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How to Prepare for Viral Content

Not too long ago we had a blog post on the topic of Customer Care in the Smart Phone Era with some good insights from our call center manager Adrian Carson. In further discussion about the blog post with a colleague, he mentioned to me as a potential follow-up post to discuss preparing for and reacting to viral content. I thought it was a great topic and figured I would not only answer his question but also discuss the topic in even a little more depth.

I’m sure most people familiar with the internet are familiar with viral content, but the chart above goes into a little more detail as to how everything is connected. Content usually becomes viral by creating a unique and strong connection with the people who are viewing the media, so strong they feel the need to share the content with others. However, contrary to what some believe, there is no “industry secret” which can guarantee viral content. Videos such as David After Dentist shot in a car on a home video camera have become internet sensations while some brands have spent millions of dollars attempting to create viral video only to see the content not catch on as expected, even with viral hooks in place.

For this post I’d like to focus on the “Planning and Implementation” section of the chart above, in particular on some key items brands should definitely consider when they feel their content may start to go viral…

The three things to prepare for regarding viral content:

1) Increased web traffic – Viral content, especially a viral video or image hosted on the brand’s website, can lead to a huge spike in web traffic. If team members even have the slightest inclination that something might go viral, get some IT professionals in the loop so they can be prepared – the IT pros may opt to utilize a CDN (content delivery network) such as Akamai to help with the increased web traffic and provide good site response times throughout the world. There’s nothing worse than having a piece of content actually go viral only to have the site crash or see increased load times because the infrastructure wasn’t in place to support the technical side of the effort. Now instead of thousands of people experiencing a brand for the first time with content that makes a connection between the brand and the viewer people come away with a negative experience of the brand for wasting their time with a website that doesn’t work.

2) Social media reaction – When content goes viral there’s a reaction that accompanies the viral content, be it good or bad. Even five years ago most of said reaction stayed behind closed doors or was contained primarily to a single social media silo, such as YouTube. But with the public emergence of Facebook and the real-time conversations of Twitter, feedback and reactions are wide-spread and everyone has an opinion. When content goes viral for the good, it can be difficult to keep up with the volume of social media conversations about the brand and/or marketing efforts and staff reinforcements may need to be called in. When content goes viral for the worst, moderation and immediate response are critical in controlling or defusing the reactions to the content. Whether the reaction is good or bad, focusing on the key social media influencers first can allow these influencers to help filter the messages related to the viral content to other users on the social networks.

Gap Logo Change Goes Viral: A great example of the effect of the social media was last year when Gap changed its logo only to revert back to the original logo after just one week. The motives for this change were primarily due to the backlash Gap received on Facebook and Twitter from fans of the brand. Because Gap acted so quickly in reverting to their old logo the long-term effect of the backlash was minimized and Gap was still able to increase sales in 2010 over the previous year.

3) PR and traditional media blitz – Don’t forget that when something goes viral, for good or for bad, that there can be increased demands for more traditional media opportunities. From TV appearances to working with journalists and industry experts, make sure the appropriate people are aware and in place to deal with the buzz that comes with viral content. Again, tying back to the first point, keeping employees informed regarding the brand’s marketing and eCommerce efforts can be critical to the success of the viral content – executives can block off time for PR engagements and customer care managers can staff appropriately. Utilizing internal communication tools such as Yammer, Chatter (by SalesForce) and Socialcast can be helpful in not only getting messages out to key internal employees but also by consolidating feedback and directions in one place to cut down on taking the time to answer the same questions over and over about the viral content.

So there you have it, hopefully these tips can help brands be ready for when something truly does go viral. Just remember each business is unique and scaling resources to meet the demand can be a trial-and-error process based on how quickly the content goes viral and how many resources are currently in place.