Viral Sponsored Content is a Terrible Marketing Strategy: Here’s 5 Reasons Why

Your Viral Content is a Bad Idea

Content marketing works for two very specific reasons. It’s created for the purpose of providing value to your audience, and it’s published in the places they frequent. Good content is attractive and intrinsically engaging to the people you want to connect with, like the most charming guest at a dinner party.

Good content isn’t viral by definition, because it serves a niche. “Viral content,” on the other hand, is likely to be seen as the obnoxious party-crasher (or like Dr. Evil’s ‘cool dad’ impression in Austin Powers). Marketing with what’s supposed to be viral content just looks clumsy, and in the process, ends up failing to reach a wider audience while annoying one’s target audience in the process. Native advertising is quickly earning well-justified ire for advertisers who overreach with their content choices, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

No doubt viral advocates reading this are scoffing at my fuddy duddy attitude, while buttoned up brand advocates are nodding and smiling and wishing those viral people would leave already. Kinda like nerds vs. cool kids. Who’s right? Unless your brand is built on attention from the cool kids, stick with your nerd friends– their loyalty is worth it. Sponsored content works when you respect your audience.

1. Your Niche is Valuable and Needs to be Nurtured

Whatever you sell, you don’t sell it to everyone. Perhaps you think you could, but you don’t. Nor should you try to. Inbound content marketing strategies work because they target only the individuals who make good prospects and customers for your business. Wishing your niche were larger doesn’t make your products suit more people– developing new products does. Nurture the niche that you actually serve, rather than pining to be parts of other ones.

2. Lowering the Bar Lowers Your Brand’s Value

It’s unlikely that creating a post that would “work great on Buzzfeed” is the sort of content your audience wants. I’m not saying that a Buzzfeed-style listicle can’t work. I’m saying that your brand’s value to your target audience probably has no relationship to that sort of content. The Heritage Foundation trying to show the kids it’s hip and with it did not go so well. This is not what winning in the world of ideas looks like.

Can snark, meme-driven humor, pop-culture references and outrageous jokes, videos and other click bait enhance your brand? For some brands, sure. For most brands? No. Having fun on your own social account is not the same as trying to attract new prospects by being a goofball in bog real estate that you paid for. And if you’ve published a sponsored post on a site that shares your target audience, what are they going to learn about your brand?

3. Choosing Clicks Over Loyalty Will Get You Neither

OK, so I get that the Heritage Foundation was trying to take it’s arguments to the street. And wonky healthcare stuff just doesn’t get much attention from the young folk. Political advocacy groups can be excused for trying to gain traction outside their normal demographic range because, theoretically, they’re in the business of changing minds. Marketing your brand, however, doesn’t work like grassroots outreach, and content doesn’t work well within a broadcast-style approach– which is what you’re doing when you start trying to talk to the widest audience you can.

When you shift your focus from delivering value to those who want it most, to capturing page views and clicks from many more people who don’t actually care about your topics unless you have some joke to share, you aren’t really content marketing anymore. You’re marketing for marketing’s sake. Clicks don’t get you anything if they aren’t driven by actual interest in what your brand is really about. And while you’re out chasing down those viral clicks, your loyal followers are getting bored and annoyed. If you aren’t careful, they’ll start ignoring you.

4. So You Garnered More Clicks. Now What?

Rarely do viral campaigns provide a path down your sales funnel that new prospects will actually follow. Viral content is so often a non sequitur by nature that it can’t fit into your normal funnel conceptually or practically. Content that really works for your brand should help readers find their way down your sales funnel to other related content, to more in-depth resources, to the steps that lead to continued engagement and ideally, a sale. When you’re out sharing click bait, it creates a content experience unlike anything else prospects are likely to find from you. And that’s not usually helpful in building your brand.

5. Investing in Deep Content Pays Better

The only thing you can count on in the viral content game is that gnats live longer than most articles do. Trying to catch a wave and gain notoriety by riding the zeitgest is a terrible investment. Marketers are turning to content more all the time because display ads and interruptive advertising have been reduced to such terrible yields, so why return to a “spray and pray” marketing method? And worse: one that isn’t even targeted to the people who are most likely to buy from you.

Invest in what your target audience really wants to know. Be helpful, provide value, and take the time to do it right. If you produce deep content that your audience loves, the dividends will accrue over time. You can and should attempt to create timely and relevant content that does capture reader interests through current and compelling topics, but you probably shouldn’t go chasing memes, news or pop cultural trends that have nothing to do with your brand or the topics your audience can use. If your audience can use it, that’s viral enough.

Mike is Co-founder and CMO of Content BLVD, a marketplace where product companies and YouTubers meet to get more products into more videos. He's written for, been quoted in, and kicked out of many fine establishments.

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