Why do brands need to be immunized for a new viral affliction?

Ramya Narayanan- AVP Digital Strategy And Planning at Indigo Consulting

Ramya Narayanan, AVP Digital Strategy and Planning at Indigo Consulting, sheds light on the realities of virality and viral content for brands

Today, the deluge of brands jumping on to the bandwagon to either ride or create trends that reach millions of consumers at minuscule budgets are increasing by the number.

Virality is as fleeting, as the consumer’s attention span today, every day there is something new.

We discuss brands who are obsessed with ‘organic virality’ – they are not only tight with the purse but insist on pushing the brand/product first agenda, in the consumer first universe. Brands need to understand that digital is not just about ‘viral’ short-term goals, it about leveraging the medium to achieve a larger objective.

Also read: How digital marketing can fuel a Startup to achieve uncommon success?

But like most delusions, these stem from sticky beliefs that ignore observable evidence to the contrary.

Belief 1: If I create good content, it will go viral or spread on its own

Almost all brands love to liberally and loosely use the word ‘viral’, assuming that like a virus, any content with its inherent qualities, should be enough to attract admirers. But even a virus needs to be ‘exposed’ to adequately affect the populace.

Expecting good content to spread out on its own is tantamount to believing that if patient zero (i.e. our content) chooses to sit at home (i.e. brand social pages), that people would come of their own volition to get infected.

Reality 1: Let’s assume that brands want to create good content that isn’t just about pawning their wares but to cater to the interest of their target group. Still, the odds are stacked against them. This is because:

  • Platforms Favour Conversation: The algorithm changes on Facebook–the platform with the highest reach–that clearly prioritizes meaningful transactions between family and friends over branded content. Even on Twitter and Instagram posts with more conversations, interactions, recency and author credibility matter more in timeline visibility.
  • Brands Struggling With Interaction: This means that all brand pages ideally need to work towards creating conversations around their content. Even today, that’s a challenge as most comments on brand pages are complaints, and most interactions on most pages lean heavily towards lazy likes. Positive conversations and shares are often few and far between. Very few brands have managed to break out of their self-inflicted restraints and venture beyond the annual brand campaign to engage with fans, superficially around an issue.
  • Living Catatonic User Base: Brands are using cause campaigns periodically to revive a ‘fan base’ reduced to a catatonic state by inflicting a constant stream of a product or service-related news.
  • The Dominos All Fall to Reveal: Getting fan eyeballs organically requires a bit more long-term investment in tactics that most brands are willing to admit.

We looked at *numbers across brand categories of BSFI, Tech, Entertainment, Fast Food Brands, Transport, and Hair Care. It was observed that that on an average Organic reach was less than 2% of their fan base.


*Source: Brands Organic Reach Across 6 Categories over last year. (Tool: Facebook Analytics)

Belief 2: Loyal fans who love the brand will come to my page

The classic ‘The mountain will come to Muhammad’ belief. Every brand dreams of inspiring a passionate cult around themselves, their product but the reality is that very few brands can command the ‘iconic’ status, and then retain it.

Reality 2: Experienced marketers would know that loyalty is selfish, always linked to a ‘functional need’ in most cases, and ‘emotional’ in a few. However, brand love lives in a Tinder universe, where relationships are not exclusive, are ephemeral, and open to being wooed by the next new caped hero, who promises the world. Meaning:

  • People aren’t waiting on your wall to throw praise at everything you do, in fact, it’s among the last thing on their mind:

*Source: GWI 2019 – Audience 18-35yrs – Digital Behaviour

Effortless unplanned organic content is dead, isn’t it? If you are one of those brands whose focus is to primarily pawn products on social, then you shouldn’t expect users to engage or converse with you outside of “functional” product/service. However, if your objective is to engage or converse with your audience or have a dual purpose (product/engage) then, you need to adequately invest in both.

No matter what your objectives are, you need to keep in mind that periodic engagement needs to be supported, and that building a community is a long-term commitment, not a short-term whim.

We posit that virality is an output of a commitment that needs a practical strategy stemmed in a consumer’s first reality on digital, without ignoring business/brand objectives:

1.) Purpose of Existence

2.) Experiment with content

3.) Device a long-term plan and invest in it.

The piece is authored by Ramya Narayanan, AVP Digital Strategy And Planning at Indigo Consulting.


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