Viral marketing is not just hype. It can be used to drive real growth for your company. That means users, customers, referrals, and even evangelists.
Viral marketing isn’t only online marketing. It can be word-of-mouth, too. The best part about it is that it’s often repeatable if you apply the right steps. So what makes marketing contagious? In other words, what makes a message spread?
First, let’s get on the same wavelength of how we think about viral marketing.
The Definition of Viral Marketing
Viral marketing is a marketing strategy to encourage people who interact with a marketing message then to share it. The sharing effect is based on “K” known as the viral growth rate. Where K = % of users who take a particular action then share that action, which then encourages new people to repeat that same action.
Here’s an example below:
This K factor applies to all marketing messages. For example, a publication called The Hustle had their welcome email go viral many times. Yes, a welcome email which many marketers consider to be the most basic part of a marketing funnel.
The subject line for the email: “Look what you did, you little jerk”
Here are four different publications covering this welcome email as a story. But there are, at least, twenty that I counted that show this email as an example of great marketing.
But what made it go viral? To understand that, we need to strategize how to identify viral content that can effectively be distributed.
How to Create a Viral Marketing Strategy
To create a viral marketing strategy is putting all the right components in place for that “share effect” to take place. To do this, we need to analyze each attribute that can affect the
Viral marketing can have cyclical reasons. For example, Coachella sees the most online activity in April. This means, that at that time, more people care about particular marketing messages that have to do with Coachella. So if you play up a message within or that ties to that theme, you may see more people sharing it.
Viral marketing may also fall in line with one’s premonition about future events (if that premonition is right) or having more factual context than other people about certain future events. The reason is this can lead to a “timing effect.”
For example, the first breaking news story about a subject creates a much larger effect than the 100th one on the same topic keeping all other variables static. A common T.V. example is being the first to find out about that breaking news story because you had more facts, let’s say on a criminal investigation. As a result, you have a timing competitive advantage.
Viral marketing is also about the level of content supply and demand (this often plays a great deal into timing as well). For example, using a tool called Ahrefs I can see particular search volumes for different keywords and how much and what type of content ranks for those keywords.
In this example, I plug-in the search keyword phrase, “How to Write a Novel.”
Now I can see whether Google deems the content that ranks for this keyword phrase as good. In this case, the content was bad. I can tell because out of a 0 – 100 score ranking on how hard it is to crack the top ten pieces of content, it’s a 12. I deem anything under a 20 as relatively bad content.
With the screenshot of the tool showing 12,000 searches a month just from the U.S., there’s clearly demand, especially because the search phrase is a “how to.” This means the searchers are looking for actionable advice to solve a problem; in other words, they have strong intent.
To better understand the opportunity, I can look at all the pieces of content that rank for this search. It’s easy to spot what’s missing when you know what an epic piece of content looks like. For the most part, it should solve the problem, but what makes content magical is how it engages the reader.
A piece that solves the reader’s problem, but does it in 2000 words rather than 300 isn’t any better. It’s often worse.
That’s unless the readers enjoy getting to the bottom of that 2,000-word piece. So even though they both solve the problem of the reader, the 2,000-word piece will perform better if it engages readers for a longer period.
So does my competition stand up?
After going through all the content on the first couple of pages, I noticed a lot of well-written text to answer the searcher’s question.
However, I also noticed there’s a lack of visual content. I didn’t see any infographics or videos. This means that one could possibly produce a piece of visual content that could go viral. I’ll explain how I did this later in the post.
A viral marketing strategy needs remarkable content. Remarkable may not be beneficial. It may be novel and exciting. There are many ways to interpret it.
In Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he refers to “Inner Remarkability.” This is when the content or even the product is so remarkable that it needs little distribution for it to get shared over and again. He also refers to game mechanics, which is code for people getting rewards when sharing whether through monetary compensation or even a unique point system.
An example of a viral product because of strong market need includes Loom, a video sharing tool. They hit 1 million users without doing any marketing. You can listen to their story here:
Another example is the product and visual coding platform, Webflow where they’ve grown to over 3 million visitors a month. They’ve done little marketing to make that happen because there was such a strong need for
Immediate vs Ongoing
Immediate virality happens soon after the marketing message has been distributed, while ongoing can happen over a period. For example, political stories often have an ongoing virality to them, especially when it’s an investigation and new evidence appears. Keep in mind, even though I use politics as an example, it’s still marketing. As the newscasters for Fox News or CNN need an engaged audience to keep profitability for the network.
Ongoing viral marketing messages need to have the momentum to sustain. The famous Ice Bucket Challenge campaign meant to encourage people to donate to ALS kept momentum because each participant who donated and/or poured water over their heads would then tag another person to do the challenge.
With ongoing virality, there may be a desensitization period where the same viral message can go viral again simply because it hasn’t been seen in a long time. This is why when you browse Reddit, you often see the same content going viral that you did a year ago or even a month ago.
