Social media can increase the odds of a retailer getting unplanned media attention, and, in turn, experiencing a surge in sales. Let's say an influencer backs your product and you get an influx of website traffic and orders. It's a great opportunity, but it can also harm your brand if you're not prepared.

Too often small brands try to do it alone and they don't have the infrastructure necessary to easily ship orders or handle the traffic. You can either be a one-hit wonder, or you can be ready to leverage all that amazing publicity to attract loyal customers. Here are some ways you can prepare to sustain a sudden demand in sales.

Have the right tech in place.

Going viral means you will have a surge in website traffic. If your site isn't set up to handle such a large volume of visitors, it will crash. Sites that take longer than a few seconds to load don't make for great customer experiences. Moreover, users will likely leave--making you miss the opportunity for conversions.

Running a high-capacity site can be costly, so talk to your developer team in advance about how you can quickly increase your site's capacity should you experience an influx in visitors.

Partner with the right manufacturers.

Going viral may seem like a dream come true for product sellers, but the dream can turn into a nightmare if you aren't ready to fill a large volume of orders in a timely manner--leaving customers dissatisfied, or worse.

Ensure you have the manufacturer support you need. It's not just about working with a supplier, but about working with a supplier who can speed up manufacturing should you see an increased product demand. Have a plan in place in advance so you're not left high and dry.

You might talk to your current supplier about how they can accommodate should going viral ever occur, or start connecting now with other supplies who can help fill in any gaps.

Deliver on customers' expectations.

You now need to deliver on your promise to your customer by sending the right product on time and intact. There are also peak and holiday seasons when people have heightened expectations. Customers might want fast shipping along with pretty packages wrapped up in a bow. Most small brands aren't prepared to expedite shipping for a large volume of orders, or adding extra elements such as beautiful packaging.

Communication is key

If you are not able to deliver on what you typically promise, the key is keeping your customers in the loop. They'll be more forgiving if they know in advance what to expect. For example, you may alert customers at checkout that you're experiencing a high volume of orders, and that your typical two-day delivery may be delayed. You might give them an incentive to keep them happy, such as 10 percent off their next order or free shipping.

How can you plan for something such as going viral that is virtually unplannable? You can't, but you can surround yourself with the people, suppliers and processes that can make it possible for you to scale quickly and capitalize on all that attention.

Published on: Sep 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.