As an online entrepreneur you know that the old mantra “build it and they will come” is utter crap.

Instead you need to build it, market it, test it, market it some more and so on.

Effective marketing is often the difference between success and obscurity in the large and still growing internet.

One of the holy grails of online marketing has to be when your marketing goes viral

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What is Viral Marketing?

When marketing your products, services or brand the idea is to get it in front of as many targeted people as possible. When something goes viral it spreads through your target audience and way, way beyond that.

Having something go viral can have an immense effect on your business, sometime propelling companies from zero to hero in a relatively short time.

Examples of Viral Marketing

There are many different examples fo viral marketing, but some of my favorites are:

The ALS Challenge

The idea for this campaign was to either donate some money or have a bucket of ice water dumped over your head. Whoever did the challenge then nominated 3 other people to also take the challenge.

There were some differing rules around the world both in amount to donate and whether or not to donate, be iced or both.

The surprising thing is that this challenge may have existed before ALS slapped their name on it.  In its different form people had iced water poured over their heads or donated money to cancer research.

ALS though took this challenge and branded it to their own particular charity. The combination of having to video yourself (to prove you did it), and nominating others (thus socially putting them on the spot) made this a viral sensation.

OK Go!

I got introduced to the band OK Go not because of their musical abilities or style, but because of their awesome videos!

Their first viral video for the song Here It Goes Again has now been watched 34 million times since it was uploaded in 2009.

The video was done in one take and cost virtually nothing, yet increased the number of people aware of the music by a huge amount. And no, I don’t like their music, but I’ll still watch their videos!

Their latest video has been online for only 2 weeks and has garnered over 10 million views already.

Not only have these clever videos increased their recognition but they have even been paid to make them by brands like Volvo.

Old Spice Man

Old Spice as a fragrance has often been associated with older generations, but that all changed in 2010 when NFL player Isaiah Mustafa became the new face of Old Spice.

The witty video was an internet sensation and rocketed Old Spice’s brand awareness not only with the younger crowd but with women too.

Old Spice’s marketing team were quick to use this success and released nearly 200 follow up videos based on a Twitter and Facebook campaign that asked people to send in questions to be answered by the Old Spice Man.

The main video has now had more than 53 million views and the follow up videos have also had a large number of views per video. Their social media followers increase and more. Overall this video and the marketing teams ability to capitalize on its success was rewarded with an increase in brand recognition and the change from it being seen as old fashioned to cool.

Media for Marketing

The examples above focused a lot on video as it’s a popular media format, but that doesn’t mean that a viral marketing campaign has to use it. Viral marketing can in fact use the standard media formats any internet entrepreneur is already familiar with:

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  • Articles
  • Infographics and Images (memes)
  • Videos
  • Ebooks
  • Email Signatures

The email signature one might seem odd, but Hotmail back in the day used it to great effect when promoting it’s new service. Email is still one of main forms of digital communication, so it can be used effectively.

Modes of Transport

Getting your marketing campaign in front of people is always the hardest part of marketing, but for viral campaigns you’re limited to really two forms:

  • Social networks
  • Email

The idea behind using these two modes to promote your content is simple: everyone uses them and they can spread your content rapidly.

Can You Manufacture Viral Marketing?

There’s a lot of different advice and even internet marketing products aimed at helping you create a viral marketing campaign, but the reality is that you can’t create one: it happens or it doesn’t.

However, you can take the elements of viral marketing and apply it to your campaigns in order to help increase the chances of your campaigns going viral.

Be Prepared

Your campaign has launched, it’s doing well and then wham it goes viral! Engagement is up, sharing is wild, and maybe even conversions increase.

Then it happens, your website crashes under the load. Just look to the recent success, and pains, of Pokémon Go. It was so successful that people outside the launch areas started using the app (something the creators perhaps didn’t anticipate). This meant added capacity on their servers which just couldn’t cope, leaving a lot of players frustrated.

As such you need to make sure that your systems can cope with a sudden and large influx in traffic otherwise you could lose all the benefits of going viral.

Don’t Please Everyone

This is perhaps the most important factor, because if you try to please everyone, you please no one because your campaign will be bland and boring.

Use emotions to excite your audience, to make them laugh, to bring them to tears and maybe even to scare them. Strong emotions will result in discussion and sharing of the campaign.

As well as that, remember your audience. These people are the ones your marketing to whether the campaign goes viral or not. Forgetting them will ruin your marketing regardless of its success.

Don’t Sell or Advertise

This might seem counter intuitive but a large number of effective viral campaigns aren’t directly selling to their audience.

Displaying the brand is one thing but trying to push a sale is more likely to turn people away than get them sharing (when was the last time you shared an advert?).

Make it Easy to Share

Locking your content behind squeeze pages, member only areas or anything like that is campaign suicide.

Your content should be available to anyone, anywhere to share in order to widen it’s reach.

Break the Norms

Being unexpected, taking a unique spin on things or breaking away from the norms associated with your niche is a necessity.

No one shares or talks about the same old stuff, they talk about new and interesting takes on things.

By breaking the norms, your campaign can soar above every other marketing gimmick out there.

Cashing in On Success

I mentioned earlier that selling to people isn’t a great way to go especially when your trying to expand the reach of the campaign.

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What good is it then to go viral if you can’t increase your bottom line?

Brand Awareness

Making people aware of your business can lead to increased sales in the future, especially when they remember your campaign in regards to something they need.

Take the Old Spice advert. It’s unlikely that people who saw they advert dropped what they were doing and raced out to by some shower gel, but the next time they were in the shopping aisle they might well choose Old Spice over a competitor when they remember the video.

Capture Emails

Use follow up campaigns and lead people to squeeze pages to obtain their email addresses for future marketing campaigns. Don’t make these as a condition to getting the content, but instead to getting something that complements the campaign such as a free sample or discount code.

The Bottom Line

Viral marketing campaigns can be manufactured but they rarely work when they are. However, that shouldn’t stop you from implementing the different elements above to increase your chances of marketing campaigns going wild.

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