If you are like many online marketers, you are tirelessly searching for the key to creating a successful viral campaign. Last month, BuzzFeed and Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti gave an awesome talk at the New York Viral Media Meetup. In his talk, entitled ‘Mormons, Mullets and Maniacs’, Peretti offered up some great tips on how to go viral with your online campaigns, and we’ve compiled his talk, as well as some of our own ideas, into seven tips for viral success. Although there is no true recipe for going viral, these tips are a great starting point and you should keep them in mind before embarking on your next online marketing campaign.
Create Viral, Shareable Media
There is no denying the fact that, when it comes to viral media, content is king. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, and if your content sucks then people just aren’t going to share it. It really is that simple.
That being said, before you even begin thinking about what you are going to do with all the new customers and fans gleaned by your amazingly successful viral campaign you have to put some serious thought into your content. You want to come up with original ideas that you think are share-worthy. Humor is always good, as well as controversy.
As an example, Jonah Peretti orchestrated a great email exchange with Nike in which he requested a pair of customized Nikes with the word “Sweatshop” printed on them, “to remember the toil and labor of the children that made [his] shoes.” The email exchange was forwarded millions of times, and even landed Peretti an appearance on the Today Show. He also achieved viral success with ‘The Rejection Line’, a phone number that New Yorkers could give out at bars when they weren’t interested in the guys or gals asking for their digits. Both of these are great examples of original ideas with the potential to spread virally.
You also want to think about how your viewers will be able to share your content. Will users be able to forward your content via email? Share video links on Facebook and Twitter? Will you engage viewers by allowing them to comment, share and get involved? The more engaging and shareable your content is, the more opportunity there will be for your campaign to go viral.
Understand That Most Things Are Not Viral
The frustrating truth of the matter is that most things are not viral. Whether or not you stumble upon an idea with the potential to go viral is sort of luck of the draw. For this reason, it is important not to rely on a single idea for your viral campaign.
When you are trying to run a successful campaign online your odds of success will increase with the number of different things that you try. If you are creating a video campaign then you should produce a variety of different videos, test run them and see which does best. When you see the results, focus your attention on marketing and running with the most successful version. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends, co-workers and fans for constructive criticism. The best method of measuring the potential of a campaign is other people.
Let’s look at Volkswagen’s Fast Lane campaign as an example. Volkswagen released a series of viral videos showcasing a guerilla campaign in which they went out in the city and created installations to make people’s lives a little faster. In one video, they rigged an elevator to sound and look like a rocket take-off; one another, they pimped out shopping carts with skateboards, to make for a faster shopping experience; and in another, they installed a slide on a staircase to get commuters to the bottom of the flight faster. The shopping cart and elevator videos did okay, with just over 500,000 views each. The slide video, on the other hand, went viral with over 1.6 million views. If Volkswagen had stuck to one idea, let’s say the elevator, they would never have achieved the viral success they did. The moral? Try out different ideas and you can maximize your chances of having at least one big winner!
Target the “Bored At Work Network”
One of the biggest drivers of viral media is what Peretti refers to as the “Bored At Work Network.” There are millions of people on the planet who sit in front of their computers day after day, bored out of their minds, just waiting for something to brighten up their day. If you can create something that will intrigue or entertain this bored network then they will share with their bored at work friends, who will share with their bored at work friends and – BAM!! – You’ve got viral takeoff!
Want to know if the Bored At Work Network will like your campaign? Just walk around the office, find the employees with the blankest stares on their faces, bored out of their minds, and ask! Do you think this idea is funny? Do you think this is share-worthy? If not, can they make any suggestions for improvement on your campaign?
Target the Freaks and Maniacs
Aside from those who are bored at work, one of the best ways to get your content to go viral is by targeting the freaks and maniacs of the web. Big personalities like Perez Hilton and Lady Gaga, or niche communities like cat lovers and political activists, are great people and groups to target to get the ball rolling for your campaign. When you target the maniacs you can maximize sharing of your content on blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
In a video interview, Peretti told TechCrunch that, “Content is more viral if it helps people express their personality disorders.” If you can tap into the narcissists, obsessive fans and their zealots and the extremists with your campaign then you’re golden.
The Mullet Strategy – Business Upfront, Party In The Back
No, when Jonah Peretti talks about his “Mullet Strategy” he’s not suggesting that you go out and get yourself a terrible ’80s hillbilly haircut. Rather, he’s reinforcing the fact that even though you are producing silly, funny, controversial viral content you are still a serious brand, company or product. Therefore, it is important that you don’t let your serious side take the back seat to your viral campaign. You don’t want to spoil your reputation by undermining your serious content with the fun stuff, but you also don’t want to do away with your fun, goofy side entirely. That’s the gist behind the Mullet motto, “Business upfront, party in the back.”
Peretti uses the Huffington Post as an example of the Mullet Strategy. On the front page, visitors can read about serious news stories. That’s the “Business Upfront” side. The site lets comments and contributors add their thoughts and opinions in the back, and they show them off only when they start to catch on. That’s the “Party in the back” side.
Big Seed Marketing – Because Your Content Won’t Share Itself
Once you’ve built your viral campaign and you’re ready to introduce it to the world it isn’t really enough to just upload a video, launch a website or post the campaign to your Facebook and Twitter. You need to do something to get the ball rolling, and one of the best ways is with big seed marketing.
Big seed marketing is, in short, paying for your initial audience and then relying on this audience to share your content, aiding in the viral spread. Whether you are a big corporation that has a lot of money to spend to get your viral campaign rolling, such as the Super Bowl Commercial that kicked off Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign, or a smaller company that can only afford to post your new viral video on YouTube’s homepage for a day, putting some money into promoting your campaign is a great way to get things started off.
Learn Marketing From The Mormons
Going along with the above tip, remember that your content won’t share itself. If you expect your campaign to go viral you’ve got to put some work into it. To illustrate this point, Peretti uses the example of the Mormons vs. the Jews. He says, “The problem with Jews is that they suck at marketing. It’s almost like they don’t want anyone else to be a Jew.” Mormons, on the other hand, go out on missions, evangelizing and trying to get other people to become Mormons.
Of course, this example is a little tongue-in-cheek (and maybe even a little offensive), but you get the idea – if you want people to see your content then you have to go out there and evangelize, a.k.a. share it! Share your campaign on Twitter, Facebook and your company blog; ask your friends to share it; enlist the help of everyone you know; approach influential bloggers to write about your campaign and do everything you can to spread the word. Only then will your campaign reach it’s full potential for success!
Teaser Image Credit: Keith Petri