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Viral vs Shareable Content: Which One is Right for Your Brand?

As modern content marketers are well aware, in order to build relationships with new users and strengthen relationships with existing clients, we must tell a compelling story that motivates, rather than read a script to an uninterested audience about why a product is so amazing and “if you buy it, your life will be so much better”. If we’re being honest, our goal, as marketers in the heavily saturated social landscape, is to create content that is shared. Rapidly. Without cease. Once we get over the hill of understanding how to properly create successful content, the issue at hand is understanding the difference between viral content and shareable content and how the right mindset can drastically enhance or demolish your brand's content marketing strategy, and ultimately, impact the success of your business goals.

The first question at hand is; do you know the difference between viral content and shareable content? Both of these wildfire types of content share three main characteristics; timeliness, heavy disruption, and audience quality. Aside from these key qualities, viral and shareable content couldn't be any further from different in business behavior. Here is a guide to understanding the difference between the two and why a marketing strategy must be intentional about which path the goals for content marketing should take:

Viral Content

“The secret is get contagious.” (Social Triggers) Counter to common belief, viral content actually is very scientific and not bred out of luck. The reason it is traditionally thought to be created through paranormal intervention is because of the seemingly unlimited amount of factors that play into its success. Viral content must carry emotion, clarity, risk, specificity, and motive, among many other qualities. It must speak to mankind and validate an unspoken belief that the majority of it's audience holds.

This past January, my startup, SocialRest, was making it's debut into exclusive Beta. We were racking our brain and combing through the forest of campaign ideas we wanted to launch in order to kickstart our presence into the social world. We thought we wanted to go “super-viral” with our target audience. The problem with viral, though, is the word “target” gets thrown out the window.

Over Super Bowl weekend, we decided to launch a campaign called #SocialSwagPack, where we were giving away a GoPro camera, a Jawbone Jambox, and a SocialRest t-shirt just for retweeting our campaign tweets. Our motive for this was to drive a large amount of eyeballs to our Twitter page and ultimately back to our website. We had just launched the campaign on Super Bowl Sunday, and were keeping our eyes peeled for opportunities to promote the #SocialSwagPack and the SocialRest brand. As the game came to an end, as you may recall, eSurance released their #eSuranceSave30 campaign. All the eyes of America were on Jim from ‘The Office’, as he told the world that eSurance had intentionally purchased the post-game ad which cost $1.5M less than an ad during the game, so out of response, eSurance would away the $1.5M they saved for buying the “cheap” ad. All you had to do to enter was use the hashtag #eSuranceSave30.

As soon as we saw this campaign, we quickly responded and piggy-backed off the idea, hoping we might get a couple retweets. This is what happened:


Yes, we did it. We piggy-backed one of the largest companies in America with our own idea and we went super-viral. The tag #SocialSwagPack had briefly made it to the Twitter trending list, we had acquired a 1200% increase in followers, and we were getting love from Tweeple all over the world. We couldn’t have been more thrilled. About two weeks later, we revealed the winner of the #SocialSwagPack and within seconds of the announcement, our follower base began to drop. Our “loyal” followers had suddenly stopped engaging in our content. We were an old idea and they had moved on to something else. From this super-viral campaign, we acquired no new users, no press, no nothing. It all amounted to a couple weeks of vanity fame across an audience that couldn’t care less about who we were or what we had to say. From that point, we shifted our mindset to recognize what our content marketing goals were and how we would gain conversions according to our content strategy.

For a brand, viral content tends to be the powerhouse of exposure, yet ends up being awkwardly unsatisfying when it comes to defining real value. It will typically not drive your CFO to visit your office, sit half-cheek sideways on your desk, offer you a glass of his 30-year scotch, call you “sport,” and invite you to racquetball that day. More than likely, your CMO will nod at you as he passes you in the hall and maybe give you a high five, while your social team brings you a cookie cake.

Shareable Content

Shareable content, on the other hand, is a content marketer’s lifeline to driving conversions to the brand. Shareable content is content that provides value to users, prospects and existing customers. It is content that converts new users to your brand. Shareable content is typically ongoing and sustainable. Marketing is relational in nature, and is always looking for innovative ways to enhance user experience. That is what shareable content is inherently good at. As content marketers, it is important to recognize how to, not only create shareable content, but how to properly deliver it in a way that converts.

Not even four months after our #SocialSwagPack flop, our team at SocialRest had already come to recognize three key things when it comes to pursuing successful content. The first thing we recognized is we had to delegate our content to meet the needs of our target audience, and deliver niche content that speaks to them. The second thing we realized is that your content does not have to be written by you, and sometimes it actually shouldn’t be written by you. The third factor we came to understand is knowing how to deliver valuable content over sexy content.

Towards the end of May, our founder & CEO, Clay Selby, had the honor to sit down with the great and talented Robert Scoble, who had heard about us through his boss, the Director of Social at Rackspace, Rob LaGesse (who is on the board of SocialRest). Robert Scoble spent several hours one evening grilling Clay on what makes SocialRest so unique and why it would bring value to his followers. Upon hearing this, Clay recognized that this was an opportunity to deliver content through building a relationship with an extremely influential individual. Later that night, Robert Scoble wrote this article about SocialRest. From that one post, SocialRest gained a multitude of new users, opened the door to the press, and gave us an opportunity to serve our target audience.

This shareable content, among anything, provided value to an audience seeking this information. The content was then put in the hands of an individual who was able to give the content his own spin, and speak to his followers in a way that engages them.

What to Take Away

Viral content and shareable content both provide opportunities for brands and can deliver success, each in their own way. The question is, what are your business goals for content marketing and what qualifies as success for your brand? This question needs to be answered before delivering any type of content, but regardless, all content should be created in a manner that assumes to either do one or the other. All content must be created with the intent to be viewed, engaged, shared, and cause conversions.

Join The Conversation

  • Jun 28 Posted 2 years ago DionneLew

    I got a lot out of this article - thanks for posting it. I think there's so much "yahooooo" going on online that we can get caught up in energy that is ultimately meaningless. The other thing that stands out for me in this story is real life connections to influencers matter hugely - on the Board - or in the circle. 

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