.

The best approach is to pursue what has always worked: great content, honest coverage, and a trustworthy brand that engages with consumers of your content. Then, if something from your site goes viral, you won’t miss out on the amazing opportunity it poses. If your site is already thoughtfully and carefully monetized, you can reap monetary rewards as well.

If you are interested in learning about how recruitment advertising for publishers can be turned into a healthy revenue stream for your web publication, you should have a look at what we’re doing for other publishers at RealMatch. With the solutions we offer, you’ll be well prepared when your high quality content goes viral.

Photo Credits: David Castillo Dominici / freedigitalphotos.net, bplanet / freedigitalphotos.net

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