“We’re designing this campaign to go viral”. This is almost a word-for-word phase I’ve seen in a campaign project brief. I can’t tell you how many times I hear marketers say they are “doing things so that their campaign will go viral”. I’d hate to burst your bubble, but you can’t design something to go viral. Before we get into why you can’t design something to go viral, lets first define what viral is or isn’t.

The Urban Dictionary defines “Going Viral” as:

“An image, video, or link that spreads rapidly through a population by being frequently shared with a number of individuals has ‘gone viral’.”

There’s a huge problem, however, “going viral” isn’t a quantitative metric. There isn’t a universal metric out there that you can judge your results by. So how do you know if you’ve gone viral? The short answer, you don’t. In the past I’ve worked for companies that would set their own internal metrics for content, if it hit X amount of views in X time then it went viral. This is a good thing to do, but it’s just an internal metric and not something that works for everyone.

In 2017 NeimanLab posted a report that only 1% of videos posted to Facebook “go viral”. They were using the one million views threshold as their data point. Now remember that Facebook alone has over 8 billion video views every single day. If getting to one million views is what determines the 1% viral club on Facebook then actually, “going viral” is vastly lower than 1%. Remember all these numbers are on Facebook, which is number two for video content. Facebook pales in comparison to the juggernaut that is YouTube.

I don’t want to burst your bubble and dash your dreams of your campaign video being the next viral sensation. It can and does happen, I just want to be realistic about how incredibly rare it is. I highly suggest setting internal numbers to hit, such as:

    • Views
    • Likes
    • Shares
    • Comments

Use that internal number as your defining metric to “go viral”.

“Wait a minute”, I hear you saying, “if you set an internal metric for, “going viral”, then yes you can design something to “go viral”. To which I reply, “no, no you can’t”. Even if you set an internal goal for your campaign, which you should do there’s no way to design something that’s going to make millions of people share it. Sure you can check off the boxes that will make it more likely for your content to be shared; is it funny, check, is it entertaining, check, is it long enough without being a short 15 second annoying ad like the ones taking over every video I watch, check. Even if you do all these things you can’t predict a person’s behavior, let alone millions of them, and don’t forget this all has to happen within just a few days.

So how does anyone do it? How does content, “go viral”? How does David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear? Seriously, how did he do that? Well, I’ll tell you, except for the magic trick because a magician never reveals their secrets! There isn’t just one thing that makes content go viral. Sure, every once in a while a piece of content connects with society and is shared 1.5 billion times in just a few hours, but it’s rare, very rare. Not only that, but often the content isn’t a campaign or ad of any kind. Just think back to the, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”, lady.

Always start with why your campaign is being created in the first place. Don’t just create a video because you have a, “funny idea you think will go viral”. Work hard to create the best video you possibly can or work with a company like Saga Studios, whose job it is to make the best videos possible. Don’t focus on, “going viral”, focus on what will make your video the most successful for its target demographic and set internal goals to hit so you can quantify your success.

What should we say instead of “viral”? Personally, I think you should just call something successful or not successful. Set a goal, plan out everything in order to achieve those goals, and if you do then your project was successful. If you didn’t hit your goals then your project wasn’t successful; debrief, look at what happened, try to discern why certain goals weren’t met, (maybe your goals were too high, etc.) and move on.

Now I can’t stop you from using, “viral”, as an internal keyword for success, but I urge you to not focus your efforts on the singular desire to have something “go viral”. Instead, focus on the content and make your campaign the best it can possibly be. If the content is entertaining, engaging, and connects with your targeted audience the probability of “going viral” is much higher.