viral marketing

What is Viral Marketing: How to Become an Overnight Success

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Do you want to reach new customers by promoting your online store’s best products? One of the hottest ways to reach more of your target audience is through viral marketing. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as adding cute animals to your marketing message, hoping that a kitten sitting on top of camping gear is enough to get your website link spread to the masses. But we’ll breakdown what steps you can take to help you inch closer to success. In this post, we’re going to look at how businesses can skyrocket sales through viral marketing.

What is Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing is any tactic that results in the rapid spread of a business’s marketing message on or offline. Think of big brand campaigns like Dove’s “Real Beauty.” People who don’t even use Dove products shared these brand campaign videos based on the emotional connection they created or the entertainment they offered for the general public.

How Does Viral Marketing Work?

Viral marketing as a business strategy uses existing distribution channels to promote a product, service or brand. The activity is synonymous with the action of a virus, sharing from one person to the next, quickly captivating a huge audience either in one location or globally.

Old Spice conquered this type of marketing in 2010 with their “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign which included a series of humorous videos. This viral marketing example received 55M views, their YouTube channel grew exponentially, and sales grew 55% in the first three months after the campaign. The success of this campaign was mainly due to their humor which people everywhere could understand and found funny. Humor is not the only emotion that companies can rely on to turn their marketing campaign into a viral one. Love, unity and fear are just a few of the other emotions that viral marketing campaigns have relied on to get noticed.

Top Viral Marketing Campaigns

There are many viral marketing campaign examples that stick out as the top campaigns to learn from. Below we highlight viral marketing examples which can help you understand the abilities of these types of campaigns to shape your marketplace.

  1. Oreo – Lights Out

    In 2013, Oreo jumped on the infamous moment when a power outage caused lights to go out during the Superbowl. In the 34th minute the Superdome experienced a slight blackout which Oreo’s social media team quickly jumped on. Posting a solitary Oreo on a black background with text reading “You can still dunk in the dark” on Twitter and Facebook, it quickly received over 10,000 retweets on Twitter and more than 20,000 likes on Facebook.

    Oreo Dunk Viral Campaign

    Oreo did in fact have 15 person strong social media team standing by to jump on anything that could have happened during the evening but you can still be this viral with a one person team if you can keep on top of current trends in your industry. Learn from this example of great viral marketing and use current events to position your product in the middle of it in a positive light.

  2. Nike – 30th anniversary of iconic “Just Do It” tagline

    In September 2018 Nike launched their 30th anniversary campaign of the iconic tagline “Just do it” with a video of many athletes, including Serena Williams, Lebron James and most notable Colin Kaepernick. The most important element of this campaign was the inspirational tone that equates to Nike’s tagline. After the release of this campaign social media blew up with people taking inspiration and offense to this message. Even President Trump voiced his opinion against the brand’s work. Of course those who supported the messaging understood the need to stand up for injustices no matter who is being treated unfairly.

    Nike Kaepernick Viral Campaign

    This campaign is a great viral marketing example of where the benefits must outweigh the cost as those against Nike’s messaging started to post videos of them destroying their branded apparel and refusing to support the company again. If you are planning on taking a side within your viral marketing campaign make sure you measure the benefits and costs as it could involve you losing customers and ultimate money in the long run.

  3. Dove – Real Beauty Sketches Campaign

    Created in 2013 Dove launched their Real Beauty Sketches campaign to highlight how women describe themself in a more negative and less beautiful way compared to how others describe them. Aimed at grabbing the attention of women across the world the hair and beauty product company helped women to see their true value and to look passed the negative perception they have of themselves. The campaign spurred case studies and started discussions on all major social media platforms. Shared through TV ads, social media, blogging and other distribution channels the campaign was a great branding exercise for the company with millions of women forwarding the campaign to their friends and family members.

    Dove Real Beauty Viral Campaign

    This was a great move for Dove who had become very quiet in the marketplace in the years beforehand. They were able to realign their brand to be all encompassing and to suit young and old women alike. The emotional undertone to the campaign made is hit hard with women no matter what their social standing, religious beliefs, etc. If you plan to carry out a viral marketing campaign similar to this example be careful not to inadvertently distance yourself from certain social groups by appearing too up market or shabby.

