Whether you’re a seasoned social media guru, or someone who has spent some time watching a few cat videos on YouTube, no doubt you’ve wondered: “What made this video/article/blog/website get shared so much?”. I’ve compiled responses from some of the top ‘viral marketing’ experts from around the US to give you some insights into how exactly they come up with the concept for a viral marketing campaign, and how to get it to go viral.
Social Media and Internet Analyst Brad Hines says: “Going viral is like a calculus function mixed with the element of randomness. You need a very specific combo of things, and then luck thrown in. I say calculus, because sometimes it works, and other times it doesn’t.” Larry Weintraub, CEO of Fanscape, also has similar sentiments: “What works today or in 3 months may not work next year. There is never a guarantee to going viral, only ways to improve your odds.”
Below is the full, unadulterated list of the top tips from some of this year’s successful viral experts. I tried to keep this list focused only on brands that weren’t well known so the brand name itself couldn’t be tied to how viral a piece of content became.
- If something is compelling enough, people will share it. You can’t force people to share crappy content. Creating compelling content starts with understanding what compels your audience in the first place. What drives the emotions of a male, 18-24 years old? Understanding your target audience, at least in general, is one of the first steps in the content creation process. If your content can trigger emotions in the audience (weather it is joy, humor, etc), then you are in for the money. An article from List25 that triggered a humorous emotion; 31k likes, 1.4M stumbleupon views, 742 RT’s etc.
- Enable frictionless sharing. Simple buttons with recognizable icons is all you need. No need for obnoxious pop-up windows.
- Facebook drives more traffic than any other social network. Seven times as much as Twitter.
- Pinterest is on average the 12th largest traffic referring site to viral content. So if you ever do an Infographic make sure you add that Pinterest button! (If you need to make space, dump the Delicious bookmark button – that was nearly useless)
- If you want to be social, you have to be mobile friendly. 1 in 5 visitors are using a mobile device. Over half of these are iPhones.
- Be prepared for the traffic. CloudFlare, a content delivery network, allowed the calming manatee campaign by Ethercycle to easily keep up with the sudden popularity.
- Sites that are simple or seem “dumb” are anything but, they’re accessible. If an idea seems simple, that’s great, it means more people will be able to relate to it.
- Leverage famous names in your industry by interviewing them, or including them in the campaign in some way. This has the benefit of an already engaged audience with that celebrity’s brand, making your content that much more interesting. John Dumas, of Entrepreneur on Fire said that he’s interviewed people like Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, and 100s of others just by simply reaching out to them to provide them another avenue to promote themselves.
- Use polarizing subject lines if appropriate. The Pixel Academy had a post in the ‘technology’ subreddit with the subject line: “Coding should be taught in elementary schools.” Within 6 hours, it had gained over approximately twenty thousand votes, over 2000 points (the difference between up and down votes), and 1700 comments – it also made it all the way up to the #1 position in the technology subreddit (which has 2.1 million subscribers) and to the #3 position on the reddit homepage (which every user sees when viewing reddit.com). Janeesa, Digital Marketing Manager Fundable.
- To capture attention, Aweber conducted a survey of how teens communicate, which they turned into a timely and provocative story for marketers. With Millennials quickly becoming the consumers of tomorrow, knowing their communication preferences is essential. Email is regularly dismissed as a channel not used by teens, but our data showed that teens use it more than Facebook. Even more revealing was the fact that 18% of teens said they would stop communicating altogether if their favorite channel of communication disappeared.
- Provide an embed code directly beneath the infographic in your blog post for bloggers to quickly post the image on their site. Send an email to your customers and blog subscribers announcing the data and encouraging them to share with others.
- Use “infographic directories” (most include an area where you can add your graphic’s embed code). I think the marriage of doing directory listings, social, and then even attempting to pitch high-level reporters from Mashable, TechCrunch, HuffingtonPost, etc. is the bread and butter of a viral campaign – Allie Gray Freeland
- Make a list of everyone who has some kind of interest in what you want to spread-people who have skin in the game. Do favors for people beforehand (like share their content) as a way to engage reciprocity. The day of release tell all of them, because of the calculus of the exponential spread, the way going viral works is that the wider your starting base, the quicker, and more likely you can go viral. Brad Hines
- A tweet from a celebrity – Celebrity endorsement on Twitter is the key ingredient for YouTube video marketing and can set a viral video ablaze – a few retweets can change the lives of many artists. – Larry Kim, Wordstream
- Hand out an award. The Golden Goody Award (aka Oscar for social good) was a key driver in making the Goody Awards cause marketing campaign for autism go viral. They timed the campaign with the national Autism Awareness Month campaign in April, and provided pro bono PR for Rethinking Autism. For the campaign, they recognized Autistic Teen Animator Dani Bowman, who illustrated a Rethinking Autism PSA, with their top award, the Golden Goody. The campaign was also very successful because their collective goal was to celebrate the strengths of autistic people, and Dani has done great things and has a good sense of humor. They recognized Dani for her anti-bully books, anti-bully PSA, Powerlight Studios Animation Co., and for teaching 150 autistic kids how to do animation.Liz H Kelly Sunrise Road Media
- Make it exclusive – Any offer must not be ubiquitous. If a user has seen the deal before, if it’s in the Sunday circular, sharing becomes less appealing. One of the reasons people share is to be that person that shows their friends something for the first time. It’s an ego booster.
- Make it worthwhile – People are not likely to share a 5% off coupon with their friends. It’s not worth it. But, you bump it up to 25% and you have something worth sharing (and redeeming).
- Make it available for a limited time – To motivate social media users to share, you must give a narrow window for the desired action to be performed. An expiration date is key to avoiding procrastination which is followed by inaction. Sean Grace, CoupSmart
- The content itself must be 100% factual. The Internet is rife with misinformation, so make sure to do sufficient fact-checking. The theme of your article can take one of two standpoints: You can either take a popular opinion and simply expound upon it, or you can take a more controversial or confrontational stance. Either way, your viewers will be motivated to comment and share your post with others. You also need to make sure your topic is relevant and, if possible, related to a current event. For example, a piece on how to financially cope during a recession won’t get nearly as much traffic now as it would have had you written it two or three years ago. Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance.
- Target specific bloggers through GroupHigh, ($3k a year) which aggregates over 10 million blogs and can target the blog content, Klout of blogger, and page rank. From there, determine which blogs make sense for you to contact. Only contact the blogs that are relevant and most likely to pick up your pieces of content based on their readership, blog history, and niche.
- There are Q&A sites you can by posting the content as an answer to relevant questions. Sites used most frequently are Yahoo! Answers and LinkedIn. Carrie Peterson, Social Media Director, Internet Marketing Inc.
- Juice the views. There are a couple of different companies that you can pay to run your video or content piece in their network of high profile sites to increase your content’s page views to a critical point so that it then becomes an organic piece unto itself.
A conclusion to this post is the fact that this next year, some in the industry believe that we will finally be able to see exactly what the actual value is from doing a ‘viral campaign’. Spurred in part by companies like HyperActivate, led by Marc Fischman, who says: “In social media the focus has been on Influencers and how to identify them. Up until now, the Influencers were defined as people with large followings or people that talk a lot on social platforms. We believe that “Taste Makers” are more important than Influencers. Taste Makers are folks that will activate their own fans & followers when they talk.