The dream of the modern marketer is the viral video, or Internet sensation, or meme. Once you’ve got that, you have it made, right? It’s the modern business equivalent of the old fairy tale line, “and they lived happily ever after.” What’s not to like? You’ll be feted by the media, courted by the money makers of today, and maybe even Hollywood. All you have to do is start cashing the checks that will inevitably come your way.

If only. I had a call from a potential client a few years back, and it was a cry for help. The client had lived the dream – a blog post he put up late one afternoon on leadership and customer relations went viral, attracting millions of readers in less than a couple of weeks. A book deal had followed, and the client had gone to ground to write the book.

A year later, and the publisher had indeed published the completed book, with a huge print run. Again, an unqualified success, right?

Wrong. The publisher was talking about remaindering the book, a month after it was published, because sales were so sluggish. Remaindering, for those not familiar with the industry jargon, means dumping the rest of the copies not already distributed on used bookstores (look at the bottom of a book, and if there’s a line across the end made with a magic marker or sharpie, you’ve bought a remaindered book), where they sell for $10 dollars or less, and ultimately paper pulpers. The viral idea of a year ago was about to be turned into toilet paper. Literally.

Tax law changes for publishers means that they are even less likely to keep a book in print if it doesn’t look like it’s selling.  They make that decision to remainder very quickly.  I’ve even heard of books being remaindered the week they were released.

What went wrong in this case with my client’s wonderful, worthy book on leadership and treating your customers right?

Try this little thought experiment. Let’s say this very afternoon, around 4:00 PM, you’re ready for a break from work, and you click on Facebook and follow up with your family-and-friends’ kids, cats, and dogs instead of those 4Q projections you need to get done. Everyone needs an attitude adjustment; it’s OK.

Anyway, you read a wonderful piece someone has shared about the perils of procrastination, and it hits you right between the eyes, and you decide you’d better get back to work. But first, rather than just closing the tab so your boss doesn’t see, you actually cut and paste the piece into a folder of fave posts like this one. (You’re an organized, meticulous worker and you save things like that in folders like that.)

The piece joins the 37 others you have in that folder, dating back about 4 years.

Have you ever gone back to look at one of those inspirational pieces? Never. But you keep the folder because each piece did inspire you once upon a time.

Most people don’t bother to keep a post like this; they simply move on.

How long do you suppose most people remember that piece on procrastination? An hour? A day? Three days? Chances are good that the post has been supplanted by a cute video about a cat, or another, equally wise essay on one of humanity’s many failings, or the death of a pop star.

Fast forward a year later. What are the odds that you or anyone else remembers that post? Vanishingly small.

Therein lay my client’s problem. There simply is not enough space in our heads to keep worthwhile blog posts mentally present for any length of time, let alone a year. And so the odds against anyone remembering the piece, hearing about the book, making a connection, and deciding to buy the book, are very long indeed.

Let’s be clear — the client had done nothing wrong.  He had written a thoughtful piece, and expanded it into a great book.  He was simply the victim of a special kind of 21st-century success.

Viral does get you noticed. Viral is great – I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But it’s not happily ever after. And so, if you base your whole campaign for your book, or your song, or your business, on viral Internet phenomena, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

Instead, you need to practice the slow, steady drip of daily thought leadership. If you are working on a book, get the idea out to your community and debate it, while you’re working on the next chapter. You’ll not only get valuable feedback, but you’ll also ensure that an audience is ready and waiting for the day the book is published.

The viral Internet sensation is a drug fix that doesn’t last. Don’t be fooled by its allure.

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