Should you invest in viral marketing?

Investing in viral marketing is like buying a ticket to powerball. There’s a very slim chance to win the jackpot but when you win, it’s a lot of money! But unlike powerball, there is a way to make you more likely to win at viral marketing. And it’s not by buying a lot of tickets.

What is viral marketing?

Viral marketing is just content marketing using viral content. ...But what is “viral”? Here’s how you know that content is viral:

It spreads fast and vast

Something is viral if it is seen or shared a thousand times or more over a short period of time. It’s extremely viral if it exceeds the boundaries of the platform it originated from or if it makes the headlines.

The rule of thumb is, when the content spreads fast, it’s considered viral.

One good example of this is Oreo’s tweet during the Superbowl of 2013. The power went out during the Superbowl and Oreo’s marketing team tweeted something relevant and funny immediately. The tweet was retweeted 10,000 in just an hour. Part of why Oreo’s tweet went extremely viral was because it was featured on several news outlets, such as the Huffington Post.

It gets engagement and reactions

Second, viral content get a lot of engagement and reactions, whether it’s retweeting, sharing, commenting, liking, etc. Engagement is a good KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for social media marketing campaigns.

Engagement is measured through action. This is the reason why most viral content is released on a social media platform--because those platforms have built-in ways for people to engage with the content. Shares, comments, and likes are all forms of engagement.

When people react to or engage with a piece of content, the visitor becomes a prospective lead. These people have the potential to be leads because now they know your company exists. And the more they engage with or react to other pieces of content that you post, the more probable it is that they will become customers.

It promotes user generated content

Lastly, viral content triggers user generated content. The best example of this would be memes.

Memes, as defined by Lexico, are images, videos, pieces of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that are copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.

Memes are instantly recognizable. Just like the different kinds of language, each meme has distinct characteristics and a format. The format defines the context and use of a meme. Let’s have the Drake Meme or Drakeposting as an example:

Drake meme

We even have meme generators where people can simply insert their spin on any image. Just like the one I did above. I made a meme that’s relatable to people. Relatability leads to a cycle of comments, shares, and people’s own spins on memes.

Can you really engineer content to go viral?

Some might say, “Virality can’t be forced.” This statement is true but misleading. Yes, virality has to happen organically, and it can often happen randomly and unexpectedly. But this doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do to “artificially” incite virality.

The two strategies are to use existing memes or engineer new content with viral potential.

Sometimes this can mean something as simple as taking a funny photo and captioning it as a meme. Or it can be something more funded like a video.

Here is one perfect example of an “engineered” viral video. A YouTube channel called Yes Theory fooled the internet last year by posting a picture of a Justin Bieber look-alike eating a burrito sideways. The internet ran wild and after a few days, the headlines were all about the Justin Bieber’s strange way of eating burritos.

Let’s take a closer look on Yes Theory’s strategy for engineering a viral piece of content. The Bieber burrito video was a product of...

Strong subject and/or topic

Justin Bieber was the focus of their content. The fact that he is a celebrity and a somewhat controversial figure makes a strong foundation for viral content. The subject of their video was immediately recognizable by people around the world, making it more likely to spark conversations.

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Emotional incitement

They chose to have Justin Bieber eating a burrito sideways. Not only is this topic a great conversation starter, it invokes emotions of awe, annoyance, humor and even offense. People are more likely to engage with and share a piece of content if it made them feel something strongly--whether it’s the “aww how cute” feeling we get from a dog video or something so funny we fell out of our chair.

Proper Niche

They posted it first on a subreddit r/pics, which is a huge forum with 2.3 million people. But it’s too general. People are looking for all kinds of images--like cute dogs, beautiful landscapes, wedding photos…. So many who saw this Bieber burrito video on this subreddit probably skipped right over it. It wasn’t what they were there for.

But when the creators posted the picture on /rMildlyInfuriating, the video went viral. That’s because the platform was full of people looking for videos exactly like the Bieber burrito, mildly infuriating things.

