Memes. GIFs. Tiktok. What do all these forms of content have in common? These and many other mediums have become instantly recognizable over a short period of time. Their popularity across various demographic groups has resulted in the coined phrase: “viral content.”
It’s an unfortunate name with the current events tied to coronavirus, but it’s one that is likely here to stay. Let’s dissect the concept of virality for a second. According to a Harvard Business Review article, the marker of a successful viral marketing campaign is “1 million+ impressions, with standouts garnering 10x to 100x that number, often crossing over into the mainstream, and picking up free exposure on television and radio and in print media.” Not only does your content need to have its own legs, catching millions of eyeballs, but it also needs to have meaning and relevance to news media that can broaden its exposure.
So, what goes viral? What’s the secret recipe? As a marketer, it’s probably frustrating to produce content that is overshadowed by a 15-second TikTok clip someone made at home. The key to viral content marketing is understanding the fundamental principles behind why and how content resonates with an audience.
You can’t predict what content will go viral and what won’t. However, if you follow the tips outlined in this article, you will give yourself a better shot at creating quality content that resonates with a wider audience.
Tap into emotion
Emotional engagement is one of the primary reasons content goes viral. Look to Dove as a standout example. The beauty company’s “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign was a short film series from 2013. Women described themselves to an FBI-trained forensic artist, who used their words to make a sketch of them. Next, a random stranger described each woman to the same artist, and they compared the results.
The end result was heartwarming. For each woman, the sketch made using the description supplied by a stranger was far better than the description they gave themselves. The women’s emotional reactions were immediately relatable to many who also suffer from a distorted self-image. Ultimately, the campaign proved that a beauty company could be thoughtful and intentional about an issue that many people care about, which impacted its success.
Focus on function
One way to make content go viral in your specific industry is to make the information useful to its audience — for example, an infographic that distills information into “snackable” data points, or a tool that solves an important problem.
Content campaigns like this one from Quill, centered around the health benefits of taking time off, have widespread appeal for many professionals across industries. This means that the data, which is collected in an impactful, easy-to-follow graphic format, has a better chance of going viral than something that is too niche for an everyday audience – a common concern for brands looking to balance fun and utility.
Tell a good story
A great narrative can change the way we think – literally. Jerome Bruner, a cognitive psychologist discovered that humans are up to 22 times more likely to remember information that is packaged in story format. Stories evoke a myriad of emotions, which help us hone in on important concepts embedded within the dialogue.
Nike is a great example of storytelling. Most of their ads feature people from all walks of life, from athletes to celebrities and regular people. Each person featured in a Nike ad has a perspective, or a story to tell about a cause that’s important to them or a challenge they have overcome. As a result, Nike’s marketing efforts are heavily rewarded by sales and brand loyalty.
Invest in interactivity
Audiences always find it more engaging when they are able to interact with a piece of content, especially when that content can be shared around to their networks. This can be a tool as mentioned above, but in recent years, there has been a surge in popularity with online quizzes. It’s hard to visit Facebook without stumbling across someone on your friends’ list telling you what kind of cat they are (and equally hard not to find out for yourself). Such is the nature of interactivity done well.
BuzzFeed is one of the preeminent names in interactive viral marketing. Their team cranks out a wealth of interactive articles, quizzes and video content each day. While the number of impressions on each piece of content is unavailable, the “Quizzes” section of BuzzFeed’s website has become a vehicle for strategic partnerships with brands and other sponsorships. This makes their interactive marketing quite profitable.
Always have the element of surprise
The element of surprise is on your side when it comes to viral marketing. These days, people have seen it all. No dad joke or storyline remains untold, so how can marketers continue to showcase unique content that grabs the attention of their audience?
The answer is tricky, but a general rule of thumb is to take an expectation and flip it on its head. Shoe retailer Payless, for example, created a fake boutique called “Paylessi” and played a hilariously surprising prank on several influencers they had invited to participate. They asked each influencer what they would be willing to pay for each item (each said upwards of $200-$600) and experienced shock when they were told the shoes came from Payless and were worth $20-$30.
If your marketing team carefully considers how and why people engage with online content, they will be better positioned to develop campaigns that are sticky, relevant, emotive and thoughtful. That said, there can be a lot of moving parts to take into account when managing large-scale campaigns and content projects. Your team needs the agility to make decisions, collaborate on creative content on the fly, and measure results. This way, they can better respond to viral content-worthy trends and fix what may not be working.
Viral marketing is a constantly evolving concept, but by keeping the key takeaways from this post in mind, your brand will be able to stay ahead of the curve.
About the Author Maggie Gnadt is a content marketing professional whose career has taken her from PR world to the fast-moving digital marketing industry. She is an avid believer in the power of online content strategy to influence brand perception and impact business objectives.