Lastly, there’s an organic play to ongoing viral marketing. For example, for the search query, “How to Write a Novel,” there are 12,000 U.S. searches with this phrase every month. This means that if I rank in the top 5 for this keyword search phrase, I’ll get continuous traffic. And if my content is viral, then I’m sure to rank well.
It’s similar to this post. I’ve put in a lot of effort into making it worth sharing. If there’s enough engagement, then I’ll rank for “Viral Marketing” and get continuous traffic.
What Jonah Berger, the author of Contagious found was that the most viral pieces of content ignited emotions. “That the articles that were shared the most in his analysis of the NY Times Most Emailed list were articles that provoked awe, excitement, amusement, anger, or anxiety.”
Does your viral marketing strategy provoke these feelings? If not, then head back to the drawing board.
Example 1: Viral Marketing on Facebook
In the analysis in the previous section, I identified that the keyword phrase, “How to Write a Novel” answered in a more visual way would wow the interested market. To understand the demographics of that interested market, I browsed the other sites answering that keyword phrase question.
With enough analysis, I realized that the
To effectively distribute this piece of viral marketing content, I joined relevant Facebook Groups and posted the images of the infographic in there. Because the audience rather not download each image individually, I included a link directly back to the Squibler blog where they could download all the images together as one PDF infographic. Notice how high the share number is on this post. That’s viral.
Notice how I also included the link to the blog post in the introduction text. I did this because I knew most people would go to the site to download the entire PDF. When they go to the site, I then have more opportunity to capture visitors in our sales funnel.
It worked so well in the first Facebook Group that I posted it in five other ones. Look at that engagement in the other groups!
Moreover, these Facebook posts have a high-lifetime value where they’ll get clicked on over and again as members explore the content in the group.
Notice how large the Facebook Group is below – over 140,000 members. With many members, there’s usually lots of content posted. This makes it hard to stand out with your piece of content.
But if the content is remarkable? Then it won’t just stand out, it will get comments, shares, and possibly go viral.
If your content goes viral in a Facebook Group, then it’s likely to go viral on Reddit. The reason is both Reddit and Facebook Groups represent communities. And there are many overlapping parallels between how users engage in communities.
Example 2: Viral Marketing on Reddit
No surprise when I posted the same infographic on Reddit, it went viral – 760 upvotes and still climbing!
The bad news is that it can be hard to take advantage of virality. The reason is I’m linking directly the infographic. This means people aren’t heading to a blog post where they can explore my Squibler site more and possibly start a free trial of our software.
To combat this, you can have a friend make a clever comment with a link to your homepage or another relevant page. Sometimes it happens more organically as it did here:
For Reddit, I linked directly to the PDF rather than the blog post containing it because Reddit moderators are notorious for taking down content that seems promotional. My workaround? I include a link on each PDF page back to the website.
Because this is what I consider a “bookmarkable” piece of content, meaning people will use it as a reference for future actions, then they’ll likely click this link at some point in time. That means that the viral marketing strategy to create virality with longevity was a success.
How to Outsource Your Content for Viral Marketing
If you have a strong understanding of your market, then you can outsource the content you’re looking to create. That’s what I did.
I outsourced bullet points to be included in the infographic for $120. Then I outsourced the design for $80. That’s only $200 for a viral piece of content that’s driven over 5,000 new visitors in the first three days and well over a 100 new trial sign-ups.
When I did this, we didn’t even have an email list. All we had was one piece of viral content and an organic distribution strategy.
The part most people don’t do? When you find a piece of viral content – double down on it for other areas within your industry.
That’s exactly what I did. A few days ago, I outsourced a similar piece of content except rather than “The Complete Guide to Writing a Novel” like the original, this one is “The Complete Fantasy Writing Guide.”
I’ll let you know whether it’s successful then update this post about viral marketing.
How to Measure the Success of Viral Marketing
To understand whether your viral marketing campaign was a success depends on the KPIs you’re looking to move. For many, that’s the number of customers with high lifetime value. For our campaign is was relatively easy when we used Google Analytics to understand how many new users we had. To do so, we set up Goal Tracking.
With that said, not every campaign is easily tracked. If viral marketing happens through word of mouth then you may have few options for tracking. In that case, having an option during the check-out process of your product or service to mark where the consumer is coming from. This will help you collect the data you need.
Many people would like to believe they can just Tweet and they’ll go viral. That’s not true. In most cases, you need remarkable content, not clever 200 character remarks. So if you want to implement a viral marketing strategy, you need to invest in content. The secret is getting the most value out of the cost you’re paying for it – and the best way to ensure that happens?
Do your research beforehand.
Thank you for reading.
If you have any thoughts or questions, drop them in the comments 🙂