The Why, What and How of Viral Marketing

vi·ral mar·ket·ing: A method of product promotion that relies on getting customers to market an idea, product, or service on their own by telling their friends about it, usually by e-mail and social media.

In recent times viral marketing has been one of the most popular phrases used by the marketing industry. Making content go viral is the aim of the game for many brands and they are spending big bucks on making videos, games, apps and social networks to create that golden viral goose.

YouTube content is gradually becoming more and more commercial as brands and music labels embrace the video platform. The line between TV advertising and online videos is getting fuzzier, with the world’s top advertising agencies creating TV commercials that they hope will have the potential to go viral online.

Why viral is a popular buzz word?

Viral marketing is content that gets shared via word of mouth and with the rise of sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter one person can tell thousands with a click of a mouse. Within a few days your video can go from zero views to millions and your brand can become an overnight sensation.

What content goes viral?

About 5 years ago the most viewed videos on YouTube were often homemade with a real amateur feel but captured an inspirationally unique or funny moment, such as Charlie bit my finger again! (372,648,076 views) and Evolution of Dance (180,484,654 views).

Today the music industry power players have taken over and music videos dominate the Top 10 most viewed lists.

Another trend we’ve noticed is the acceptance of commercial adverts being shared online. Nowadays a brand can post their professional looking video to YouTube and users will happily tell their friends about their latest find provided it is entertaining.

How can I make my content go viral?

Well that’s the million dollar question. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your POV) there is no hard and fast formula to creating viral content. Any one of the thousands of videos that are uploaded every minute could go viral, no-one can tell you for certain what will catch on and what people will share. Obviously it helps if you are a celebrity name or Fortune 500 company but for the vast majority of businesses it is difficult to predict how well you will do.

Research into viral marketing is limited and only in the last few years have we started to see some hard facts on the subject. This study by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman is a really interesting read and their statistics are well worth checking out – What Makes Online Content Viral?

For those of you who don’t have time to read the 46 page document I’ve summarised their finding below:

Please note – The study uses data from New York Times articles but the same principles apply to video content.

Some of the most common combined emotions driving people to share content are:

  • Awe & Surprise
  • Awe & Interest
  • Anger & Anxiety

When you think about it this should be no real surprise.

Awe & Surprise – How many times have you shared a video or news piece with someone because of the shock value it gave you and at the same time instilled a feeling of respect and wonder? According to Berger and Milkman the answer is – a lot. A classic example of this is the Evolution of Dance video mentioned above.

Awe & Interest – Again we see people sharing content that fills them with respect and/or wonder but mixed with something that is of interest to the person/people they are sharing it with. A key reason we share a lot of content online is to feel accepted within different social circles and to be seen as a valuable member of a community. What we share is a reflection of ourselves and our opinions so we make sure it is of interest to our target recipients.

Anger & Anxiety – Two very powerful emotions that compel people to share content online. Examples of this are everywhere at the moment such as the social media movements in Egypt or Libya and in the tragic case of the death of Neda Agha Soltan.

Top tips
  • Research your audience – What type of content does your target audience currently enjoy? 
  • Get inspired – To be able to push the boundaries you need to understand what has been done before and what worked well. Use sites such as AdsOfTheWorld for inspiration. 
  • Dream the impossible – When trying to come up with your video idea it often helps to think big and crazy. Forget the physics and be imaginative, don’t be confined by what your subconscious “sensible” thoughts are telling you. Once you have an idea that you love you can then think about how to make it realistic.
  • Storyboard – This is really important to help keep you focussed and explain your idea to others who are working on the project, to make sure you are all working off the same hymn sheet.
  • It’s not ready when you think it is – Just when you think your video is ready to go live it helps to do a test run, show it to a handful of your target audience and use their feedback to take your video to the next level.
  • Build a buzz – Don’t just post you video to YouTube and expect thousands of views overnight. You need to build a bit of a buzz about your latest creation. Maybe send some intriguing photos to influential bloggers in the week leading up to the release of you video or put up some posters with QR codes in high traffic areas of your local city.

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