3 PR and marketing alternatives to ‘going viral’

The next time your boss or client wants you to make a video about shoelaces or an image of insurance package to rack up online views, try these strategies instead.


I first started practicing PR over a decade ago, when clients thought that “going viral” meant getting their product on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

In 2011, Oprah ended her reign as queen of daytime talk shows. I barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief and think, “Maybe clients will want to diversify their media goals now” before affordable digital cameras made enabled the masses to create videos with the sole purpose of going viral.

The more brand managers saw these speedily produced videos gaining views, the more they wanted to replicate that success.

“Can you get us on Oprah?” was replaced by “Can you make sure our corporate ad video gets at least five million views? We want to go viral!” (If you doubt the stress from working in PR, imagine trying to force a pair of shoelaces go viral.)

Some PR pros argue that virality is passive—a virus spreads or infects by its own means, but content that people choose to pass on is an active choice.

Whether or not you agree with that belief, there are better ways to earn extensive media reach. Here are three strategies:

1. “Porous-platform storytelling.”

This phrase created by Remark to emphasize the value of structuring social media campaigns so that each medium does what it does best.

For example, a cookbook recipe might be introduced on Youtube as a how-to video; expanded on Instagram as a series of visual steps; pinned as a board on Pinterest linking to the cookbook shopping cart; and posted on Facebook as video with an expanded description.

RELATED: Produce content that boosts lead gen, brand awareness and reputation.

Each social stream must be self-contained so consumers don’t have to see your Youtube video to enjoy your images, and vice versa. Any given platform is a point of entry into the cookbook as a whole.

2. “Spreadability.”

This idea comes from the book “Spreadable Media,” co-authored by Henry Jenkins.

Now that the power of sharing has caught up to the power of content, “spreadability”—or the ease in which news moves across media landscapes—should be given as much thought as content creation itself.

This strategy focuses on driving robust engagement across social media platforms by empowering consumers to share content subjectively.

3. Consistency and relevancy.

Consistency and relevancy are crucial to building consumer trust in a brand’s message, but the strategy is so simple that PR pros often forget its importance.

Post as often as it makes sense to and share content that fits both your audience and the social platform. Once a post or two resonates, consumers will often become repeat customers—they’ll begin seeking out relevant content that you post. They’ll interact with and share your content.

Next time a client wants you or your firm to make a video, image or campaign “go viral,” use these strategies to frame your response and plan of attack.

Katie Wagner is the founding partner at Remark Media Relations, a PR agency based in San Francisco. A version of this article originally appeared on the agency’s blog.

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