How Do You Measure the Success of a Viral Piece?

By Matt Zajechowski

For many of our clients, having something “go viral” is one of their goals at the beginning of our partnership.

There’s kind of a mystique that surrounds the word “viral.” We associate it with beloved viral videos like “Charlie bit me” or memorable campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge, moments that will live on in pop culture history.

It’s natural for business owners and content marketers to want something they created to “go viral,” because then surely, right after those millions of YouTube videos or social shares, customers will come beating down your door, chasing your product and service, all because of a particularly funny explainer video.

Well, that’s not quite how it works. First, you have to define what successful viral marketing means to your digital PR and content strategy. Then, you can find the tools that will best help you measure your success. Here’s how.

Defining Successful Viral Marketing

Coming up with a definition for successful viral marketing is a bit tricky because it’ll mean different things to different people. For example, if you own a company specializing in vacuum belts, and your infographic gets posted on Vacuum Belts Magazine and five other trade publications, you might consider your content to have gone viral for that particular vertical- even though it didn’t get a million shares or linked to by BuzzFeed.

In fact, if you’re judging the success of your content by these impossibly high volume standards, you might want to think again.

Quite honestly, these “viral” pieces are like catching lightning in a bottle: they’re the incredibly rare combination of the right topic, the right angle, the right hook, and a lot of luck. In fact, only 0.3% of Upworthy’s posts go viral.

If it happens for one of your content pieces, that’s great. However, it’s better to adjust your expectations and define going viral for your business, so that you’re focused on the impact your piece has on your industry, rather than the volume of the results.

Tools to Measure Viral Success

A few of the tools you can use to measure successful viral marketing include:

BuzzSumo for Social Shares

BuzzSumo tracks content across all social networking sites and then ranks the content according to the number of shares. By using BuzzSumo, you can examine the social amplification of a piece of content across social media channels.

Moz’s for “Just Discovered” Backlinks

Moz only updates the full Mozscape Index about every 60 days, so the “Just Discovered” links are your best bet for finding the latest links for your potentially viral campaigns.

There are other similar tools out there (like Ahrefs) that will gather the most recent backlinks to your domain. This is a great indicator that the piece went viral- the more links, the more shared posts, the more interest.

Google News

Google News, surprisingly, is one of the more under-used tools for checking the viral effectiveness of a campaign. Some publications may not link or even mention your brand name or company if a piece goes viral.

Going to Google News and typing in the title of your content or similar terms will show you what publications are talking about the subject, and from there, you can see who posted your content.

Depending on your content type, Google may be the best place to search for unlinked or unattributed videos, gifs, graphics etc., that may not be easily tracked using other platforms.

One Last Thing to Note

Rand Fishkin has a relevant Whiteboard Friday that goes further into viral content and how it leads to a bump in organic traffic. According to the good man Rand, you can try to plan for viral content a few different ways (having an engaged community, having extraordinary content, understanding what your influencers will share, etc), but I think one of the most important things he covers is having the freedom and support to fail.

You’re not going to have a viral hit on your hands every single time you produce a piece of content, but clients and managers don’t always realize that. You have to be able to create content with the goal of going viral (whatever that means for you), but without the pressure of thinking “this HAS to go viral or else it’s a failure and I’m going to get fired.”

In the long term, you’ll have a much better chance of success if you have the freedom to comfortably fail and then learn from your failures.

“Viral” might be the buzzword of the century so far, but that doesn’t make it a good goal for your company. Redefine what viral means for you specifically, and then dive into what tools you can use to measure your impact- all while giving your content team the freedom to fail.

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