Going Viral: Good, Bad or Somewhere In-Between?

Ever since the Internet became widely available, there’s been an obsession with “going viral,” or producing content so interesting, or funny or cute that millions upon millions of people view it. It could be (and often has been) videos of cats or babies—or both. It could be a photo, a short story, an op-ed—anything. Whatever the form, there is something about viral content that is inherently attractive to viewers. So, before you decide if going viral is for you, there are some things you should consider.

Don’t sacrifice good content for going viral

We’ve all seen those horribly clickbait-y headlines, which always seem to include “You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next!!” or “What She Said To Him Will Blow Your Mind!” Luckily, most of us are trained not to click these links. They’re so obviously and shamelessly fishing for clicks without any regard for the quality of their content. Don’t give in to this temptation. Keep producing content that promotes your organization and lets the world know about the awesome work you’re doing.

Instead of writing baiting headlines, try reorganizing your content to increase readability. For example, splitting up your articles into lists, such as “7 Things You Need to Know About Viral Content” can boost traffic—Nonprofit Hub does this all the time!

Bottom line: if you’re sacrificing good, meaningful content for clicks and going viral, you’ve lost sight of your mission.

You never know when something will go viral

There are many websites and blogs that claim they’ve cracked the code and discovered a “formula” for viral content. Those are bologna. Even the most successful viral content producers have only a fraction of their work take off. So don’t worry about trying to make your content fit some mold that doesn’t really exist; just continue making stellar content and the traffic will follow.

If you go viral, you’d better be ready

I would be remiss not to mention the ALS Association when discussing viral content for nonprofits. A few years ago, they were the recipient of a massive number of donations and heavy web traffic, all thanks to an internet sensation coined the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” I’m sure you remember this: participants poured buckets of ice water over their heads to raise awareness for ALS, then challenged their friends to do the same. It spread like wildfire. Famous athletes, actors and businesspeople—seemingly everybody was doing the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Luckily, ALS had the resources, infrastructure and personnel to deal with the donations and inquiries, and even so they struggled to keep up. Many nonprofits don’t have this luxury. If your organization is thinking about launching a campaign similar to the ALS Association, be sure that you’re prepared for an explosion of attention, just in case.

There is something thrilling about the idea of going viral, but don’t always buy into its charm. If you’re spending more time thinking about how to get clicks than you are about your mission, it’s time to take a step back and reassess.

going viral

Spencer Creal

Spencer is Nonprofit Hub's managing editor. He writes long- and short-form copy and edits all of the publication's written content. When he can get away from the computer screen, Spencer likes reading, creative writing, camping and trying not to ruin every new dish he cooks.

May 22, 2017

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