Think of virality as an exponential curve. If two people directly related to the brand share a piece of content, and if that number doubles 30 times, it means that over a billion people will have shared the content.
Viral marketing is a powerful tool for businesses. It’s how organizations like Facebook and Lyft (among many others) quickly acquired new customers. You can create a viral social media campaign by following the viral-marketing principles practiced by some of the world’s best brands.
1. Master the target audience.
In order to create viral content, you must first understand your target audience. Viral content is only effective if it speaks to people so convincingly that they are eager to share the content.
Social media marketers should start a viral campaign by creating at least one marketing persona. A persona is a representation of the target customer that includes demographic and psychographic information, as well as information related to social media behavior and content preferences.
Build a marketing persona by speaking with real and potential customers to understand what is important to them as they consider a purchase and share content online. Armed with this information, it will be considerably easier for you and your team to create content that users are likely to share online.
2. Select the appropriate social media platform.
Every social media platform is different. Before creating content, choose a platform on which to specialize. Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are all good platforms on which to start a viral marketing campaign; however, the content you create will differ depending on the platform you choose.
If you choose to create content for Instagram, for example, a series of Instagram Stories or an image with a compelling caption can spark viral shares online. However, content that will perform well on LinkedIn is usually created from a Pulse article or from a thoughtful LinkedIn update.
The platform you choose should be informed by the information gleaned from your work creating a marketing persona.
3. Create content with high engagement.
Most social media platforms use an algorithm that ranks content based on the likelihood that the user will engage. Content that is expected to engage followers is usually ranked at the top of the page, and content that is expected to be less engaging is ranked toward the bottom.
Content that creates engagement is rewarded by being amplified to other users; content that does not create engagement is buried. Viral marketers should focus on creating content that has high engagement, since it will have greater reach and is thus more likely to be re-shared.
4. Time content for maximum reach.
To ensure that content performs as well as possible, time its release so that it will receive maximum visibility. Ideal timing will depend on the habits and preferences of your target audience, and on the social media platform you are using.
As noted above, social media platforms use algorithms that rank content based on the probability of user engagement. Timeliness plays a key role in that equation as well, which means that releasing content at just the right time can positively impact performance.
Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing
5. Boost visibility with advertising.
While not impossible, it can be difficult for a small organization to create viral content. Investing in paid ads on social networks can boost the visibility of a campaign. Consider creating ads that are targeted to a group of influential users. If these users re-share the ad, the ad will be broadcast to a wider audience in an efficient and cost-effective way.
6. Partner with a social media influencer.
Of the marketers who employ an influencer marketing strategy, nearly 95 percent believe that the strategy is effective. Social media influencers have the ability to provide brands with improved reach, and can add fuel to a viral marketing campaign.
7. Measure performance to create better campaigns in the future.
Marketers in today’s digital environment must use a social media analytics tool to measure performance, and to understand what is and is not working. It may take a few tries to create a viral marketing campaign. If you need to make adjustments or alter course, the metrics can help guide the changes in strategy.
8. Provide a clear call to action.
Don’t let social media engagement go to waste. Make it clear what those interested in the brand should do next, in addition to simply liking or re-sharing a piece of content. Brands like Facebook and Lyft didn’t just grow by creating brand awareness through social media; they encouraged members of the target audience to take a specific action.
In most cases, encouraging the target audience to sign up for a free trial or to make a discounted purchase are effective ways to use the power of viral marketing to grow customers.
9. Generate media attention.
If a viral marketing campaign really takes off, endeavor to amplify the message of the brand via various media outlets. When it is clear that the brand is doing something newsworthy, news organizations will be eager to provide brands with attention.
A great way to prove newsworthiness is to show media outlets that thousands or millions of people have responded positively to your brand’s campaign. When contacting a news organization, be sure to prepare a press release that contains all the relevant figures, as well as contact information.
10. Share novel content.
Original, unusual content is more likely to get engagement than content that is reminiscent of campaigns from other companies. Great content is remembered, like Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad, or the ALS Association’s ice-bucket challenge. Content that is derivative of previous campaigns will be ignored, and may even receive negative press attention.
Creating a viral marketing campaign that is productive can be challenging. First and foremost, it is important to create content that speaks to the target audience in a unique way. Marketers should use a social media analytics platform to measure performance, and should focus on creating content that is timely and that generates engagement.
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