The Advantages of Viral Marketing

Closely related to the idea of “15 minutes of fame” companies that engage in viral marketing can achieve a lot from this exercise but normally over a short period of time. Examples of viral marketing advantages included:

  1. Little to no advertising costs – Your audience will share your content naturally so you don’t need to pay to promote it.
  2. Increased brand awareness – In a perfect world, your business would find or create content about your products – content so appealing that large numbers of people want to share it. From those shares, new potential customers are introduced to your business and products in a memorable way.
  3. Brand credibility – A great piece of viral content – whether it’s a news article, image, GIF, video, podcast, or other – will either sell the customer on your product or create a memory so unique in your ideal customer’s mind that, the next time they think about purchasing products you sell, they’ll think of your online store first.
  4. Accelerated inbound lead growth – With people sharing your highly popular information across the internet you are bound to get more people than ever before looking at your website and purchasing your product. Make sure you have a plan for this type of campaign so that your leads don’t sit in a funnel that goes nowhere.

The Five Elements of a Successful Viral Marketing Campaign

Viral marketing doesn’t have to be complicated. It is important to decide before planning your viral marketing campaign that is will surpass normal marketing endeavors. Anyone from a solopreneur online store owner to a big brand can create a successful viral marketing campaign if they follow these steps.

  1. Research

    The first thing you need to do is to familiarize yourself with the type of content that resonates best with the consumers of the products you sell and the people most likely to share viral content to those consumers about your product. Start with the most viral content on the top social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

    You can conduct your research using the trending content pages for respective social networks, search engines, and news networks. These will give you a general feel for the types of content that are appealing to a general audience. It will also give you a peek into the types of viral content that helps promote products to the masses.  

  1. Depending on the product(s) you sell, you may have to get more specific to find the most viral content most appealing to your target customer base. The fastest way to do some topic-specific viral content research is using hashtags or keyword searches on each respective network. Instagram, for example, will give you the top posts for the specific Instagram hashtags, followed by the most recent posts.Instagram viral marketing examples YouTube orders keyword search results by relevance, then by popularity. Verified YouTube channels will typically lead the pack if they have any applicable videos.Viral Lipstick content examples Twitter sorts keyword and hashtag search results by relevance and popularity, with posts from verified Twitter users leading the pack.Twitter Viral Marketing examples These searches and similar on other top networks will show you what people see on each network when they search for keywords or hashtags related to the products your business sells. If you can create viral content for those networks, you stand a good chance at coming up in searches made by your target customers. As you analyze the trending content, be sure to note specific details, such as the following.
    • What format is the viral content? Article, ebook, podcast, image, GIF, etc.
    • How was the content shared? Link to a website, link to a YouTube video, directly uploaded content, etc.
    • How long was the content? 500 words, 50 pages, 2 minutes, 50 minutes, etc.
    • Who published the content? A business/brand, a publication, a customer, a reviewer, an influencer, etc.

    Let’s say that you sell motorcycle parts. You may find that your customers like videos showing motorcycles in action on Instagram and Facebook, part review videos on YouTube, articles about the latest technology on Twitter, and GIFs made from your Instagram and Facebook videos for Imgur and Reddit.  In short, you’ll need to make some videos to get your products embedded into viral content.

  2. Discover or Create

    The next step in viral marketing is to discover or create a piece/pieces of content that has the potential to be viral. It must feature a product you sell and be of high quality. For content to be inviting enough for people to share it you must spend time and money on the creating top quality content. Conduct keyword research to optimize for search engines and make sure to include a strong call to action close to the top of the content so people know what to do with this information. Use the notes from your research in the first step to determine what network(s) you want to go viral on and the type of content that will help you achieve that result. Then publish that content, or get the content published on a source that can help you go viral. Refer to your research to see what elements create the best viral content for your target audience.

    If you have discovered a piece of content that can be used to promote your brand, then half the work is already done for you! Let’s say you discovered the colored pencils GIF that went viral on both Reddit and Imgur during your research.

    Prismacolor Viral marketing examples

    If you were Prismacolor, you would promote this GIF because the more viral it becomes, the more chances it has of reaching an artist who may be interested in buying colored pencils for themselves or as a gift. And the more likely that artist is to choose Prismacolor if the viral image of their pencils inspired them to make the purchase. As the vendor, Prismacolor wants to increase sales of their products from all vendors.

