7 Key Elements of Every Viral Marketing Campaign

There's no formula for going viral, but there are common factors that viral posts share.
viral-feature
Tap into consumers emotions and create content that gets noticed to become the next viral marketing sensation. (Photo: fotoscool/Shutterstock)

Developing a marketing campaign that grows into a viral sensation is the holy grail for any marketer, no matter the size of the business.

What will or won’t go viral is anyone’s guess, but a few key factors contribute to shareability. So if you’re hoping to be the next “blue dress/white dress” phenomenon, make sure your campaign checks some of these boxes.

It’s eye-catching

For your content to be shared, it must first be noticed. Make sure your campaign is visually grabby. Include an eye-catching image. Better yet, make a video. According to Brightcove, social video generates 1,200 percent more shares than text and images combined.

It entertains

Eric Zaworski

“Think long and hard about the message you are spouting as a business.” -Eric Zaworski (Photo: Eric Zaworski)

“For the consumer, the value comes from the entertainment or wow factor that makes them want to share the viral piece of content in the first place,” said Eric Zaworski of hashtag analytics company Keyhole.

Entertainment should be a higher priority than humor, said Michael Buchanan, digital marketing and strategy lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology. A campaign can be funny or serious, surprising or inspirational, but if it doesn’t entertain, it won’t go viral.

It pulls at heartstrings

Ads that tap emotions can establish an emotional connection with your brand — and go viral — if they reflect your customers’ values.

Meaningful content that resonates with their values becomes a reflection of what they stand for, and consumers can’t help but share it, said Zaworski.

Dove’s uplifting “Real Beauty Sketches” video got 3.8 million shares within a month of its original posting. If you’re wanting to go with the cuteness factor, check out GoPro’s “Fireman Saves Kitten” video, which got more than 5 million views in its first week.

It doesn’t offend

“Think long and hard about the message you are spouting as a business,” Zaworski advised.

“If for any reason someone might offended by a message or sentiment you are expressing with a marketing campaign, especially from a racist or prejudiced standpoint, Do Not Do It. It’s really that simple.” -Eric Zaworski

Brands often become tone-deaf when trying to be edgy, he said. Don’t make that mistake. Remember your audience and its values.

It skips the sales pitch

Consumers will always share a funny or entertaining picture or video over something that looks and feels like an ad.

Even an ad that feels like an ad can go viral if it’s funny. Dollar Shave Club’s famously in-your-face slapstick commercial was wildly popular, for example. But in general, successful viral strategies skip the sales pitch and focus on the message and feelings that message evokes.

Michael Buchanan

“As consumers we are so complex, and it can be very difficult to determine what is the right moment in time where a message is, for whatever reason, very receptive from a consumer standpoint.” -Michael Buchanan (Photo: Michael Buchanan)

It’s well timed

“There is an adage that says timing is the only difference between noise and music,” said Buchanan. “As consumers we are so complex, and it can be very difficult to determine what is the right moment in time where a message is, for whatever reason, very receptive from a consumer standpoint.”

Many viral campaigns capitalize on news events, a concept known as newsjacking. So be ready to act fast and post pronto.

Social media analytics can tell you the best times in general to post to your particular audience.

It gets lucky

Luck plays a huge role. It’s almost impossible to predict what will explode online and what will fizzle. Even brands that have had successful viral campaigns can’t always repeat that success, Buchanan said. “They still struggle like most other brands to figure out that exact formula.”

Generate luck by making your campaign as shareable as possible — then cross your fingers.

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