• Craig Kent

How (not) to go viral

Updated: May 5, 2020

Recent experience has taught us that something going viral can be a very bad thing. Ironically enough in the world of Viral Marketing, something can get out of control accidentally, and once it starts to spread there's no way of just hitting the 'stop' button - most of the time you have to ride it out, and take what you can from it to learn how to do things better if there is a next time.

I'll never forget overhearing a previous boss of mine insisting to the Head of Social Media that a staged YouTube ad that he dreamed up simply HAD to go viral as he had no marketing budget and he thought the skit was quite funny. I was quick to point out that you cannot just magically put something 'viral' just because you like it; otherwise every marketer on the planet was be a social media entrepeneur.

When something goes viral online the chances are that it's due to controversial content that is both timely and splits public opinion. Once it's out there, you as the author or instigator are powerless to stop it. I should know - I've done it 3 times!

The first time was when I was looking for work and a recruiter got in touch on LinkedIn with an opportunity based 'to the west of London'. When I had the audacity (lol) to ask for the exact location he rudely answered that he was only interested in candidates whose primary interest was the scope of the role, not how to get there so he would 'leave it there as I have plenty of others interested in the job'. Had he not been the one to approach me out of the blue I might have understood but in my anger I clicked 'share' on public settings and within 24 hours I was an internet superstar. My name was appearing worldwide on blogs and newspaper sites and my profile received 9,000 views overnight! Scary huh?

Did I learn my lesson? NO!

Earlier this year the government was about to instigate a change to contracting laws that would seriously have harmed my business. I decided to write a short, concise, slightly controversial LinkedIn post on the subject and once again this went viral. I watched the views enter the 10's of 1000's, then the 100's of 1000's before stopping at around a quarter of a million 3 days later. The government did actually stop short of implementing the revision to the law, but that had more to do with an actual virus than my online post, but I do feel it contributed in some way.

Did I learn my lesson after that? NO!

The third and hitherto last time I went viral was in March of this year. You may read this and think 'I remember - I didn't know that was you', and you'd be right... I started 'toilet paper-gate'. Not out of choice, no but I was so incensed that at a time of national emergency my local community newsagent was selling toilet paper at hugely inflated prices that I tried to interview the shopkeeper whose instant reaction was to call the police! I shared the video without thinking to ONE WhatsApp group of about 20 people and within an hour my name and video were everywhere. I was all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc with no way to stop it. My wife and I were even fending off calls from journalists wanting to share the story yet further! I had no intention of going viral, but someone on the WhatsApp group started sharing it and the rest is history. For the next 7 days the world was talking about toilet paper and shops profiting unscrupulously from desperate customers. At the last count I had reached 3.5 million views and the subject even got air time from our very own PM Boris Johnson at one of the early daily briefings!

Did I learn my lesson after that? YES!

The internet is the most powerful tool in the world today. It's a wonderful source of information and knowledge and many companies and individuals have profited from it. Sometimes however it can work against you so if you are looking to put your work viral, you should be prepared for the consequences if things don't quite go to plan.

As with all your marketing it is vital you plan in advance. You can't always predict how things will turn out but you must think things through in detail and avoid doing things on a whim.

Thankfully the world has enough toilet paper after all. Unfortunately we have bigger things to worry about right now but as I've said many times over the last few weeks, now is the time to plan for when this awful pandemic is over.

We must learn from our mistakes and use our experiences to do better in the future. Every day brings with it new opportunities as well as challenges so we must learn to take responsibility when things don't necessarily go to plan, but do reap the rewards when things go well. After all, we're only human!

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