Virality may be the pinnacle of marketing achievement in the social media age, but it didn’t start there: it’s always been the goal. TV adverts getting people talking around water coolers in offices nationwide the following day. Radio jingles becoming hummable household fixtures. When promotional material is taken and carried along by the audience, its value skyrockets.
The main difference today is that the avenues through which something can become viral are much more numerous, and the potential saturation is commensurately higher.
The hypothetical maximum of virality is all-encompassing: if something life-changing happened (something like an alien race making contact with humanity, for instance), that topic could rapidly spread to occupy almost everything you saw, heard, or read.
Go viral, and everything sharply increases for a time. Take advantage, and you can achieve incredible ROI — but that’s much easier said than done, obviously. Virality is unpredictable.
Businesses across the globe pursue it relentlessly, usually with little success. So how do you maximize your chances? Let’s look at some strategies for running a viral campaign:
1. Play to the strongest emotions
We may be capable of logical reasoning, but it’s emotion that often compels us to act. We read things that make us angry, and want to discuss them with our friends to be reassured that we’re not alone in the way we feel.
We see videos that make us laugh, and want others to experience that amusement. Contrast this with how frequently you might think “Hmm, this is interesting”, but never seriously consider talking about it with anyone you know.
Making your content powerfully emotive is key, then. How can you manage it? Two key factors are storytelling and illustration. When you tell a story with a clear protagonist and antagonist, the people who read it will associate with the former and rally against the latter.
It’s just part of human nature. Remember the ill-fated Kony2012 campaign? The presence of an obvious villain gave it strong emotional power.
As for illustration, that’s simple: we interpret images faster than we do text, and a photo of a situation will hit you with a weight that text would struggle to rival.
It’s why you can read about child poverty and believe that something should be done, then see a photo of a crying child and choose that specific time to donate some money.
2. Find some way to be different
We’re inundated with digital media — it’s there in front of us all day, and even at night through our ever-present smartphones. Endless blog posts, social media updates, infographics, videos, podcasts, ads, comments, likes, shares, emails, and notifications. It’s far too much for anyone to parse in any meaningful way, so you just scroll and scroll until something catches your eye.
What do you think happens when you release some content that looks essentially the same as everything else? Yes, you guessed it: it disappears into the rapid blur of the updating feed.
If you want your content to go viral, it needs to stand out from the crowd through whatever means necessary. Some people shy away from shock value, but it works — so don’t be afraid to try it.
Figuring this out is actually pretty easy, even though the execution isn’t. Just scroll through your social media feed and take note of the average post qualities. What does the typical post look like? What does it have to say?
Your task is to flip the script somehow — break the rules (aside from the formatting rules — those are vitally important) to jar the reader out of their social media stupor and get them thinking again.
3. Focus on easy shareability
If you make some great digital content for the web, but no one wants to share it, then you’ve made some major mistakes in the production process.
An important aspect of this is understanding why people share content — and it might not be what you think. I think the following quote from ecommerce marketer Jamie Salvatori’s appearance on the Marketing Speak podcast really captures the crux of the matter:
“You’ve got to think about when someone shares this video, what is it saying about them? That’s why people share stuff on Facebook, it’s not because they want their friends to read this article, it’s more like hey look what this article is saying about me. Look, I study The Economist, I’m so well-read or I’m so smart.”
If you aim to make your content useful, then it could run into that issue we touched upon earlier: someone thinking it’s worth sharing, but not really caring to share it.
But if you make informative content so good that anyone who sees it will feel fractionally more impressive simply for knowing about it, then you’ll have no trouble getting them to share it.
4. Get your audience involved
Beyond just sharing, people love to participate in campaigns. It’s a great way to bring them together: just think about the enduring popularity of the “Share a Coke with” campaign, largely built around the simple enjoyment of finding the name of someone you know.
You can learn a lot from that campaign, and adapt by inspiring user-generated content (UGC) of your own.
How you go about this is up to you, because there are plenty of viable methods. Come up with a new dance move that people will want to imitate. Create a challenge involving one of your products.
Run a competition to find and reward the best suggestions for the development of your company — that might seem somewhat dull, but if you offer a really interesting incentive (and engage with people with good humor) then it can work.
Author: Kayleigh Alexandra
Micro Startups is all about solopreneurs, startups, and small businesses. We love spreading the good word about hard-working entrepreneurs from around the world. Check out our blog for the latest marketing insights from top experts and inspiring startup stories @getmicrostarted.