Advertising alone will not make something go viral, and it definitely does not end in it. It’s a whole that’s a lot bigger than the sum of its parts.
Viral marketing, as Seth Godin believes, must market your business in a tangible and useful way.
There’s no “industry’s well-kept secret” or secret key to going viral. The common misconception is your message should achieve popularity for it to go viral.
Typically, a message or content becomes popular because it’s propagated by a popular figure that has a huge following. For example, a witty message tweeted by a popular actor will definitely become popular as he is followed by many fans.
The problem with popular content is that it only booms at first. Viral content, however, tends to become memorable and shared across space and time. As time passes, it becomes etched into society’s consciousness.
Where does “virality” happen?
Viral marketing uses social media, videos, SMS, word of mouth, and other ‘social methods’ to spread information about content, product, service, or brand — a lot different from how mass media usually work.
The key idea here is “person to person“. Viral content is shared by one person to another continuously.
Thanks to platforms like Facebook and YouTube, sharing content and stories across millions of people can happen in minutes.
When more and more people are marketing you without them realizing, you know you’ve gone viral.
Current technology should help us make viral marketing easier but competition is growing and people’s attention span is becoming shorter.
Thus, it’s important to learn the best practices in viral marketing. Luckily, we have 16 of them here plus key viral marketing concepts at the end of the list. If you want to learn these easily actionable practices, read on!
1. Have an amazing product.
If your product or service is amazing, there’s a big chance that it will go viral. However, you can push its viral potential by increasing its perceived value relative to its setting.
Let’s say you’re planning to enter a very competitive market where customers aren’t really satisfied with the current competitor’s products or services because they offer no real solution to the customers’ pain points.
If you create a simple product or service that simply works and solves customers’ problems, your product will be perceived as ‘amazing’ relative to the current products or services in your market.
The OraBrush is an example of a product that simply works wonders. It solves the major pain point that oral care customers go through: having to buy different products to clean the mouth.
Customers love talking about amazing products and services. This word-of-mouth marketing will make your business go viral.
2. Build your community around a product before you launch it.
Having a fully launched product that’s ready to be offered to the market is far from guaranteed virality.
Methods like beta programs help generate interest in your product and start building a community around it while it’s in the development stage.
If you let users into the process early, it makes them feel like stakeholders and co-creators while your company gets valuable feedback that can help make your product better.
eero, a wifi provider, created their beta program called Project E.E.R.O. (eero Early Research Operation) for this purpose.
3. Encourage word-of-mouth.
In a digital setting, you can apply word-of-mouth marketing in the form of referral marketing.
In referral marketing, you bring about word of mouth by giving people incentives so that they will recommend whatever you’re offering.
It’s best to make the sharing process as easy as possible for people… so easy that it successfully turned DropBox into a $4-billion company within a few years.
Trivia: DropBox’s awe-inspiring referral marketing success is actualy the inspiration for UpViral.
4. Determine where your traffic comes from.
If you want to make the most out of your time, resources, and effort, you must be able to gather clear data to understand which makes you visible in the first place and which does not.
To make this possible, you must place systems in your business to see how new users are discovering your business, products, or services.
Google Analytics can show you a Traffic Overview for your website that shows where your traffic comes from.
5. Keep things simple.
Viruses are known for their ability to replicate fast and easily. If you want your product to go viral, you need to apply the same principle. Your medium or format is simply the container of the message you’re trying to spread.
Keeping your idea unique and simple works in line with this principle. If your product is simply valuable, people will innately share it.
The studio that created the 2013 film adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie released a Telekinesis Prank video that went viral. The idea was simple: make a unique, shocking prank that will strongly promote the movie. The movie earned more than double its budget.
6. Keep an updated list of ideas.
Once you discover what viral strategy or method works, you must have something that you want to make viral. If your idea is valuable unique, you already have half the work done.
Great ideas don’t always come around and are not always easy to remember.
Jot down your ideas, build them up every day, and keep track of them. When your ideas make sense, bring them to life.
Use every tool that can help you as soon as possible. One reliable tool for this is Evernote.
You can bring individual ideas to life or integrate them into your existing content.
If you don’t write down your ideas and build them up, you will not have anything to make viral.
7. Make it relevant and timely.
A good way to make viral campaigns is to use ideas that are fresh in the minds of the people.
If your campaign is anchored on a current issue, trend, or event, you must make sure that your audience can relate to it. You can use emotions such as humor and surprise to make your campaign catch on more easily.
Save the Children‘s Syria campaign went viral simply because everyone knows about the current situation in Syria. However, they delivered the message in a more touching manner. The video shows a war situation, similar to the current one in Syria, happening in a western country and how it quickly ruins the everyday life of a normal happy child. It helps people empathize with the organization’s cause.
8. Optimize every step of your funnel.
The simple details of your funnel can make or break its virality.
Look to optimize every stage of your funnel by creating the right sharing buttons, the right text, a unique hashtag, and other features. Yoeu can make social sharing easier for people. The fewer the taps or clicks sharing will require, the better.
One good way to determine which changes help you optimize your funnel is split testing.
Certain marketing software tools like UpViral enables users to create and split test their lead forms in any stage of your funnels.
9. Take a side and fight for it.
If you think you can please everyone with your campaign, think again. Marketing is all about working with people’s emotions… and people feel different things about a single matter.
By taking sides, creating a strong opinion, and inspiring powerful emotions, people will get excited. It doesn’t matter if they love or hate you. All that matters is the emotions that will engage people.
