Why Viral Doesn’t Pay (But Here’s What Does!)

Unless there is a careful plan and a purpose, going viral won’t actually do anything. Here are 5 things to do instead to turn your posts into profits!

When I live-tweeted my daughter’s birth, it went viral. Since I gave birth three weeks early, many of my friends and family were particularly stunned to hear about @Lucia entering the world as they sipped their coffee alongside the anchors on Good Morning America.

A ton of major news sources in more than a dozen countries covered the story. At one point in the day, my daughter and I were the main story on the homepage of Yahoo. We appeared on all the morning shows. Conan O’Brien joked about us in his opening monologue.

To understand why this event went viral, you need to know exactly what happened.

Do you ever feel like you are missing something?

Our newest free guide will show you the exact steps for identifying THE missing piece that will get your business back on track. Gain clarity and know what you need to do next to start getting traction again.

I went into labor in the middle of the night in my home in Argentina, but I didn’t know it was labor at the time. As is my fashion, I turned to Google, and then I turned to Twitter (now X) to document my Googling.

Currently Googling, did my water just break?

My first tweet was a pattern-breaker on a slow Friday night of social media, and it was also a true thing reeking of authenticity. It is hard to fake live-tweet your child’s birth.

People noticed it because most people don’t tweet such questions on Twitter.

At first, some friends and followers who happened to be awake in their time-zone took note and started following along with my tweets. Some started retweeting. A journalist on Twitter saw it and sent it to some of his friends. Then the first news article appeared. Then the second. Within hours, as people began to wake up in the USA, some key celebrities began tweeting about it, and the momentum began to really pick up. Despite some pain-related breaks, I was having fun with it and I snuck my iPhone into the operating room (it was not allowed in my Argentine hospital) to keep tweeting.

It was a developing story, and people wanted to know what was going to happen. It pulled at all the heartstrings. A first-time dad! A car broken down on the way to the airport! A taxi driver who was not impressed! A new mother with great nails! As more and more news outlets around the world picked it up, more and more celebrities and more and more of their followers were talking about this strange developing story. Then it hit the morning shows, spreading it via television, and then the late-night shows, keeping the story reverberating for days. It would take months for late-comers to get up to speed and stop tweeting me congratulations on my then six-month old. Years later, I still see retweets from time to time.

It was wildly fun and alongside a bunch of random people on the internet, I had one heck of a good time at the party.

So what happened after the live tweeting of my daughter’s birth went viral?


I Went Viral and All I Got Was this Lousy Onesie
I Went Viral and All I Got Was this Lousy Onesie

The day after I went viral was probably the day the internet went wild for that Christian girl who decided to never wear leggings again for religious reasons or the man who stapled a cardboard box on his lawn mower to plow the snow in his yard.

And that is precisely what happens most of the time when things go viral.

Unless there is a careful plan for maximizing the attention from a focused burst of intense social media and a purpose for doing so, going viral won’t do anything.

I did not have any motive for going viral with my daughter’s birth. I did not have a company selling handcrafted wooden baby toys, nor had I written a parenting book on babies in the digital age. Neither did I maximize the organic attention by agreeing to appear on any of the morning shows that asked me to do so only hours after I became a ragged new mother. I had no mechanism for capturing the short-term attention and turning it into long-term followers.

All of this was more than okay with me. Live-tweeting the birth of my first child was something I did for fun, regardless of the highly unexpected outcome. Plus, my mother got a kick out of it. 

Why Going Viral is Not a Strategy

Brands know that social media matters, but don’t know how to powerfully use it, so they end up running their social media marketing based on the flawed notion that going viral is both a strategy and a solution.

They think that trying to “go viral” is like setting a goal to win a gold medal in the Olympics if you are a great figure skater. They think it is very hard to do, but possible, and if you are exceptional and have enough talent and work hard enough and hire the right coaches, you at least have a good shot of making it to Olympic Village, where you can get some free puffy jackets.

Unfortunately, going viral is nothing like this.

Instead, going viral is like trying to train a reptile.

Snakes are notoriously untrainable. Does that mean that people don’t try?

Of course not.

The crazy lady next door to you has one, and she’s been “training” him for years!

“Watch how Fluffy can help you get your newspaper,” she always says when you reluctantly bump into her in your bathrobe on Sunday. It’s true, Fluffy has occasionally gone in the correct direction of that week’s New York Times.

But it only happens one in every 20 Sundays. And when it does happen, that is no predictor of what will happen next week. Despite your neighbor’s beliefs, there is no objective upward progression to Fluffy’s abilities.

And that’s exactly what going viral is like for brands. Even when lots of marketing dollars are involved, it’s highly unpredictable. Have you ever heard of Olive Garden’s Random Act of Pasta? Or the Cheetos Orange Underground? Or what about the Gusher eyeball that made mommy bloggers vomit?

