We’ve all been drawn into the Carson King/Des Moines Register saga, whether we’re football fans, beer fans, loyal readers of the Register or none of the above. The reactions have been extreme online and off, including death threats.

We live in a time when it’s easy to whip people into a frenzy. Sometimes that fury is well deserved and rights a wrong. But there are just as many incidents that go from zero to sixty, simply because we as a culture rush to judgment. 

It takes time to research and verify facts, so they are lacking in the early stages of a viral moment or event. On the flip side, emotion is always at the ready and can be quickly fanned to fuel the frenzy.

This is our cultural reality, and many businesses, big and small, will have an opportunity to grab the proverbial viral tiger by the tail. We’d better be ready for it when it comes.

I’d like us to focus in on that aspect of the Carson King situation that has been largely overlooked amid everyone’s outrage on both sides of the fence.

 When Carson’s sign began to gather steam, Anheuser-Busch and Venmo quickly announced that they would match the donations earmarked for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. 

I get it. This story checked all of the boxes. You could feel that it was going to be big. So, without doing any due diligence or background checking, the brands hopped onto the bandwagon looking for that magic viral moment, and the ride was smooth. Until it wasn’t.

With the first whiff of scandal, the brands that were involved made very different decisions. Anheuser-Busch quickly reversed their support, saying they’d honor their pledge but were distancing themselves from King. Venmo announced they would not sever ties with King and continued to support him and his charitable efforts.

Other companies like Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe, Smokey Row Coffee Co. and Geneseo Brewing Co. all stepped in to fill the Anheuser-Busch void and jump on the quickly moving bandwagon. 

That’s the problem with a viral bandwagon – it is moving, and the route is not pre-determined. Every business longs for a viral sensation until they are caught in the middle of a viral sensation. If you are going to take the risk – you have to be prepared for whatever comes.

Viral equals speed. Breakneck speed. This particular type of marketing rocket burns fast and hot. That means you could catapult to an amazing height, but you also might get burned.

I wish I could give you an easy checklist of how to navigate these situations, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer. This is influencer marketing at its most risky because you are not entering into a contract or negotiating with someone who does this for a living. 

The upside can be huge, and many brands are willing to take the risk. Carson King didn’t set out to win endorsements or support from brands. He was just trying to get beer money.

If you are tempted to jump onto one of these racing bandwagons, remember that these individuals are regular human beings. They have not been sanitized for the media or groomed to be a good spokesperson. No one has done a deep dive into their past to make sure they’ve always been kind, courteous and considerate.

Combine that reality with a culture that is quick to judge, boycott and rage on, and it’s bound to be a wild ride. Know that no matter how much you think you know, there’s more under the surface and you need to be ready to deal with whatever comes.

There is simply no safety net.