Viral Marketing: Three Ways to Help a Video Go Viral

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7-11-2013 3-34-55 PMThe Mayan Calendar ended on December 21, 2012. As you may recall, no volcanoes erupted, no tornadoes struck, and no planets exploded. So it turns out we were wrong in thinking the calendar predicted the end of the world (nice going, us), but nevertheless, a new era did start on December 21, 2012.

Gangnam Style became the first video to reach one billion hits on YouTube, demonstrating how one video can grow into a worldwide phenomenon. Before Gangnam Style, Psy (the stage name of Park Jae-sang) was popular among South Koreans, but he was relatively unknown outside his home country. However, his video’s unexpected success in the US and then worldwide has skyrocketed him past his 15 minutes to become the cultural icon he is today.

So, can you incorporate a similar strategy into your overall marketing strategy? Many companies report increased sales and name recognition after their videos have “gone viral.” Implementing a successful viral marketing campaign can be your key to jump-starting a new level of success for your company.

Viral marketing is great. You don’t have to buy air time, your message spreads really fast, and your target demographic’s opinions of you are likely to rise. That is, if the message going viral isn’t a classic Fail. In  Chevrolet’s “Roll Your Own Commercial” campaign, users were encouraged to create their own Chevy commercials, which were automatically uploaded to Chevy’s site. The results weren’t pretty: Chevy had to take down the site after only a few days because they kept getting submissions like this one:

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What’s viral worth?

Let’s go back to the Gangnam Style example. The video was created in 48 hours and cost less than $150,000 USD to make, according to interviews Psy gave to Rolling Stone and The Daily Beast, respectively. Compare that to Celebrity Net Worth’s December 2012 estimate that Psy had made nearly nine million dollars from the video. Additionally, since the release of “Gangnam Style,” share prices of YG Entertainment, Psy’s agency,  shot up by 57%; tourism to South Korea increased by 13.4 percent; and DI, a semiconductor manufacturer headed by Psy’s father but otherwise unrelated to Gangnam Style, saw its share prices rise by 188%. With numbers like that, viral marketing seems like a very lucrative strategy indeed.

“Viral” doesn’t come when you call it

But “viral” is a fickle quality. Your new campaign could either soar to a million page views in a week…or drown at four hundred in a year. No matter how much you spend on creative, you can’t do anything to guarantee your message will go viral. Do you remember Frito-Lay’s “Random Acts of Cheetos” campaign? Right, neither do we, despite the blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page, and full-page newspaper advertisements through which Frito-Lay  tried to generate hype. However, there are a few ways to tweak your campaign so it rivals even the most adorable of cat videos on YouTube.

Make it unique

For something to be liked, it has to stand out in some way. This is particularly true in the case of viral media. Many of the best-liked viral videos today push the boundaries in some way.

Their uniqueness can take many forms. Comedy is a great (if risky) choice, if you can pull it off. Kmart scored almost 20 million hits (and a better than 25-to-1 approval ratio) with this pants-shippingly good commercial. (Another plus of viral marketing: it doesn’t have to be as G-Rated as the rest of your content.)

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If your product is particularly cool, a demonstration video can help, whether it’s of your product

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…or what you can do with it.

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But connecting with your audience on an emotional level can be the most effective way to advertise. Dove created a two-minute video about women’s self-images that garnered 114 million views by May 22, one month after its release. Unruly Media calculated that it was shared 3.74 million times. David Waterhouse, global head of content and PR at viral tracker Unruly Media told Business Insider, “I think what made this campaign perform particularly strongly is the content, which elicited the intense emotional responses of ‘warmth, ‘happiness’ and ‘knowledge’ from its target demographic — one of the key factors behind a video’s sharing success.” It’s likely to be successful for Dove partly because the ad is  keeping with what Dove stands for. Check it out:

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Make it short

If we were to compare advertising to food, viral media would be potato chips. Consumed easily, digested quickly, and filled with salty deliciousness, viral videos should be relatively simple. You don’t sign on to YouTube expecting an intellectual steak dinner, you go there for a mental snack. Keeping your video to two minutes or less is ideal.

Make it shareable

Not only should you implement share options in all your viral videos, but you also have to drive people to share it in the first place. A lot of this ties back to who your target demographic is. Funny videos are going to be shared by people with different mindsets than those who would share serious ones. So you shouldn’t think only, “What do people want to learn from this  video?” when you’re putting it together, but you should also consider “Why would people want their friends to see this video?” too.

One way to jump-start your video into viral nirvana is to get it in the hands of social influencers, those thought leaders others look to for trends and advice. Act-On’s new white paper, Best Practices in Social Influencer Marketing helps you understand which influencers to look for and how to approach them. Get the paper here.