Why You Shouldn’t "Go Viral"

Photo by Thomas Rockstar

When I worked at a small nonprofit in the health sector a few years ago, one thing I heard all the time was that we needed to “go viral.” We needed to find “the thing” that was going to blow us up and bring in supporters by the thousands.

That “thing.”

Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t waste too much time trying to find “that thing.” I focused on building a social media strategy that would help us reach two attainable goals: expand our outreach to new people, and tell the stories of the patients and their families. And that’s exactly what we achieved.

Social media shouldn’t be viewed as the tool to make your nonprofit the cool kid in class. Starting off your social strategy brainstorming with something like, “How can we go viral?” or “How can we make this video/campaign go viral?” isn’t very helpful to you. The reason:

You can’t predict what will/won’t go viral.

Ever heard of Justin Bieber or LOLcats? Both of these trended on the Internet, but there really wasn’t a formula behind their virality. It’s something that caught on, and with the easy ability to share information, it spread from person to person quickly. It spread word of mouth.

Because you can’t really predict what will or won’t go viral (assuming you don’t have millions in your budget to create an outstanding ad campaign like the Old Spice Guy), there are other ways to focus your precious time and energy into things that will surely pay off for your organization. Here are three:

1. Fun Projects that Support Your Mission

Toss away the old idea that business should be serious. Let’s face it: most of what people do online is something that’s entertaining to them, so they are not going to be interested in engaging with you if all you do is talk business.

Engage your staff in creating fun projects that they’ll be proud of and that your supporters will love you for. Create a Flickr group your users can freely contribute their pictures to or ask fun questions on your Facebook page that’ll get your users to talk to you.

What’s a fun project you can create that will help you find new supporters, build a relationship with them, and bring you closer to achieving your nonprofit’s mission?

2. Find Your Magnetic Voice

Like I alluded to above, new supporters won’t be coming to you en masse if you sound cold and unwelcoming online. Just think: people will be attracted to your page just like they’d be drawn to someone in real life.

So instead of putting so much effort into finding something to go viral (to just simply go viral), why not take that energy to find your voice online? It’s ok for your annual report video to be creative and spunky, or your Facebook page engagement to be witty and sometimes offbeat. Look at how other organizations are doing it for ideas on emulating their success.

How can you be magnetic, fun, and welcoming to your fans so they keep coming back for more? How can you show your personality?

3. Programs that Represent You and Your Supporters Well

Of course, we can’t just have fun and games without a purpose, so the best way to find something that will attract the people you want support from is to create projects that well-represents both your organization and your supporters. They will align with you for being true to who you are, and for representing their interests well, and you will have a product that you feel comfortable sharing with the world.

In what way can you express your organization’s values and those of your supporters?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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