Building Loyalty: One Viral Moment Isn’t Enough

The Saturation Slowdown

It may not always seem like it, but since there are only so many hours in a day — and so much explosive growth in new media — digital consumption is experiencing a bit of a slowdown.

Publisher Axios (powered by RebelMouse) said the saturated market means that "all of the players in the ecosystem will have to work harder to produce better content and experiences to maintain our attention, whether that be via digital ads, social personalization, algorithms, videos or articles."

And it's true. We now live in an ecosystem where one viral moment isn't enough to gain meaningful awareness for your brand or media company. It takes many shining moments that nurture your followers into a loyal partnership with your content.


Your readers will find you on social. But it's their experience with your content within the feeds that should prompt them to want to learn more about who you are as a publisher. To gain loyalty, that experience needs to be relatable, accessible + move across platforms easily.

The idea of loyalty has made quite a lot of evolutionary growth over the past few years. What was once delivered through newspapers and television is now, of course, distributed through social. That means it's an even playing field, where everyone has a shot at the top spot.

Since any passion, hobby, or ambitious content creator can go viral at any moment, it's important to develop what happens before, after, and until the next viral hit.

Repeat Viral Reach

There are so many tombstones in the viral moments graveyard. You remember "Damn, Daniel!", but not where you first saw it. You also can't remember which livestream you were watching when April the Giraffe finally gave birth. (If you're reading this several months after publish, none of this will even make any sense.)

It's kind of crazy to think that now it's relatively easy to have a viral moment, but it's keeping your name around that's the hard part.

Viral moments are essential because they open the door to more loyal readers. An excellent example of both the perfect viral moment paired with long-lasting audience building is PAPERMag.com (powered by RebelMouse). Even though it was a while ago, you probably still remember when they broke the internet with their Kim Kardashian cover.

It was a viral moment that brought a huge amount of new eyes to their brand, and they've since done more highly successful #BreaktheInternet campaigns. PAPERMag.com has earned an even greater reputation for their covers, which are shared primarily on social. Covers featuring Miley Cyrus, Blac Chyna, and Kylie Jenner have brought repeat viral reach from both new and loyal followers.

PAPERMag rules repeat viral reach.

Think of that repeat-viral-reach life — publishers like The Dodo, The Washington Post, and BuzzFeed see it all the time. It's tough to grasp how to build a loyal audience this way, since most viral moments aren't forced and tend to happen organically. But you have to make sure your content is primed for viral success.

The Strategy

The recipe for loyal audience building through content experience is complicated, but it can be broken down into three important ingredients:

Content. No surprise here — you're going to need content to achieve that viral reach and keep people coming back. 62% of millennials believe online content builds loyalty for a brand.

If you're a brand and think content marketing isn't for you, you're behind. If you're a media company and aren't thinking of yourself as a brand, you're losing too. Everyone needs content, and that content needs to keep your readers (or buyers) returning for more. We've got some pretty strong feelings about what drives shareable content.

ProTip: Content doesn't mean just your own stuff. Practice the law of reciprocity and share content from others every day. The algorithm gods will thank you!

Dynamic. The over-saturated, attention-limited landscape is why your content has to wear many hats and travel seamlessly across many platforms. That means when you have a piece of content with the potential to go viral, not only will it need to traverse all relevant social channels quickly, but it also needs to do it via mediums like Google AMP + Apple News. Make it visible!

And not just visible, but easy. This means no intrusive ads, slow load times, or irritating imagery and messaging — even if these things are threaded into what is otherwise great content, it's disastrous.

Think of each publishing platform as a gateway to awareness for return traffic to your site. Each time a viral moment surfaces, that content will bring new awareness to your brand. It's at that point when your new followers have a chance to learn more about who you are. If they've made it to your site, then they should be met with the same ease as the social experience. Your content should be binge-worthy. This journey from viral moment to site visit is essential and has to create a snowball effect for growth.

Reputation. This part should come more naturally. If you've mastered both content + delivering that content through a quality experience, then you've established shareable storytelling, relatability, and consistency.

A Pew Research Center report from February found that 56% of readers are able to recall the source of content they've found online. And the more links people click, the more likely they are to remember the source. Which means they're more likely to visit again. That's loyalty.
Achieving a notable reputation is the final step to reaching the loyalty prize. Still, it all starts with that one viral moment. And while those moments aren't planned — and sometimes run a dime a dozen — it's your responsibility as a brand or media company to make sure they open the door to the loyalty climb.