    If you offered Prismacolor pencils in your online store, you have the option of promoting the GIF through your own social channels in an attempt to get engagement from your own audience using a piece of content that is proven to be viral with general audiences. Depending on the creator of the content, you may be able to upload the content to your channels directly to share or you may need to re-share the content from the creator’s original social post, YouTube channel, website, or other direct link. Your post (or re-share) would include a link to Prismacolor pencils for sale in your online store.

    Can’t find viral content for your products? Then create it! Use the notes from your research in the first step to determine what network(s) you want to go viral on and the type of content that will help you achieve that result. Then publish that content, or get the content published on a source that can help you go viral. Again, refer to your research to see what elements create the best viral content for your target audience.

  3. Pre Launch Promotion

    Viral marketing strategies often forget about the pre-launch phase of a campaign. An easy way of ensuring that a viral marketing campaign goes viral is to start a conversation online where most of your audience is to build up hype around the campaign before it goes live. Build a plan where colleagues are involved to help get the conversation started. Maybe even include affiliates or related companies, who could gain from promoting the campaign, to help get the word out to as many people as possible. What will this achieve? This will get more people talking and peak their interest so your campaign will start strong and it will cost less to get the momentum going. From launching a teaser campaign to building anticipation through content on social media, pre-launch can sometimes be just as important as the actually promotion phase.

    Pre-launch Promotion could include

    • Running a contest – Pick a prize that your followers would like to win so they are incentivized to share and enter. Post it over social media and email with an emphasis on your branding and some news coming soon. Have the winner announced over Facebook Live or an alternative channel with the product launch at the same time to capitalize on the amount of traffic the video will receive.
    • Free Trials: Give brand advocates or the general public free trials for people to try the product before the launch. Motivate them to promote their experiences of the product online to get a conversation going within their social circles.
    • Product teaser mini-ads: Post mini-ads on your website and over social media to get people interested. Talking about small aspects of your upcoming product and how it can help your customers solve their problem is a great way to get them interested.
    • Guest Blogging: Identify top publications and write article about the launch for them. Tease out features, the launch date and some key statistics to get people clicking and reading.
    • Beta Testing: Identify top influencers who can try your new product in beta and motivate them to review and talk about it before it goes to market. Their followers will be privy to ‘classified’ information that makes them feel great and they will want to know more about the product. Make sure that any bugs or confusion that are identified in this phase are solved before the product goes live. It could turn into a lessons learned blog!
    • Branded hashtags: These are a great way to get your brand out there as the more people using the hashtag will help it start to trend and widen the audience that see the information. The more people who see it means more coverage and knowledge of your product launch.

    Once you have carried out all these activities you can relax before the launch actually happens where the real virality starts.

  4. Promote

    The most critical part of any viral marketing campaign is the promotion of your piece of potentially viral content. While some types of content will take off naturally, such as a review of a product you sell on a popular publication, other types of content need a push to go viral.

    As mentioned earlier, most platforms have an algorithm in place to determine the type of content that gets marked as viral, trending, popular, or hot content. In most cases, these algorithms look for engagement a piece of content receives in relation to the time that piece of content was published or in a specific timeframe. Let’s say that your viral marketing goal was to create a video that made the Trending charts on YouTube. Your video would have a shot if:

    • A lot of people engaged with the video (viewed, liked, commented, and shared) within the first 24 hours of publishing it.
    • A lot of people engaged with the video in a short period time, regardless of when the video was published.

    To ensure that your viral content has the chance to go viral on the top social channels, make sure that the majority of your promotion efforts are executed immediately after the content has been published. This will ensure that you have recency on your side when it comes to algorithms for trending content. From there, you just need engagement with your content on as many platforms possible to help it reach critical mass.

    Creating a checklist in advance of the big promotion day will make your promotion process more efficient. Your checklist of promotion methods should include the following.

    • Social Media Posts – Share your content on your branded social media channels using the most relevant hashtags.
    • Employee Advocacy – Encourage employees to share your content by re-sharing posts from your branded social media channels.
    • Email Marketing – Create an email blast or newsletter for your customer database that includes your content.
    • Influencer Outreach – Connect with the most popular people in your industry to see if they would be interested in sharing your content with their audience.
    • Paid Promotion – Reach specific audiences with search and social media advertising as soon as the content is published.
    • Groups and Forums – Get active in social media groups, forums, and Q&A networks where your content could get additional reach.

