October 02, 2019 | Social Media

Stop Trying to Go Viral: The Dangers of Bandwagon Marketing

Twitter is a strange place. 

It’s a place where Big Ben (yes—the clocktower) tweets every hour on the hour and any user can be retweeted by the President of the United States. It’s where we all dumped buckets of ice water over our heads in the name of ALS in 2014 and are currently sharing photos of each other photoshopped with wrinkly features (#faceappchallenge). Only adding to the increasing absurdity of it all: the presence of corporate-owned accounts. Here’s why mimicking the strategies of these well-known profiles might not be the best method to boost social engagement. 

The Dangers of Bandwagon Marketing

If you log onto Twitter on any given day, the chances of spotting an inane tweet from the likes of Pop-Tarts, DiGiorno, or Old Spice are immense. The chances of seeing McDonald’s and Wendy’s sling insults at each other are even greater. We’ve entered an age where corporate entities roasting each other online and SunnyD tweeting irreverently about job requirements is commonplace, and we’ve been here for some time. 

The Breakfast-Themed Beginning of Brand Twitter

It could have all arguably started with one corporate account in particular: Denny’s. The popular diner chain is oft-cited as the best of corporate Twitter, even winning the title “King of Twitter” in 2016. Since 2014, they’ve avoided taking themselves seriously and opted towards humor that appeared to have tapped into the inanity appreciated by Twitter’s largely millennial audience. They’ve continued this mission ever since, and their Twitter stream still consists of tweets inspired by popular memes, strange epiphanies about breakfast food, or are simply just random. 

Each Denny’s tweet pulls in thousands of engagements to this day, but what may have made the posts unique and different a few years ago has now become the norm—and perhaps even spiraled out of control. Enter the age of bandwagon marketing. 

The internet has been a catalyst in popularizing bandwagon marketing, the strategy of mimicking popular content that appears to have garnered success for several other entities, fueled by viral trends and internet culture. 

But we won’t be too hard on social media marketers for capitalizing on trending hashtags or popular memes. Social media marketing is a constant battle. On a daily basis, content-creators running corporate accounts head into a combat zone bombarded by meme culture, viral Twitter challenges, obscure national holidays, political firestorms, and more. Standing at the frontlines is a make-or-break opportunity, either resulting in achieving KPIs or total brand obsolescence.

Amidst the madness, bandwagon marketing could be a beacon of hope for the downtrodden marketer. When you witness a single idea spread like wildfire in a matter of seconds, it can be attractive to adopt that idea and twist it for your own purposes. Supporting a viral hashtag, emerging meme, or growing Twitter challenge are surefire ways that you’ll be touching on topics that were already proven capable of reaching a large audience. 

Whether you’re able to touch on these topics in a meaningful and effective way, however, is a completely different story. While you may think that your tweet, Facebook post, blog, or other form of content will take off as part of the larger viral trend, the more likely outcome is that you’ll just be adding to the noise, just like everyone else. 

Irreverent marketing was a great way to be noticed at one point in time. But if we’re all being weird and inane, what is there left to notice? 

Quit Trying to Be “Hip” 

Blending in with the crowd is not even the worst outcome possible when you decide to play the viral trend game. If you don’t play your cards right, you could end up looking like Steve Buscemi in 30 Rock: 

Painting yourself as a clueless corporate entity trying to be “hip” is easy to do. Just ask @BrandsSayingBae, a Twitter account dedicated to Brand Twitter’s vain attempts to relate to a younger audience. With a heavy dose of sarcasm, this user has roasted everyone from Applebee’s to Juicy Fruit, calling out transparent marketing copy inspired by popular memes that elicit more eye-rolling than interest. 

There are also social marketing horror stories where companies have mooched off internet trends while simultaneously releasing off-color copy. 

Let’s take it back to spring of 2018. The internet was host to the heated Laurel/Yanny debate upon the release of a viral audio clip (some users claimed that the voice heard in the clip were saying “Laurel,” others insisted they heard “Yanny” – hear it for yourself here). There to hop on the bandwagon was the US Air Force in a since deleted, tone-deaf tweet linking the Afghanistan war to the Laurel/Yanny meme. Ouch. 

If there’s any lesson to learn here, it’s that bandwagon marketing can be high risk with minimal reward. Piggybacking off of memes and hashtags can certainly be done right but only provides short-term engagement at best.

Luckily there exists a tried and true marketing strategy that can’t be replaced by any number of Game of Thrones memes, #TwitterChallenges, and endless non-sequiturs: authenticity.

Just Be Yourself 

Mimicking existing trends can go awry easily. Clinging to ways that you can insert yourself or your brand into trending hashtags or memes can seem desperate and attention-grabby. Social media is not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. 

But when you focus on carving out your own stories and make a point of publishing quality, unique content to your social pages, your audience is likely to take notice. Today’s social audience can sniff out inauthentic, superficial marketing ploys with ease. Getting their seal of approval means spending time at the drawing board, not rushing to jump on the latest social gimmick with reckless abandon. 

Take Casper’s cross-channel marketing strategy launched in April 2019. Instead of capitalizing on the trends of the moment, the mattress company focused on the real reason why their customers turn to them: for a good night’s sleep. To help their audience sleep well beyond just giving them the hard sell, the brand launched the Casper Sleep Channel on IGTV, YouTube, and Spotify. These new playlists were packed with soothing audio and bedtime stories from popular podcasts, all for the sake of a good night’s sleep. No gimmicks, no memes – just content that supports their entire purpose as a brand.

However, you don’t have to shirk memes and internet culture altogether to be successful. As long as the content you're producing is truly relevant to your brand and your actively working to set yourself apart from the crowd, go for it—and use Sparknotes as an example of how to do this well. 

The creator of study guides and modern-day literature translations that have saved many a high school student puzzled by Shakespearean English, Sparknotes manages to participate in meme culture in a manner that’s completely on-brand and genuinely funny. Their Instagram account is full of their own literary-centric memes, humorously summarizing plot points from Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, The Odyssey, and more. In other words, Sparknotes’ social content is echoing the very same service their website is known for! By putting their own spin on a comedic format well-known across the internet, Sparknotes is making a viral trend work for them in a distinct way that their target audience (i.e. anyone trying to understand dense literary works) can appreciate.

Don’t Be Your Own Worst Social Media Enemy 

Before you sit down at the keyboard and type up that #faceappchallenge post you have in mind, you might want to think twice before tweeting. Ask yourself first: does the post offer a new spin on the larger trend or does it simply echo similar posts that have gone viral? Is this content truly relevant to your goals as a social media marketer or just a quick way to boost engagement for a brief period? 

The social media landscape is ever-changing – what is considered compelling and funny today will surely be deemed lame at some point tomorrow. But using insight from current trends to carve out your own space is a tactic you can always rely on. Hashtags are fleeting; authenticity is not.

In case you need help going into social media battles, we’re here to help. Get in touch here.

Megan O'Keefe

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