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Gone Viral

Over the years, I've worked with some of the best social media marketers in our industry. I've seen some posts that have hit incredible numbers on social media sites that were seen by tens, even hundreds of thousands of people. They were all memorable, not because the content was so incredibly awesome but because "going viral" on the internet is so hard.

In fact, it's not just hard. It's what most would consider to be a fluke.

It's for this reason that I want to warn dealers about the concept of going viral. says that going viral is something "pertaining to or involving the spreading of information and opinions about a product or service from person to person, especially on the Internet or in e-mails."

It sounds awesome! Wouldn't every dealer love for their messages on their website, blog, YouTube channel, or social media profiles to go viral and get spread from person to person in bulk? Unfortunately, it's not something that can be easily manufactured. I'm not going to go so far as to say it's impossible (my partner has participated in making things go viral for dealers in the past) but it's extremely difficult and in many cases extremely worthless. More importantly, it's not something that vendors should be selling.

This is where I rant. A dealer told us that during a pitch, they were sold on the concept that an automotive social media company would make their content go viral. We asked for any examples that they had of this and apparently the vendor didn't have any that they we're "allowed to show" to the dealer when they asked the same question, but their strategy was somewhat compelling:

  1. Generate really incredible content on their website.
  2. Advertise the content on Facebook so that it's seen by thousands of people.
  3. Let it get shared by many of those people so that it got tons of attention from other people, and more people, and more people...
  4. Boom. You're viral. Let the massive traffic to the dealership begin.

The first two steps are very reasonable. The third step is questionable because one never knows when something is going to resonate enough with the audience in order to achieve the tens of thousands of social media engagements required to be even remotely viral.

The fourth is a joke. A viral post, if you're ever lucky enough to experience one, does not sell a massive amount of cars. It can help. It can obviously drive more traffic to the website and some of that traffic can turn into leads and sales, but it's not going to be a life-changing event.

Here are some realities dealers should know about the "viral content pitch" in case you ever come across it:

  • For every example of a positive viral post, there are dozens of times when going viral is a bad thing. Most dealers that go viral do so because a news agency reported something bad that they did to a customer.
  • Viral posts spread out to the whole country and often the whole world. We saw an example of one that hit CNN and Autoblog along with getting tons of social media love and the vast majority of the traffic was outside of 100 miles from the dealership. The campaign was a success and they did sell several cars as a result, but the sales increase was nowhere near the scale of the traffic increase.
  • Quality often doesn't matter. For example, one of my posts accidentally went a little viral with 15k Facebook likes and around 50k visitors. This wasn't my best story ever. The topic was interesting - If You Still Think Car Dealers Rip People Off, You Don't Understand the Modern Process - but it wasn't what anyone would consider to be viral content. It simply resonated and took off. It was more luck of the draw than anything we did to promote it.
  • As I said before, it technically can be manufactured, but it's so hard that having it as a centerpiece of a product is silly.

I'm not trying to throw stones at another vendor here. I'm simply trying to warn dealers that there are much better ways to spend your money and get realistic, tangible ROI results from social media. When I hear about pitches like these, it's no wonder that dealers are skeptical about social media vendors. We don't want to be classified as one of those who are selling snake oil. We like to keep things real.

Cody Jerry
Isn't the average number of visits to a dealer site between 3,000-7,000? For them, a post generating 50,000 visits would definitely be going viral. Even for the dealers that do really well on the internet, a double in traffic would have to be considered going viral. It's all about perspectives. To a Social Media Company 50,000 may not appear to be much, but for someone who is getting way less it would be an astronomical change. In my opinion, a better measurement would be to see what a dealers average reach is, what the industry standard organic reach is and then base a viral dealer post on that. You could even come up with a tool that monitors social accounts, and keeps tabs on the average reach of a dealership on social media. While this viral number may seem pedestrian to other industries, it would be a fantastic benchmark for a dealership. Still, I concede your point. It's being used as a sales tactic, from the way you describe it, and not as a legitimate measurement. TL;DR It's all about perspective. Your 50,000 visits was a little viral for you, but it would have been incredibly viral for someone in a town of 20,000.
Tyson Madliger
You're absolutely right, Cody, and I didn't intend to downplay the viral level itself. The thing that bugs me is when vendors set unrealistic expectations at all, let alone using a double whammy like this one - 1) It's impossible to promise that a dealership's post will go viral. 2) Even when it does, how many extra cars are they going to sell as a result?
Robert Karbaum
Going "viral" is akin to winning the lottery. The stats are overwhelming stacked against you, but people still try, every, single, day. The North American ideal of getting 10x results for doing nothing will keep the "viral" conversation going for some time. I'd imagine it's infuriatingly difficult to try and talk a client out of this concept.
Tyson Madliger
It's taxing, Robert. I think I'll use your lottery comparison next time it comes up!
Chris K Leslie
Last year we had one of our facebook posts go "viral" here is a screenshot i just took of it. We had no idea that this post of all of our posts would be the one to reach the amount of people it did. Trying to replicate it has been basically impossible.

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