    Businesses that start with a large audience are more likely to reach viral content fame organically (without paid tactics) because their audience propels their content forward. Businesses that are starting with a smaller audience may want to invest in paid promotion methods to ensure that their content reaches the most people possible to help it spread quickly.

  5. Campaign Tracking

    It is hard to know when a marketing campaign has truly been successful but with viral marketing campaigns it is more so. Even if you receive lots of free publicity and traffic to your website, if the aim of the campaign was to increase sales and this hasn’t been achieved then the success of the campaign is questionable. Today success metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are hugely important in marketing departments, and setting these metrics needs to happen in the planning phase. Track these figures regularly in the days after the campaign goes live to really understand the success behind your campaign. This can help you optimize your activities in real-time so you can get the most out of your efforts.

Types of Viral Marketing

There are many ways to “go viral” from a marketing perspective. There are no viral marketing techniques which work for all industries so a tailored approach which includes one or more viral marketing channels is important. Videos are the most popular way, but social media posts, search engine result pages (SERPs), email marketing campaigns and even TV advertisements have created viral, trending content for companies, either on purpose or accidentally. There are many different types of viral marketing, but they can be lumped into three categories – content created by a business about their products, content created by others about a business’s products, and content that businesses pay influencers to create about their products through advertising and sponsorship. Below we talk about these types of viral marketing to highlight the variety of strategies you could have.

#1: Viral Video Content

Viral content reaches people in different ways, depending on the platform they are using. YouTube users, for example, can browse trending videos. According to YouTube Help, YouTube evaluates signals such as the video’s view count, rate of growth in views, where the views originate from (i.e., YouTube search results vs. an embedded video in a blog post), and when the video was published.Viral Marketing Example YouTube

These are not the only signals that help a video ascend to the trending charts for the day, however. YouTube collects additional engagement data for videos including like and dislike counts, comments, and – most importantly – how long users watch the video. They specifically state that, “…the video with the highest view count on a given day may not be #1 on Trending, and videos with more views may be shown below videos with fewer views.”

The result? Product commercials and reviews from businesses, media, and consumers appear amongst videos about current events, entertainment news, and other trending topics personalized to the YouTube user’s interests.

Samsung Viral Marketing Example




#2: Viral Social Content

Facebook’s native video platform has a similar ability to serve Facebook users the most popular content about general and personal interests in the news feed and in the trending videos section of the Facebook website or app.  

Viral Marketing Example FacebookFacebook’s algorithm determines the types of content that an individual user sees, and according to Facebook, the goal in 2018 is to give users “…less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.” This typically results in less trending content from businesses, but rather content from publications and individuals. Of course, when a product gets featured in trending content on Facebook, it gets a lot of attention.

Viral Marketing Strategy, Filmmaking Tutorials

Instagram, also owned by Facebook, may use similar algorithms to determine the types of trending content appearing in a user’s news feed or Explore tab in the Instagram app. Smaller businesses appear to have a better ability to trend on Instagram using viral content compared to Facebook, although publishers and individuals may begin to take the lead there as well.

#3: Organic Viral Content

Viral content doesn’t just generate traffic from the top social networks. It can give you a leg up in SERPs – Search Engine Results Pages. In Google search results, for example, if you can’t rank for a high-competition keyword, you may be able to get your product featured in content from a publisher that can do so through Google News. Google News’ algorithm focuses on the content’s diversity, freshness, textual relevance to the search, and originality.

Hence, a link to your online store from a publication like Wired in a product review could be the type of viral content that results in a lot of referral traffic to your website.

SEO Viral Marketing Example#4: Viral Email Marketing

Email campaigns that stand out and bring about a sense of emotion are great to get subscribers sharing with others. Creating calls to actions and valuable content within your email that is timely and closely related to what your subscribers care about will help the virality of your email campaign. In a world where 20% of subscribers open email newsletters it is important to segment your audience to deliver the best content possible and also create clear calls to action so subscribers don’t need to think about what they need to do with your message.

In Conclusion

Viral marketing can generate a lot of interest in your business and its products when done correctly. When you create amazing content that you know your customers will love, you empower people with the tools they need to create amazing word of mouth virtual traffic for your business. Or at the very least, it will put your business name on the minds of those who will need to buy the products you sell in the future.

What’s been your most viral piece of content? Let us know in the comments!

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