Advertising is not Branding and vice versa. When I apply this to the area of Social Media, I can think of categorizing many of the activities under either of the aspects.
1. Blogger engagement and user interactions are clearly PR objectives.
2. Coming out with innovative solutions and setting a unique visual style is clearly a step towards branding.
3. Creating free apps, eBooks, whitepapers, tutorial videos etc come under the purview of marketing.
4. Advertising is not much different in Social Media than in any other media apart from the ad serving methods and monitoring.
However there is one little thing that people probably don’t classify into any definite category. That’s Viral. What is Viral? What does going viral mean for your business or brand?
Viral means something you can’t control
Viral videos, memes, Viral comments, status updates, tweets gone viral, blogs, pins and so on. They all serve one thing. An immediate burst of interest. A spur of the moment spike in the content sharing activity due to the culmination of multiple factors, generating mass curiosity using extreme emotions which appeal to the ‘id’ brain, either supported through paid distribution or influence. That may be the mechanism of going viral but the classification of a viral content within Advertising, Branding or PR disciplines would depend on the resulting change in perception or behaviour. It is not guaranteed, it does not stick and it’s hard to determine the relevance of the message. People will either love it or hate but but won’t ignore it, resulting in a large number of shares, views and a large volume of the ensuing discussions. However a Viral content is for passive consumption. It will spread without much change and will be shared indiscriminately.
Aim of a viral is advertisement
A viral video would simply become a sensation overnight. By that definition it won’t last long. While branding needs consistent and patient efforts over long periods of time and holistic improvements both outside and within the organization, a viral campaign would only serve the purpose of presenting information in a manner that it reaches out to everyone in one short lived effort.
It will trigger a mass psychology and cause a general sentiment ruling out the personalized intent of true PR. Viral is definitely a form of advertising, although inconsistent and with largely unpredictable results. Viral data can be produced by spending more on pushing the content through ads. It is then much like the catchphrase from a TV commercial that has stuck in your head because you saw the ad too many times. After a point it doesn’t matter if you like it or not, you will recall it none-the-less.
Viral almost always turns irritating
The resulting buzz of a viral will subside in a matter of weeks, if not days. What happens to the large volume interactions? Well they do continue but since the novelty is almost gone within a short period of time, a once viral content tends to get overshadowed by other events across the web. If your video has gone viral accidentally, then there is nothing to lose, unless it is in a negative sense. A viral event is like a lamb to slaughter. By its death, it will feast a lot of people but they will hardly remember it after some time. Some vague reference of it and the feast will exist but no one will remember the taste of the meat. It is not a tree that will continue to bear fruit year after year. Not only a viral die down in some time, it also gets irritating after some time. It can get parodied, killing the essence of your message and eventually it gets lost into the viral archives.
Analysis: Should Brands depend on viral success?
Let me ask you something. Have you ever seen the movie ‘That thing you do’ ? Viral is like the One-Hit-Wonders which can totally take over the network feeds for sometime. However there are two hypothesis that seem to defeat the purpose in long term:
a. The reactions to it will be so diverse that no clear insight can be drawn from it. Even if you manage to measure all the interaction, the randomness will render the data as an average result.
b. The unpredictability of the viral reach makes it very time and resource intensive to generate viral content. Even if you have an expert on your side, coming up with content ideas that will consistently go viral, it makes little sense to focus on it primarily.
Many new media agencies are selling their professional services under viral marketing moniker and that is potentially dangerous. As a methodical marketer I would suggest you against such traps and rather invest in something more worthwhile such as a Corporate Social Responsibility or Product research to improve your brand. Generate more quality content rather than ‘Viral’ content and build a stable image. If your good work build enough emotion and positive sentiment, your promotion will anyway go viral and you will not have to bother thinking about it.