Going Viral is Bad? Yup!

3 Reasons Why Going Viral is Bad

On April 22nd, Anchin is hosting Coinvent Media Summit 2015 in New York with an impressive lineup of speakers and panelists. I don’t know how I made the cut, but I hope to see you there.

My panel is with:

Chad Parizman – Director, Convergent Media @ Scripps Networks Interactive

Ethan Fedida – Senior Social Media Editor, Strategic Partnership Manager @ The Huffington Post

Bryan Nye – Social Media Analyst @ Henry Schein

Michael Belfer, CPA, CGMA – Partner @ Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP

The subject is how to create viral movements with digital media.

Going Viral is Bad?

The benefits of going viral are obvious to most. How you might get there is an art form as much as it’s a science. And it’s exactly the topic of an upcoming panel, so here’s the link one more time. If you’re in NYC area, I really hope you join us.

However, in this article I’d like to address three reasons why going viral is bad.

1. Virality Costs Money

A while back I spoke at a Brand Innovators conference where Fernando Machado [one of the masterminds behind the hugely successful Dove campaign] said that Unilever didn’t spend any money on making the Dove campaign go viral.

This is the video in question, I’m sure you’ve seen it.

Virality for free certainly sounds very impressive. No money was spend, the campaign was a huge success. It all sounds like a giant win in Unilever’s column.


In his very next breath, Fernando mentioned that there was a team of about 24 people [if my memory serves] who made up the core team, with various experts who got hired to execute different phases of the project.

For example, a creative team was assembled in order to conceive of the idea, the videographer was hired to shoot the video, a sketch artist was hired to sketch, people were invited to participate, coordinators were hired to coordinate, the editor was hired in order to put the asset together for user consumption, and so on.

If we assume that about 40-50 people were involved in making the Dove campaign a reality for a better part of the year, we come to the conclusion that the Dove campaign was indeed very costly. My guess is about 2 million dollars in salaries alone.

This is the kind of cost that most startups and content creators simply can’t afford.

However, Fernando and his team did accomplish something incredible; virality on Dove’s terms.

As the Dove campaign spread, the message that Dove wanted to deliver didn’t get appropriated and twisted by someone else. Which is more than I can say for our next example.

2. Virality Usually Backfires

When a corporation does spend millions of dollars to put a “free” viral campaign together, it usually backfires.

The most recent example is Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign.

On this podcast, my better half Jillian Jackson and I discuss #RaceTogether campaign on Web.Search.Social podcast with hosts Ralph M. Rivera and Carol Lynn Rivera.

I hope you’ll bookmark it and give it a listen when you have more time.

In case you’re not familiar with the campaign, here’s the short of it.

Starbucks forced its employees to initiate a discussion with customers about racism. I’ll spare you the details, but the campaign concluded with most people feeling dumbfounded by it.

John Oliver captures the sentiment quite nicely.

In other words, Starbucks couldn’t accomplish what Dove did. Starbucks’ campaign got derailed by the controversy, while Dove’s message remained unchanged as it spread.

And while I disagree with Fernando on the point that Dove’s virality came for free, I admire him and his team on their ability to keep the campaign “on message”.

And just for good measure, I’ll insert another example here.

Last year, NYPD launched a campaign asking Twitter users to submit pictures of themselves posing with NYPD cops and use the hashtag #mynypd, promising some would be posted to the NYPD Facebook page.

Within hours, a deluge of images depicting police brutality, violence and controversial tactics started trending on Twitter. Source

Virality usually backfires, in a big way.

3. Virality = Traffic and Traffic = Bad

Most people think that traffic is good. I’m here to tell you that traffic is bad.

If you opened a coffee shop and had 1000s of people walk through it every day but no one purchased anything, you’d have traffic, but you would also be broke.

It’s no different online. For example.

My goal with this site is not to bring traffic to it. My goal is to bring highly targeted visitors who will take some action. For example, sharing this post would be nice and convenient for you. Simply click here.

Another goal of mine is to have you join Triberr. It’s a place where you can get more shares for your content and it’s not for everyone. It’s for bloggers, podcasters, and YouTubers. If you don’t fit one of those categories, I really don’t care if you see my content or not.

And your goal should be the same. Get highly targeted visitors, rather than riff-raff, and riff-raff is exactly what virality brings in.

It’s worth asking why everybody thinks that traffic is so desirable?

It’s because traffic IS desirable if what you’re selling is ad space. For everybody else, traffic is a cost center.

Look around. Do you see any ads? What about your online property, are you showing ads on your site?

If the answer is “no, I show no ads”, then traffic [and virality] shouldn’t be your goal. If the answer is “yes, I have ads”, then ask yourself how much money are you making with those ads and how much are you hurting yourself by having those ads on your site, and reconsider.

Sorry if that got little preachy :-)

Doing it Right

For all those reasons and more, going viral is bad. However, if you still want to know how it’s done the right way, join me at CoInvent.

Coinvent Media Summit 2015

Super Relevant

How To Make Your Content Go Viral

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The surprising truth about why people share explained in under a minute

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Founder @Triberr | Refugee from Bosnia | Professional speaker with a real job | Lousy Mixed Martial Artist | Singer/Songwriter | Global Force for Badassery.

Hey Dino,

Had to stop by and read this post and I couldn't agree with you more.

I know so many people who think that if they can just get their content to go viral then all will be well in their world.  I keep trying to explain to them that it's going to be traffic if that happens but how much of that will be targeted.  Same thing that happens when you have free giveaways.  They are great if it's to your targeted audience but will backfire on you if it's not.

You always share such great advice so thanks for all you do for the blogging community.



Hi Dino,

LOVE these points. The thing is, force negates. So if you try like hell to get viral, you'll negate the situation, like many viral campaigns that flop like mad. The few that make it seem to be heart-centered, coming from a place of power. Goodness gracious I get the traffic point too. I was snagging 17,000 K page visits or whatever daily with my old blog. My new blog is seeing a gazillion more times success with a fraction of that traffic because my intent is not to attract readers, but to attract doers, who read, comment, share, buy and spread the word to their like-minded friends, who read, do and buy, and share....see the cycle developing ;) It's a good cycle too because everybody wins.

Dino, brilliant!

Tweeting from Bali.