It doesn’t have to go viral to be valuable.
It’s an interesting and to some extent unpredictable time for those of us in what I like to call the rhetoric businesses. One thing I know for sure is that small batch informational content — not stunts, challenges or hashtags — is what people on the internet need right now from the organizations they trust most.
As my colleague Christopher Paré observes in his latest blog about COVIDspeak, there’s a fair amount of pandemic fatigue in the air, and this translates of course to pandemic communications fatigue. With vaccinations coming soon — “when it’s ready” according to the federal government in yet another PR misstep — as communicators, it is incumbent on us to help leaders plot a path forward to help inspire their teams over this last, excruciating stretch.
(Crisis era communications plans are more essential than ever and here is a template to get you started.)
One line I’ve used for years to boost our Thinkbait philosophy is that one’s web content doesn’t have to go viral to be valuable. It seems obvious enough as an opinion during a deadly pandemic where ‘going viral’ is precisely our problem but it’s worth reflecting on how web virality also brings with it significant risk and dubious long-term value.
By definition, once something goes viral, the host loses control. No problem if it’s the waterskiing squirrel but for institutions, established businesses and thought leaders, important work and crucial messages will get lost in the chaos.
This isn’t the time to stand out on the web with nonsense, hastily-built aluminum monoliths placed in parks or otherwise. This year, the most impactful entrepreneurs and leaders I know didn’t hesitate to lean into their responsibilities as heads of communities, advancing conversations on issues related to the pandemic and, more importantly, driving innovation to better emerge from the pandemic.
BS Virality Metrics
Just a friendly reminder that social media metrics are one among many ways to measure the impact of online content, and probably the least useful. Likes or other interactions do not necessarily correlate with sales and are almost always meaningless (specifically, what I’m suggesting is for better long-term web insight, trust what WordPress and Google Analytics tell you more, and what Facebook and Twitter tell you less).
With all of our brains now rewired to varying degrees thanks to social network feedback loops and the device addictions they’ve caused, liking a post has become a rote task. BFF posts thing, me like thing. Most of the time, there is no valuable data to be gathered from social media that cannot be observed qualitatively from the user interface, simply gauging the reactions of other thought leaders to a particular post.
I am always stunned to learn that, even during the pandemic, some entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with are still spending upwards of $5,000 per month on social media content. If you recognize yourself here, please stop it at once! You can get more valuable content work done for a fraction of the cost.
Why Anti-Viral Content?
Though it may seem like another one of my annoying contrarian arguments, it’s better to avoid web virality, most of the time for most people. I think we’d all agree that there’s a lot of awful content that goes viral and it won’t make some people look great over time. Even if you don’t share my perspective thus far, you’d probably agree that virality at least isn’t always synonymous with goodness, productivity or profitability.
Most businesses, including types of professional services firms we tend to work with, have absolutely no need for virality. A well-stocked e-commerce store with a hit t-shirt that is prepared for rapid and possibly unsustainable growth would benefit from going viral; an accounting firm or group of therapists probably wouldn’t.
To give three real examples of beneficial anti-viral content: a well-researched whitepaper, a bold and principled policy statement, and a targeted industry-specific podcast conversation are all forms of media we’ve produced in recent months that have led to either valuable business relationships for the organizations in question or concrete policy actions that have furthered innovation. And with these particular three cases to which I refer, each piece of content was considered unsuccessful even by our own estimates initially, each receiving only hundreds of hits on various platforms at most; in one case, on one platform, only dozens (lol, would your marketer admit that?). But outside of the parallel social media universe, where value is ephemeral and fleeting, these wins were career highlights for those three clients.
Isn’t the online-real world discrepancy mind-blowing sometimes? For those of us in the media universe, there is no downplaying the necessity to step away from the bubble — daily — to live amongst the normies and understand what matters to them.
We’re all facing an uncertain future and, as we approach the holiday break, it’s a good time to reflect on how you will help your organization become a pandemic success story, and how that story will be shared and remembered. PR and content strategy can go a long way, but we’re only the messengers. The first step to making truly useful media content is to have an innovation plan and, in the short-term, being prepared to sacrifice your popularity in order to responsibly execute it.
Dan Delmar is Managing Partner, Communications with TNKR Media.