Going viral – where content is king but the audience is queen


‘Going viral’ has been a trending buzzword for a few years given the explosion of social media and the fact that content can and usually does go viral when you least expect or want it to! In South Africa, digital marketing has increased at a rate of 35%, hardly surprising given that 40% of the country’s population uses social media, with estimates that this will double in the next five to ten years. There is some disagreement, though, among experts as to what ‘going viral’ constitutes – how many views or likes does it take for something to go viral? Estimates range from 100 000 to 5 million.

Mike Sharman is the man behind Retroviral, a creative digital agency in Cape Town that works predominantly with what he refers to as ‘challenger’ brands.  “Going viral is not about eyeball or vanity metrics, it’s about creating a conversation about the brand, about getting eyeballs onto content and getting people excited about the brands we represent.  We love making stuff go viral but, at the end of the day we want to help our brands emotionally connect with audiences and ultimately make more sales.  We mobilise audiences online in order to make the business impact offline.”

In terms of market segmentation, Sharman explains that five years ago we were talking demographics, whereas today we refer to psychographics.  “You can’t put people into boxes anymore otherwise you won’t be able to connect with them.”  Psychographic targeting segments according to factors like shared personality traits, beliefs, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles. Sharman says this helps to get inside the customers’ head in order to emotionally connect with them through digital content.  “Content is still king, but the audience is queen,” he says.

The company, now in its ninth year refers to themselves as storytellers who love what they do.  The company has made more brands go viral, globally, than any other agency in Africa and while Sharman and his team don’t take themselves too seriously, they’re proud of the many local and international awards they’ve received for their work. 

“As a small business, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved.  We’re creating jobs that didn’t exist and focus on supporting a network of suppliers who are also SMEs and SMMEs.  Small business is the lifeblood of an economy and we’re committed to growing South Africa one entrepreneur and one staff member at a time.”

Another key aspect to successful digital marketing is the role of Influencer marketing, a growing global trend.  Sharman’s influencer tool – webfluential.com – has 40 000 influencers, is used by 10 000 brands, has made eight South African influencers millionaires and has a global, digital audience of 1.4 billion people.  “I’m a massive fan of how creativity can change the world, for the better and we are the poster child for this revolution.  You don’t have to be a traditional professional (doctor, engineer, accountant, lawyer) to be a commercial success.”

Sharman attributes much of his early success to his book, The Best Dick. “The book became our best business card, responsible for generating tangible revenue, based on contacts made – and converted – from the book launch and national, business PR.  The Best Dick has been the most valuable tactic for Retroviral’s new business generation,” says Sharman.

Sharman and his team believe in rolling up their sleeves and have leveraged their entrepreneurial grit and hustle traits to solidify their customer base, growing their top line by 20% and revenue from R18 million to R22 million in the last financial year.

“We leverage tech and the various platforms to innovate, but our mantra is to ‘keep it simple’.”  It seems his recipe for success is working.

Mike Sharman is a finalist in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on Retroviral Digital Communications, please visit the website: https://retroviral.co.za/