What do you do if your business goes viral?

By: Helen Cross

Date: 11 July 2013

What do you do if your business goes viral?/viral marketing people{{}}Viral marketing is all about getting your customers to do the work for you. All it takes is for one influential social media user to get the ball rolling, and next you have more coverage than paid marketing could ever have produced.

Consumers tend to be more receptive to this type of marketing as opposed to online advertising, which can be seen as intrusive. Successful viral marketing can turn an unknown brand into a household name, but success can become a nightmare if you are unprepared.

The power of viral

I bought a pair of custom flip flops on Etsy. My shipping date came and went with no updates and I sent a concerned email, growing worried as I spotted a spate of poor feedbacks. Almost instantly I received a reply: their product had gone viral, and they were struggling to keep up with the demand.

This got me thinking, how is a small company supposed to cope with the onslaught of business viral marketing can bring? And, with that in mind, should start-ups really be chasing this type of success?

Viral planning is a nightmare

Perhaps you’ve wanted your product to go viral for a long time. You’ve made some attempts, which haven’t quite taken off, however suddenly something has worked and interest in your product has snowballed.

Abrupt, intense demand is a characteristic of viral marketing, and therefore it is pretty impossible to plan for. However, if you are courting viral marketing, it makes sense to communicate this so that your customer service staff don’t get a nasty surprise if you strike gold.

You don’t own the virus

Picture the scene: you walk into the office one day to discover a month’s worth of orders have come in overnight. You check the system — all seems legit, you then go to your analytics, to find that your traffic has tripled. Your product has gone viral. After initial jubilation reality sets in, how on earth are you going to serve these customers?

Communication is key

Once you have gone viral, communication is your secret weapon. You are going to struggle with the surge in demand, and this isn’t a weakness. What is a weakness is failing to communicate a change in circumstances to your customers. If you are overwhelmed and the surge was unplanned, tell your customers! They are likely to empathise with your situation.

Scarcity promotes desire

Whilst dealing with the fallout of a viral marketing success can feel like a nightmare, it is worth remembering that disappointing customers can actually make them keener. We want what we can’t have so a delay or stock outage can actually make your product more desirable in the long term.

Despite the issues with viral marketing, there is no doubt that it will remain the holy grail of many small businesses, partly due to success stories such as the Cambridge Satchel Company. Have you attempted viral marketing in your business?

Helen Cross is a marketing executive at The British Assessment Bureau