Viral Marketing 101 – For Beginners

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  • Online Business
  • Updated: Oct 16, 2017

Gone viral. Shared. Cited. Interviewed.

If you know what these words mean, you’re likely looking to achieve the same with your website or social media marketing campaigns.

If you don’t see the pattern, relax. These terms stand for a timeless concept you likely want to understand and implement.

From a towel-wearing man on YouTube catching the attention of some pretty influential people, to an accidental coupon trending on Twitter, it’s pretty amazing to see all the popularity individuals and businesses have achieved with viral marketing in the past decade.


What is viral marketing?

Viral marketing is simply referred to as ‘word of mouth advertising’ for the digital age. Using today’s digital channels such as social media to engage with online communities, it enables companies (both small and large) and individuals to reach a potential audience of millions at a staggering pace.

The methodology behind viral marketing is simple. A strong, irresistible digital message is created and then passed along through online channels. It spreads the same way as conventional advertising messages – by word-of-mouth contact. Once the message spreads, it is voluntarily passed along between individuals often in a matter of just hours.

Individuals sharing the advertising/marketing message become your brand ambassadors and a free source of reputation building. The effectiveness of viral marketing results from its ability to infiltrate these online communities at little or no cost.

Why choose viral marketing?

How you ever shared a blog post lately because of its unique angle, creative factor or imaginative appeal?

How important is it for you to see thousands doing the same to spread your blog post, video, social media message, etc.?

Let’s face it. Your success on the web majorly depends upon how much you’re able to excite and engage people. It’s all about stirring up emotions, and viral marketing is the key to drive a strong flow of emotions. Here are some additional reasons why going viral has become serious business:

  • It promotes goodwill.
  • It drives positive reputation and recognition for your business brand.
  • It creates thousands of leads and drives up conversions.
  • It is the fastest way to build backlinks to your web properties and increase search engine rank.
  • It is a great way to achieve ROI that goes above and beyond cost.

Here are some of the qualities that define viral marketing campaigns:

  • Alleviate problems: Typically, the most useful campaigns include content that solve customer pain points.
  • Branded: Branding a campaign makes it unique, and lets a business stand out from others, and improve how people perceive it.
  • Promotable: How easy will it be for people to promote this idea? Make sure the campaign includes content that is easy-to-understand and valuable to the target audience.
  • Seamless sharing: Videos, pictures, content, the whole nine yards; everything should be easy-to-share without any barrier for people.
  • Immense utility: It should provide something useful and immensely benefit or excite the audience. Otherwise it won’t be interesting enough.
  • Mass potential: The idea should appeal to a mass audience, including people who might not be direct customers.

Examples of viral campaigns

The general examples of viral content is often associated with YouTube videos like the Gangnam style, but many more mediums apply. Here are a few examples of viral campaigns and the reasons they went viral:

1. Blendtec

How to get people to talk about blenders? Is there even something to discuss about this product? These are a few questions Blentec asked itself when it wanted to promote its new line. However, they came up with a video series called ‘Will It Blend?’ – the videos included the company’s blenders destroying and not destroying items that should not be in a blender.

The genius of the series was not only to make blenders a topic of discussion, but to showcase how rugged Blentec blenders were. If blenders can chew out airsoft pistols, they can easily handle fruits and vegetables.

2. Threshers

This campaign didn’t take on the multi-media viral format, but the well-known wine chain caught the attention of the masses for all the right reasons. It forwarded a 40 percent off wine and champagne electronic voucher ‘accidentally’ to a selected number of customers, and experienced a sales meltdown.

While the campaign was no mistake, and the brand claimed the voucher was for supplier use only and released accidentally, the secrecy and huge customer discount made the campaign an overnight success.

The brand and its voucher spread like lightning via social media and email.

Heinz “Which Beans are You?” Facebook campaign

3. Heinz

When launching its Five Beanz product, Heinz created a quiz on its Facebook page titled ‘Which bean are you?’ Fans used the quiz to find out which bean they were based on their personality. Heinz gave individuals who shared the quiz ten times on Facebook a goodie bag.

The company utilized a personality quiz to get the fans involved with a campaign without direct promotion. Since the success of Heinz’s quiz, many other food companies have used the same tactic on social media to achieve good results.

Creating your first viral campaign

While there is no secret recipe to make a marketing campaign go viral, there are some tactics you can apply to improve the odds of creating a successful viral campaign, such as some of the following:

1. Target trends and current events

If something is current, such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge these days, your content has a better chance of getting viewed because people are searching for it in search engines and on social media. Discover new trends and keep an eye on the hashtags and keywords that are trending on social media.

2. Make a video

While there are no specific rules about the type of content you must create for it to go viral, videos are a big part of any marketing campaign, and they get shared like crazy all over social media. Put an element of surprise in the video and bring something new to the table. 100 million people watch videos online each day according to statistics; imagine the masses you could reach with a viral video.

3. Create contests

Contests are a great way to spread a word about something. If you are giving away something of value, you can get people to like your social profiles, share your brand name and even refer more people. Several social media campaigns have gone viral only with the single element of using contests to attract new people and keep audience engaged.

4. Incorporate visual

You may consider yourself an industry leader when it comes to creating text content, but the average attention span of the average web surfer continues to get shorter. Therefore, you will have a better chance of capturing their attention with pictures and infographics than just with a big block of text. The growth of Pinterest and Tumblr shows how much people love visual content.

5. Seed properly

Once you’ve created your campaign and you’re ready to expose it to the world, it isn’t enough to launch a website, promote a contest on Facebook, or upload a video. You need to take further steps to get the ball rolling such as paying for the first batch of audience and then relying on this audience for the viral spread. Putting some money into promoting the campaign could be a great way to get things off the ground.

At the end of the day

Remember that most campaigns are not viral. And for this reason, do not rely on a single idea to make your campaign go viral. You odds of success will increase when you apply a variety of tactics, test run them and see which does best.

Article by Dan Virgillito

Dan Virgillito is a professional blogger and content strategy consultant who loves working with startups, companies and nonprofits and help them tell their story better, engage fans and find new ways to drive business through content. You can learn more about his work and get in touch with him via his website.Connect with Dan on Google+ / Dan Virgillito and Twitter / @danvirgillito

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