No. And it’s probably a good thing.

When it comes to “going viral” there is no guarantee that it will get you close to where you want to go, and way too many variables outside your control to make it a worthwhile goal.

Stop Trying to Go Viral. Start Trying to Build a Brand.

This doesn’t mean you should hang up your hat and pull your brand off of social media. Social media is an incredibly effective way to share your message and learning to do it well is key to your marketing success. Furthermore, the ubiquity of social media means that it is your brand’s best opportunity to be as clear as possible as often as possible.

And it’s free. 

Instead of wasting your time and money on trying to go viral, you need to learn the sure-fire way to build a powerful brand on social media. The hidden benefit of this strategy is that if you do go viral you will actually be able to capitalize upon it.

In my book, Social Media Success for Every Brand, we explore exactly how to do this. Specifically, I walk you through The Share Model, a five-step plan to turn your social media posts into profits. The SHARE model is based on an acronym, SHARE, that stands for STORY-HOW-AUDIENCE-REACH-EXCELLENCE. I’ll provide an overview of the 5-step SHARE Model in this post. To dig deeper, here’s a free video course you can take that walks you through it.

Step 1: STORY

On social media, there is nothing more important than your story. Here’s what you need to remember about the first step in the SHARE Model:

Content is queen, and the content for your social media marketing comes from your StoryBrand BrandScript. (The easiest way to get an overview of how to create a BrandScript to understand your brand’s social media story is to take that free video course.)

Your social media content is like a bank account. Importantly, your Social Media Bank Account only thrives with give and take. Remember the 80-20 rule. Deposit value 80% of the time by opening the story gap with your content. Then, 20% of the time make a withdrawal by closing the story gap with a call to action.

To manage your social media bank account, you need a budget! To balance your social media budget, vary up the types of content in your deposits and withdrawals. Your different content envelopes should include curated content, original content, articles, quotations, statistics, testimonials, direct calls to action, transitional calls to action, impactful images, selfies, video, etc.

Step 2: HOW

Learn the practical logistics of how to post your content. Here’s what you need to remember about step 2:

You must determine your brand’s PRIORITY social media platform so that you know where to concentrate your efforts. (You can take an evaluation in my book that walks you through exactly how to do this.) Then, concentrate on the platform that matters most. If and when you have more resources, you can expand your work to include other platforms.

To decide how many accounts you need on each platform, remember that the fewer accounts you have, the better.

Consistency is important. Ensure that you create a social media posting schedule and social media editorial calendar that works for your audience and your brand’s bandwidth.


Your social media marketing should be about your audience, not your brand. Here’s what you need to remember:

Your brand is not your hero, your customer is. Re-frame your social media account to make it about them.

Cultivating empathy on social media matters to building a relationship with your customers and reaching long-term success. Remember this equation: Empathy + Connection = Social Media Engagement

Generate empathy (and engagement) by telling a great story, helping someone, and asking questions.

Step 4: REACH

To amplify your brand on social media, it’s important to expand your reach. Here’s what you need to remember:

The best three ways to get new followers on social media are to create great content, use influencer marketing, or pay for advertising to boost either of the strategies.

Great hashtags can put great content on steroids. When crafting a hashtag, be as general as you can without using a term people already associate with something else.

Concentrate on reaching influencers in a way they actually like. Remember that it’s a long-tail game that relies on finding the right niche, finding the right influencer, and engaging over time.


Fine-tune your social media marketing efforts to reach long-term excellence. Here’s what you need to remember about this final step:

The real-time nature of social media means that you don’t always know what’s going to happen. Make that a good thing.

On social media, it’s about rolling with the punches. If your brand makes a social media mistake, own up to it. Fast.

Social media gives your customers a public place to share their grievances. And sometimes they will do just that. If the comments aren’t offensive, let the dialogue take place, and don’t delete the negative content. Whenever you can, try to turn a negative conversation into a positive one.

Social media is one of the best ways that brands like you can effectively engage with customers to grow your business. And it’s free! 

Unfortunately, too many brands have the mistaken belief that it is only valuable if you can “go viral” and get a million followers before breakfast. 

My book, Social Media Success for Every Brand, blows this notion out of the water. In it, I explore exactly what you need to know to be successful at social media marketing. Stop trying to go viral. Start trying to build a brand.

For an overview of the book and the SHARE model, check out the free video series we made here:  .

Portions of this post were adapted from Social Media Success for Every Brand.


Similar Posts


  1. Just what I needed to hear. Everything I’ve read this week has been about going viral. It’s nice to hear why it’s not the most important way to grow your business. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *