While there is no secret sauce to creating a surefire viral marketing campaign, there are a few tips any small business can use to create a marketing campaign that has a chance to go viral.
Before we start let's first define viral marketing. If you've ever watched a map of the United States bloom with red patches during flu season, that's viral. Only, in business, it's a viral message that spreads seemingly on its own.
Viral Marketing Basics
Viral marketing is The Prize among marketers and business owners who want their message, cause, initiative or content to spread far and wide, in a short amount of time. Those are the two key elements in any viral message: Widespread and Fast.
A viral message can spread via social media, email, links, even a text message. It starts with a compelling piece of content that typically falls into one of these categories:
- Too cool not to share with your friends.
- So secret you may be the first of your friends to know it.
- A hot news story you just need to tell everyone about.
- Very funny, bringing a smile to those who share it.
- So trendy that you need to be the first to show it off.
- Freaky and weird, and guaranteed to blow your friends' minds.
- Or educational, conveying interesting or complex information in a way that's easy to digest.
Viral messages are spread by people who exist in the same social ecosystem. In 2011, Facebook took its 721 million users and analyzed the connections between people who know one another. That study found that we have shrunk the global neighborhood from six degrees of separation to an average of 4.7 jumps to link any two people through mutual friends. The idea is to put something out there that takes on a life of its own and starts making those jumps across clusters of friends.
"The Web puts an exponential twist on the whole word of mouth thing, because word of mouth is now happening virally." -- Blue Man
Viral Marketing Strategies
Some viral marketing strategies work better than others. Here are five factors that can help you succeed in making your content or message go viral:
- According to current research by social scientists, most people under the age of 50 have up to 12-15 people in their online social network, not counting the people to whom they are connected to at work. If you have any chance of going viral, you need to drop the message into the center of an active social network. And it needs to be appropriate. The rule is: The right message at the right time and in the right place.
- Going back to the list of what, in general, makes something go viral, the common threads are all human emotions. Emotions drive viral messages. Figure out what part of the right brain you want your message to tweak.
- Give away a valuable product or service for free first, and then try to sell something. Get attention, lots of attention. If you do not have a product or service yet, but you are an expert, give away information. A free ebook or a short article, or even a great blog post on your business website is a start.
- The Internet works because it can send short messages quickly and easily. There are all sorts of ways that allow people to flash-forward your message to their friends. If you have a message, have the social options available for people to share it. Your marketing message should be usable as a killer tweet, link on Google+, or billboard that you rush by at 60 mph.
- Get ready to hustle. If you're trying to make something go viral, you need to be ready to reach out to influencers -- bloggers, journalists, celebrities, social media power users, etc. -- who you think will be interested. You need to get your message in front of the people who can help it spread fastest.
Photo credit: thomsondata.com
David Grebow has an MBA from Harvard and is a freelance small business journalist writing for Vistaprint, a leading provider of business cards, websites, and a huge range of marketing products and services for small businesses across the globe. David's work has been featured in The Economist and Harvard Business Review.