Why businesses shouldn’t try to force ‘going viral’

Joel Svensson

In the rush to generate new business, companies will try all sorts of social media stunts to draw more views. Just take Luxbet for example; the sports-bet company has faced criticism after staging a Twitter hoax in which they pretended to be locked out of their own account. But are Tweets for Tweets’ sake worth risking your company’s reputation?

Even if a staged campaign does well, it can still mark your brand as deceptive and condescending. And a lack of transparency on social media can cause serious backlash.

Here’s why honest engagement is your best bet on social media.

People don’t trust a brand because it uses memes, stages stunts or garnishes its Tweets with words like “bae” or “on fleek.”

Honesty creates trust

People don’t trust a brand because it uses memes, stages stunts or garnishes its Tweets with words like “bae” or “on fleek.” They trust a brand when it provides expertise, transparency and originality.

On social media, expertise comes in the form of engagements that add value. This can be advice exchanged in a Tweet, or a link to a listicle that provides relevant, useful tips for customers.

Transparency means apologising when you’re wrong, and resisting the urge to hide or delete an unfavourable review. Companies who eschew the scorched-earth approach to social media management in favour of humility and accountability are less likely to lose followers in the event that they somehow screw up.

On the other hand, inauthentic practises – like faking a crisis, hijacking a trending topic or using forced memes to try to “connect with the youth” – undermines trust. It can make a company appear cold, deceptive or out-of-touch.

Customers young enough to have grown up with the internet tend to have finely calibrated bull**** detectors.

Millennials are wise to the drama game

Customers young enough to have grown up with the internet tend to have finely calibrated bull**** detectors. Social media posts that are melodramatic, refer to a fabricated event, or are otherwise disingenuous in their attention-seeking, are all tactics that millennials are familiar with from high school. There’s even a forum on reddit dedicated to highlighting such practises.

Brands that try to create buzz by staging “internet drama” do not engage young people. They make them cringe.

Trying too hard turns people off

A big part of social media management involves identifying your brand’s voice and working within it. And that voice must be authentic. People wouldn’t buy it if, for instance, a venerable banking firm suddenly decided to host a “dankest meme” competition on Facebook. Such a stunt would be a text-book example of “me too” marketing, which risks a brand looking desperate.

Tapping into trends is certainly important on social media, but the contribution must be original and consistent with the voice of the brand. Ironic or subversive takes on trending memes (or even really old ones) can be a good way to position your brand as aware of – but not swayed by – the ebb and flow of internet culture. That said, this is obviously not a foolproof practise.

“Viral is something that happens, not something that is.

There’s no concrete formula for going viral

As marketing guru Faris Yakob once said, “Viral is something that happens, not something that is.” You never know what the next big internet sensation will look like; it might be an ambiguously coloured dress, or a bizarre music video from South Korea.

It’s not up to business owners or marketers to decide what goes viral – as the very word suggests, it’s an almost organic process that’s as unpredictable as weather. What you can do is practise authentic social media management that adds value and shows customers why they should trust you.

And as your audience grows, so does your chances of achieving that Holy Grail of digital marketing. 

Joel Svensson

Joel Svensson is a Melbourne-based freelance writer specialising in politics and business.

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