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Tips to help your content go viral

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One of the big marketing desires of most companies is to have their content go viral. It is a question I am regularly asked about by both clients and social media followers.

While having content that goes viral may increase sales and branding, it should still be only one aspect of your marketing campaign. It is not the ultimate outcome that many companies dream of and envision. Unless you’ve gone viral because of an Oprah Winfrey endorsement, your fame is only fleeting except in very rare instances.

We see this in the real world when as the result of some situation, a person is thrust into the spotlight and lands on the news, a reality show or even late night television. Two weeks later, they are again unknown.

Similarly, in the online world, if an article posting goes viral, it will help brand the author as an industry leader and possibly an expert in his/her field.  Whether or not this translates into additional immediate sales is questionable. Most likely, the most notable result will be an immediate increase in the number of followers. However, along with this increase are increased expectations. The author must continue to provide outstanding content or else he will rapidly lose a significant number of his followers. By making extensive use of social media and enhancing communications with these original and new followers, he can help ensure a high retention rate while remaining in front of them.

It is therefore extremely important to have a marketing plan in place that is able to take advantage of this viral effect. Even if your postings don’t go viral, utilizing an effective social marketing plan will greatly enhance its reach and elicited response.

In 1997 – prior to the onset of social media, I developed a product, PC Mirror (that I still sell). It was featured on the Microsoft home page, the front page of The Westchester Section of the Sunday New York Times and in many other publications. The next day, we received a huge increase in our number of sales. That surge lasted one week. This short-lived response emphasizes one of the key differences between traditional advertising and publicity and social media: staying power. Social media provides the platforms and tools to remain in front of your audience.

In today’s world, companies are constantly striving to use social media to improve branding, customer relationships, sales and a host of other activities. They are seeking a way that will enable them to stand out and differentiate themselves from their competition.

Having a post that goes viral may temporarily help them achieve that goal.  Be warned, however, that it can also backfire. In 2006, Sony got caught promoting one of their videos within a viral campaign by using “superficial facades shielding mouthpieces for the corporation.”  This generated such an online uproar that Sony was forced to apologize. It is unknown, however, whether the uproar from this campaign led to increased sales.

Viral campaign tips

• Include something unusual, something people don’t expect. Graphics and videos help, but they still must be sufficiently unique in order for people to take notice and then want to discuss them with their friends and followers.  Incidentally, if you’re doing a video, music significantly helps.

• Provide something new or different. This could include something unique, inspiring, or funny. Eliciting emotional reactions from your audience can also trigger a viral campaign. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive response such as to some pictures of animals, either. Look at the recent reaction to Congressman Akin’s comment on “legitimate rape,” for example.

• Offer great content, particularly when it can easily help a wide variety of businesses or is highly relevant to a red-hot topic.  Do not sell.

• Make it easy to share. (This is obvious.)

I believe that the majority of content that goes viral is accidental. There is just so much information being posted daily that to expect any one item – particularly if it’s not outrageous or wildly appealing, to go viral is wistful thinking. Using any of the tips listed above will certainly increase your chances of having your posting go viral but remember that this reaction is short-lived and one whose effect you must continue to reference in future postings and marketing campaigns.

Bruce Newman is the president of wwWebevents.com, a division of The Productivity Institute L.L.C. in Carmel.  He is a social media guru and a specialist on webinar creation and promotion. He can be reached at bnewman@prodinst.com

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