Going viral. Whether it's planned, schemed, or just plain coincidence, it's hard to ignore the benefits of thousands--or even millions--quickly learning about your brand. There's no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Well, that depends.

In a day and age where 'viral marketing' is hotter than ever, here are three reasons why you may consider going viral 'Ebola' for your small business:

1. It's a waste of time and money.

Large corporations spend millions on marketing campaigns designed to grow attention at an exponential rate. How big is your viral marketing budget?

In an article he wrote for Business Insider, small business adviser Marty Zwilling mentions a disturbing trend regarding the plan of many entrepreneurs to spread their brand:

"Every time I challenge a business plan with little or no budget for marketing, I get the answer that they will be using 'viral' marketing, which costs nothing. The founder explains that the product is so 'buzz-worthy' that usage will spread rapidly through word-of-mouth only, meaning people loving it and recommending it to their friends."

Zwilling says this can be a 'death wish' for a business.

For many small businesses, getting something to go viral is like winning the lottery. How many great business minds would recommend buying lotto tickets as a sound strategy for building capital? (I don't think we'll be hearing this from Warren Buffet anytime soon.)

2. It encourages laziness.

Success is most often a product of hard work over a long period of time, usually with little reward for that effort in the beginning. Any entrepreneur knows that the ROI for your time and effort takes a long time to show up on a balance sheet.

The hope of going viral can set the bar too high, too fast; when compared with overnight attention from millions, the amount of time it takes to raise brand awareness from traditional methods just doesn't seem worth it anymore.

In America, where half of new businesses don't survive their first year, depending on viral marketing can take you one step closer to your start-up's funeral.

3. It attracts the wrong types of people.

A successful viral campaign could get you noticed by the right people, but they're not the only ones.

Take the recent internet meme 'Alex from Target', for example. If you just came back from Mars, Alex is an employee at a Texas location of retail giant Target, who also happens to look like a member of the next big boy band. After a seemingly innocent Tumblr photo of Alex gained hundreds of thousands of views overnight, Target recognized a serendipitous opportunity--and took advantage.

But as Nick Bilton's article in the NY Times last week pointed out, there's plenty of negative to this story: bullying, the online leaking of Alex's family's personal information (including Social Security numbers, bank accounts, and phone records), even death threats. Alex's Target managers have developed security plans for his sake, in case of emergency.

Target may have the resources available to deal with a situation like this, but would you?

So what's the lesson in all of this?

No one's doubting the benefits going viral could bring to your business, but you have to be prepared to take the good with the bad. For many, the positives of pursuing a viral strategy don't outweigh the negatives.

After all this, if you decide that virality's still the goal for you and your business, just remember:

Be careful what you ask for.

Published on: Nov 17, 2014