Another quick takeaway from the Bieber burrito video is readiness after the content goes viral. The creators had moments of panic when news and media were contacting them about the content. Good thing that they happened to be good at thinking on their feet. When you create your viral content, you can be better prepared to capitalize on the attention (and turn all that attention into dollars).

Tip for Viral Content: Be street smart

Notice that the Yes Theory guys did not do “research. That is, they didn’t send out a bunch of polls to test the market or extensively catalog the characteristics of previous viral videos. Instead, they used their intuition and what they knew about people. They just brainstormed and thought of things that would incite conversation. Though research is always a good thing, what they did is crowd thinking.

Crowd thinking is exactly what it sounds like. Individual people will always have different points of view and different reactions to stimuli. However, a crowd thinks differently than an individual. The Yes Theory guys basically made a crowd persona and tried to anticipate how the crowd will react.

Think of viral content as playing Family Feud. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, just as long as you think like the crowd. Even if you give creative or funny answers, if the crowd doesn’t think like that, you’re going to strike out.

Tip for Viral Content: Be authentic

Don’t attempt viral marketing for the sake of going viral. Your goal should be to inform and entertain. Once people get informed or entertained, the people themselves will decide to share it, thus potentially making it viral.

little girl laughing

Bringing genuine laughter and entertainment to audiences is the best foundation for viral content.

Investing in Viral Marketing

So, the question remains, should you invest in viral marketing? Yes! Here are some reasons why:

Viral marketing isn’t expensive

Businesses view it as a challenge, going viral. But it usually doesn’t take much money. All it takes is creativity and knowing your audience.

Before you start the process ask yourself, What are your customers talking about or asking about? Then, create content that will be hyper-relevant

That’s how you’ll create something they’ll love and share.

We mentioned above that viral marketing can be as simple as using memes. You just have to know the format of the meme, use a meme generator, and post memes now and then on your socials.

If your audience is asking a question, or you know they have a question in mind, answer it. If they’re talking about something, join in with wit and humor. That’s exactly what Wendy’s does on their Twitter account.

Wendy’s Twitter responds sarcastically to people who tweet at her. She also posts mean tweets about her competitors and even comments at her competitor’s Twitter accounts.

And that’s just it. No paid campaigns and you can even do these yourself or with a small team.

people looking at their phones

Viral marketing is organic

Marketing campaigns can only grow in two ways, paid and organic. Organic growth is the best kind of growth because it has the strongest of foundations. Once you produced a viral piece of content, people will be tuned in to get another content from you.

Viral Marketing Guidelines

Viral marketing is a good investment, however there are guidelines you should keep in mind.

  • Do it if it reflects your brand’s voice. If it doesn’t, it will only look disingenuous. Best example of this is Gillette just this year. They made a video ad that aims to piggyback on the #metoo trend. This is very far from their image so it really backfired on them. People can sense when a brand is doing something just to get attention.

  • Do it to please your core audience first. Yes, you should aim to include more people to have more audience, but you shouldn’t “sell-out.” Don’t alienate your existing community with the hopes of gaining a bigger one.

  • Don’t do it if you’re not going to take it seriously. It seems contradicting because we are trying to be funny, but viral content is a reflection of the Internet’s culture, its behavior, and its unofficial language. It deserves proper understanding and respect.

  • Viral content usually evokes strong emotion. Be very careful as negative emotions can also grow out of your viral video. Know that there will always be trolls on the internet who will oppose your content. Don’t mind them. But there are legitimate people who will not like your content. Make dealing with negative press and trolls part of your plan for viral marketing.

  • Virality can change based on algorithms. Platforms such as social media and search engines use algorithms to determine which content will be delivered to consumers. The effective viral posts today might not have virality tomorrow.

  • Remember the guidelines of the platforms and intellectual property laws. Breaking the law and not following guidelines could lead to your content taken down, no matter how good it is.

Just like any other marketing campaigns, viral content should be researched, measured, and improved. Remember, viral content is not a silver bullet or a band aid. It is not and it should never be a solution to any of your store’s problems. It is an option, an investment, and a gamble.