Why You Can’t Force Virality

Some of the biggest viral moments of 2019, including the rise of rapper Lil Nas X and his song “Old Town Road,” came from video-sharing app TikTok. While 2020 will no doubt provide some similarly entertaining viral stories, one thing is different: More people know about TikTok.

As TikTok continues to creep its way into mainstream media, more celebrities than ever are creating accounts to remain trendy and relevant, as well as to make the elusive viral TikTok. Some celebrities, however, see TikTok only as a promotional tool and are trying to force themselves upon what they assume are unsuspecting users. The problem is that these users can see right through that.

Look at Justin Bieber, for example. His latest release, “Yummy,” was competing to debut at No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 against songs by the likes of singer Selena Gomez and rapper Roddy Rich. Coincidently, Bieber created a TikTok account the same day “Yummy” was released, and all of his content focused on promoting his song and getting other TikTok users to do the same. Unfortunately for Bieber, “Yummy” debuted at No. 2, and he never went as viral as he had hoped.

All of this is to say that — whether you are promoting a song, a business, a product or even just a funny video — virality cannot be forced. In fact, I would argue that too much blatant promotion can turn off users to a product or idea just as quickly. The most successful viral campaigns are often ones that weren’t “campaigns” in the first place. If you can create a trend or think up a quirky marketing idea that is embraced by users without much pushing, then you have a good opportunity to go viral. If something online doesn’t spread naturally, that is usually an indication it will not last very long. The best viral movements are those that catch on instantly and can maintain a sustained interest.

So, when thinking of marketing strategies involving viral campaigns, the best viral movements leave the hard work of promotion to the users.