For most brands, growing an audience takes time, multiple campaigns, testing, and then retesting to hone the message. Above all, it requires patience. But, sometimes, brands go viral.
Going viral is never easy — it can only happen organically — but the first step is offering a product worth talking about. You’ll need to know your target audience, ensure your content is shareable to that audience, and leverage your expertise in conveying your message to them.
In a nutshell, viral marketing is organic, word-of-mouth information about a product or service that spreads like wildfire. You generally design ads to reach your target audience, but your message is considered viral when populations outside that audience begin sharing it.
To understand why posts go viral, look at elements they have in common. Viral content is often geared to trigger discussion and usually makes people experience an emotion. Some viral posts are shared because they provide value or useful information for people’s daily lives. Most of the time, however, viral posts are packaged as compelling stories.
There are several types of viral marketing campaigns. Emotional viral marketing plays on viewers’ feelings. Incentivized viral marketing uses contests or giveaways to spread a brand’s campaign. When one user passes content to others in a chain, it’s called pass-along viral marketing. Buzz viral marketing grabs attention through trending messages.
Viral marketing is magical. With little to no ad spend, your brand reaches a massive international audience in hours. Best of all, your potential consumers do most of the work for you.
Additionally, viral marketing is not invasive, as social media users are the ones sharing and resharing the content. You create compelling content that people are happy to pass along.
When you design content, the aim is not merely to achieve millions of views. You want your content to sell your product as soon as it is seen. It should at least plant a memorable thought with potential customers. Even if they do not buy your product now, you want them to remember you later.
Before you can craft a viral message, know your target audience inside and out. Know what makes them laugh, what makes them do a double take, and what makes them want to talk to other people. Content goes viral when people relate to it and when it’s posted where they will find it.
To better envision your target audience, create a marketing persona that represents your customer. Your persona should include demographics, psychographic information, and social media behavior. When you know your followers well, you will create online posts they want to share, exactly where you know they will find them.
As you design content, keep demographics such as age, gender, and geographic location in mind. However, remember that content will only spread virally to a wider audience if it relates to them. Create content that appeals to your audience but is generic enough to connect to the masses.
Once you know your audience, think about how to grab their attention fast. In a perfect world, they would see your message and yours alone. In reality, as soon as they get online, a glut of content surrounds them. Your post must hook them in nanoseconds. What will you do that is outrageously bold, hilarious, or inspiring?
People share and engage with content that makes them feel something. When brands go viral, the campaigns are driven by emotion. Your viewers probably won’t remember what you say, but they will remember how they felt. You know your audience. What will you show them that will make them laugh or cry? What will surprise them? Highly controversial content could go viral, but often with unwanted repercussions.
Social media platforms are launch pads for viral content. You should have a good idea of where to find your target audience. Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Facebook are good options for starting a viral marketing campaign, but you need to know the platform and your audience.
You must design for a specific platform. For example, Instagram followers want pictures worth a thousand words and captions with intriguing stories. Twitter followers want snappy messages in few words. TikTok viewers crave easily digestible, short-form content.
Video content explodes to viral audiences like no other. While video marketing is centered around a few core platforms, TikTok and YouTube aren’t the only options. Facebook, Instagram, and several other platforms also promote video content.
As for sharable content, when you share is almost as critical as where you share. Release your content when your audience is most active. Knowing exactly when to post boils down to knowing the habits of your target audience.
It’s critically important to schedule posts for optimized views on platforms like Instagram. The more engagement your content generates in the minutes after you post, the more Instagram will promote it. Want to go viral? Post when the maximum amount of your followers are likely to come across your content.
A/B testing is a great tool for understanding ideal posting times. An A/B test compares two variables on the same marketing asset. If your content receives low views and engagement, record the time you posted it, take it down, and repost it. Over time, you will see patterns.
In addition to the time of day, carefully consider the date you post your content. Use holidays and trending news stories to your advantage.
When brands go viral, there is an element of chance, but your expertise is a crucial part of the equation. A viral post is shared by millions because it is brilliant marketing. It wraps a message in engaging content, hooks viewers in seconds, and convinces them to share without ever asking.
You are your own brand expert. Leverage that expertise to connect with the world. Often, your expertise is less about crafting an intellectually compelling message and more about embedding it in humorous, silly, or fun packaging.
You can use your expertise to find just the right person to promote your campaign. Influencers who can boost your credibility are often the key to taking your posts to the next level.
Keep your posts’ content current. Relevant hashtags and keywords can catapult your post to millions of views, likes, and shares. Each day, Instagram receives over 100 million photos, and Twitter receives over 500 million tweets. To stand out, you need just the right trending hashtag campaign to attract views. If your content is destined to go viral, Millennials and Gen Z users will take it there. They appreciate trending references to popular shows, memes, social issues, current affairs, and politics.
Finally, leverage your marketing expertise by promoting your post through every possible avenue. Share through word of mouth, your social media network, paid ads, and wherever else your audience will see it. Design incentives that motivate your audience to share the content.
There is no proven formula for cooking up viral posts. Increase your odds:
Clearly, in addition to luck, a lot goes on behind the scenes. Persistence is the final trick. If your first post doesn’t skyrocket to popularity, keep trying.
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[Editors’ Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following on-demand webinars (which you can listen to at your leisure and each includes a comprehensive customer PowerPoint about the topic):
This article was recently edited by Maryan Pelland.]
©2022. DailyDACTM, LLC d/b/a/ Financial PoiseTM. This article is subject to the disclaimers found here.
Chan Desai graduated with a master’s degree in management communication with a focus on marketing communication, and an undergraduate degree in communication studies with a focus on media studies. She has a double minor in public relations and journalism. Her experience stems from direct fieldwork in media and public relations, working in-house and with agencies.…
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