Budweiser chose to take the side of “immigration” in their Born The Hard Way Super Bowl 2017 commercial. It may have generated quite an amount of dislikes (likely from the opposing side) on YouTube but the video went viral, nonetheless.
10. Do something unexpected.
People always notice something different. Do something that they won’t expect to see on a normal day.
You don’t have to do something outright ridiculous. You can just look at your product from a different perspective and see what else you can do with it that will catch people attention.
The Dollar Shave Club did not go for the typical “Hire a Famous Athlete” route in their commercial. Instead, they actually explained why you should pay a dollar for a “f*cking great” razor (and give people jobs) instead of paying 20 dollars (a dollar for the razor, $19 for the endorser).
11. Avoid “advertising”.
Ads go viral not because they’re ads. They go viral because of the stories they contain.
Sometimes, people don’t even notice the product anymore when they share it. But eventually, people will recognize your brand or product when they recall it after some time. Your promotion should be subtle. Focus on the story you should create.
This MetLife Hong Kong commercial didn’t pitch the brand until the last few seconds of the video because it wanted to immerse the audience in “My Dad’s Story“.
12. Make more of what you create that people like.
Once people see and like your campaign, they will want more. What do you do? Definite not leave them hanging. If you do so, they will easily forget you. One way to satisfy them is to give them more of what you showed. Give them what they want and then introduce your business to them.
This will not only make them feel better but also help them remember what you’re all about.
BlendTec did exactly this when they took on the challenge of successfully blending different items in their Will It Blend show on YouTube.
13. Make sharing easy.
Viral marketing is founded. If your campaign cannot be shared easily, people will stop in their tracks and leave it behind. Let people download and embed your content. Allow them to share your campaign through email and social media.
14. Communicate with your audience and consider their ideas.
A great viral content connects and communicates with people. Try borrowing content from people who comment on your prior campaigns. Once people discover that you do this, your engagement level will shoot up just because people want to be involved in the creation of your next campaign.
Lay’s opened up this opportunity for consumers to pitch their ideas for a new flavor for their potato chips in their Wouldn’t It Be Yummy commercial.
15. Work with unlikely partners
You can team up with another brand from another industry to help each other make a jointly-created project go viral. Both parties can improve brand awareness through each other’s customer or audience base.
16. Offer an incentive for people to share your content
Getting people to share your content is getting harder each day because people are becoming choosier with what they share, especially if you’re asking them to do so. You can offer them incentives that are scarce, exclusive, and valuable in exchange for sharing your campaign.
To make it more attractive, you can offer it in the form of viral contests and giveaways, which you can run easily using tools like UpViral.
Why do things go viral anyway?
Things go viral because they trigger emotions.
Emotion is the main reason things go viral. The faster you can inspire emotion and the greater emotion you inspire, the more viral your message can go.
Messages with positive emotions tend to go viral more than the ones with negative emotions. Here are some examples of positive emotions that trigger virality.
People share emotion-driven content to confirm an experience with others. This helps people makes sense of those experiences and deepen their connection with other people. They also do this to minimize the dissonance they feel after seeing the message.
The recipe for virality is a dynamic mix of emotional triggering speed, content length, and people’s level of interest.
Tips to make your message emotionally charged
- Write and speak your own language to express your true emotions.
- Make people ask themselves and think using the headline or the first lines.
- Try different angles and see what evokes the right emotion the best.
- Make it a story that’s based on your audience’s pain points.
Things go viral because they’re shareworthy.
Shareworthy content is, most of the time, either entertaining, unexpected, or useful. If it’s useful, it should solve a real problem to which people can relate. The more practical and actionable the solution is, the likelier someone will share it.
To know more about what your audience shares, spend time where they are and study their interests, behaviors, demographics, etc. From your data, you can craft your message specifically targeted to certain types of audiences.
How to make your audience share your message more easily
- Make them feel special. Give them insider access or rewards.
- Provide instant gratification. Offer easily digestible bite-sized information or actionable solutions.
- Give your audience a call to action. They won’t do anything you want unless you tell them what it is
- Tell a story and integrate your brand as a part of it.
Things go viral because they have fantastic visual appeal.
Even if it’s just a part of the viral formula, visual appeal still matters. But always remember that pretty design doesn’t guarantee virality.
Use color to your advantage. Pick ones that stimulate the senses and are consistent with your message and the emotion it expresses.
Things go viral because they have good timing.
Timing can determine whether your content or message can go viral. There will be times of the day and days of the week when your content will be in demand.
Take note also of seasons within a year, holidays, and other trending events.
Things go viral because they fit their proper distribution channels.
Your distribution channels can affect how your campaign will work. For example, image-intensive campaigns work well on Instagram.
It’s good to tap into your network of influential people if you have. They can give you additional significant exposure.
Use social media platforms that work best with the format of your content. You don’t have to necessarily stick with the usual platforms. Video works not only on YouTube.
Experiment with both ads on different social media platforms. For example, Facebook Ads can help make your campaign visible to the right audience with the help of its ad platform.
Viral marketing isn’t your conventional marketing. You have to be a little creative with your approach. Focus on doing the right things instead of making grand gestures.
Don’t confuse popularity with virality. Popularity fades but virality lasts. Create a shareworthy story that everyone will talk about for a long time. For best results, make sure that every element of your campaign inspires positive emotions.
Once you crafted your campaign, time its launch well on distribution channels where it can get the most traction. Don’t hesitate to test different types of output to see what works the best.
Got other best practices for viral marketing? Share your thoughts below!