7 Ways Investing in “Viral” Content Could Actually Hurt You

Jayson DeMers
4 min readApr 20, 2020
Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash

Every content marketer wants their content to go viral; doing so is the holy grail of content marketing. As a result, I’ve seen a number of businesses whose content strategies revolve around investing their efforts in creating “viral” content specifically.

While this isn’t automatically a bad approach, it can be an inefficient, or even a destructive one. Take, for instance, these seven ways that focusing too much on “going viral” can actually hurt you:

1. You’ll probably set unrealistic expectations. First, you need to understand that only a tiny fraction of all published pieces end up “going viral,” and a number of beautiful, inspiring, practical, entertaining, informative pieces end up in the garbage for reasons that often boil down to timing, luck, or the fickleness of the market. The truth is, creating viral content is super difficult, and even if you know what you’re doing, you’re still only marginally increasing your chances of success. If you base the majority of your strategy around getting content to go viral, you could end up investing in a dubious and unreliable section of your strategy.

2. Your work could appear contrived. When one of your strategic focal points is getting content to go viral, you have an agenda, and that agenda will force you to make certain decisions in the creation of your content you wouldn’t ordinarily make. For example, you might cherry-pick topics, write in a certain style, or frame your work in a certain light specifically for the purposes of increasing the viral potential of your piece. There are ways you can do this naturally, but for the most part, if you try too hard to achieve this, your article will appear contrived and insincere, invalidating your efforts.

3. You could target the wrong audience. Any good content marketer knows one of the most important factors for success is finding the right niche and targeting that niche appropriately. Let’s say you end up writing a piece that does go viral, and tens of thousands of people end up reading it — only the thing is, the people reading it are so far outside your company’s target demographics, none of them are any more interested in your brand because of their experience. This level of effort is counterproductive, and it’s an example of what goes wrong when “going viral” becomes your top priority and displaces other, more important elements of your strategy.

4. You could neglect the fundamentals of your content strategy. Going viral has many benefits, including getting you extra visibility, more inbound links, and of course, more social followers. But your traditional on-site content, the “backbone” of your strategy, has benefits that viral content alone can’t offer, such as consistency, brand loyalty value, and the propensity to increase conversions. If you neglect your “core” content marketing strategy in favor of viral development, you could miss out on some serious benefits, or even compromise the overall value of your campaign in the first place.

5. Your destination may be counterproductive. Most viral content is created with the intention of leading your users somewhere. You might include a link pointing back to your website, for example, in a bid to increase conversions. But what happens if your website isn’t in order when your piece starts to circulate? Your piece is going viral, sending thousands of new visitors to your site, but your conversion strategy sucks and you aren’t earning any benefits — you might actually be leaving people with a worse reputation of your brand because of it. Be sure to keep any viral content investment you make in careful balance with its corresponding destinations.

6. You may sacrifice other marketing and advertising strategies. Fortunately, this is a relatively easy repercussion to prevent. Though some startups and niche brands may be able to get away with investing exclusively in only one marketing or advertising strategy, the vast majority of brands stand to benefit most when they use multiple strategies together, compensating for their respective strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, it’s in your best interest to invest in many different strategies, including multiple channels and angles of inbound marketing. Investing too much in viral content could throw your overall marketing presence off balance, causing you to neglect these other features.

7. Your work could go viral the wrong way. This is a low risk if you’re careful about the type of material you produce, but it’s still a risk worth acknowledging. It’s entirely possible that you could create a piece that technically “goes viral,” but in a way that lowers your reputation — such as if users are making fun of your work. Be wary of this risk factor, as not all visibility is good visibility.

Viral content isn’t all good or all bad; like most other marketing strategies, it’s complicated, and you need to understand its complexities before you can start to harness its true power. Keep these potential outcomes in mind when charting the course for the future of your content strategy, and if there’s one takeaway from this piece you need, it’s this: hedge your bets.



Jayson DeMers

CEO of EmailAnalytics (emailanalytics.com), a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!