Viral marketing is a marketing strategy that encourages users or consumers to pass on content created by the advertiser, and facilitates them doing so. As a result of this, it is possible for the visibility and impact of the message to grow exponentially, attracting significant attention and buzz along the way. It can form part of a wider content marketing strategy, and is connected to the concept of social media marketing.
As a business strategy, viral marketing has increased in both popularity and viability since the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and the spread of viral marketing content tends to occur primarily through these platforms. With that being said, other means of spreading marketing messages can also play a role, with examples including instant messaging services, email, online forums and content aggregation sites like Reddit.
Viral Marketing: Detailed Summary
The concept of viral marketing is similar in nature to traditional word-of-mouth advertising, with marketers and advertisers relying on users or customers to spread the word in a positive way. However, in the social media age, the spread of information is no longer limited to in-person conversations, and content and messages can be easily shared on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, WhatsApp and Reddit.
When this occurs on a large scale, content has the capacity to spread rapidly from person to person, similar to the spread of a virus, and this is what is meant by the term ‘viral content’. In order for content to become ‘viral’, a consumer will need to feel that it is worth sharing, which means advertisers tend to get creative. For this reason, there is sometimes a cross-over between viral marketing and other concepts such as guerrilla marketing.
Viral content can be shared publicly, such as through social networking sites, or privately, such as when a user shares a piece of content through text messaging or instant messaging services. Essentially, viral marketing relies upon users becoming brand ambassadors, and this occurs each time a piece of content is shared with another person, even if the people involved are not really aware of the wider role they are playing.
Almost any type of content can ‘go viral’, in the right circumstances. However, in terms of content that is designed with the express intention of being shared en masse, some of the most common content types include blog posts, news articles, videos, images, email messages, e-books, Flash games, opinion pieces and social media posts.
For marketers, there are several advantages to viral marketing. When successful, viral content has the ability to generate significant attention and boost a brand’s reputation. It is also inexpensive to produce and the person-to-person spread can significantly reduce costs associated with distribution. However, it can be difficult to predict what content will go viral and have mass appeal, which can make it unreliable compared to other methods.
Contributing Factors to Virality
While it can be difficult to judge what content will go viral, and while there is an element of luck involved in viral marketing, it is important to understand that there are several factors that can contribute positively to the virality of a piece of content. With an understanding of these factors, marketers attempting a viral marketing campaign can significantly boost their chances of success and can produce a piece of content that is worth sharing.
One of the biggest contributing factors is practical value, as people are much more likely to share content that they have found useful, or that they believe will be useful to others. Additionally, humorous content, content with entertainment value, content with emotional triggers, and content that stands out from similar pieces for creative reasons all have an increased likelihood of being shared multiple times and eventually gaining viral traction.
Finally, one of the biggest drivers of social media shares is a concept called ‘social currency’, which essentially ties to concepts of social value or social worth. Some types of content can provide this kind of social currency by making the user feel good about the act of sharing it with others. This ‘feel good factor’ has been the driving force behind many viral phenomenons, including the Ice Bucket Challenge and Kony 2012.
Tips for Viral Marketing
When attempting a viral marketing strategy, there are certain tips to follow in order to improve success rates. To begin with, it is beneficial if the content you produce, regardless of content type, has real value for your target audience. This may mean entertaining them, it may mean helping them to solve a problem in their life, or it may mean providing them with useful information. If it has value to them, they are more likely to share it.
Next, you should try to give your content some kind of unique value over similar types of content on the internet. You can help content stand out in a number of different ways. It may be that your content is especially creative or entertaining, or it may be that you take your audience by surprise. It could even be that you stand out simply by producing content that is of a much higher quality than rival pieces.
The virality of content can be further boosted by using an attention-grabbing title or headline, especially if it is emotionally charged. Finally, with written content, you want it to be as accessible as possible, in order to maximise the number of people who read it and share it. Therefore, using sub-headings to divide text into manageable chunks is a solid strategy, while including photos, graphs, charts and other visual components can also help.
Viral marketing involves the creation and distribution of marketing content, with the express intention of having it shared by other users. In this sense, it is similar to traditional word-of-mouth marketing. Yet, digital technology means that content can now be shared from person to person through social media, internet forums, instant messaging applications, email and a variety of other methods.
For marketers, viral marketing is a low-cost option, with potentially huge reach. However, because it can be difficult to predict what content may achieve viral status, it can be less reliable than some other methods. To maximise the chances of success, it is important for content to stand out, have real value to a target audience, be worthy of being shared, and preferably offer users some form of social currency in exchange for their participation.