Ever since the first time a marketing company noticed that certain posts on social media platforms were getting millions of views and shares, they began trying to figure out the process to use this anomaly for their clients. Marketing executives looked at pictures and videos on platforms like Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram and YouTube that had been posted by a regular person, then shared millions of times, ultimately generating hundreds of millions of impressions where others had seen the post. Naturally, marketers wanted to figure out this process because applying it to their client’s campaigns could mean massive success with almost no money associated. Viral marketing isn’t like other forms where you create your presentation and then pay to have it placed in front of potential customers. Viral marketing is a phenomenon where the potential customers themselves share it from person to person on social media, ultimately eliminating the massive costs associated with media buys and ad placements. The only problem is that viral marketing is a phenomenon, and not a plan.
Viral videos and pictures on social media are shared into people’s profiles voluntarily, moving from friend to friend and being re-shared and re-posted. There is no way to force the public to share your picture or video, and attempting to do so will generally result in a backlash where people will reject it all together. Viral spread comes from people enjoying your presentation enough to share it themselves, creating the movement between people. If they simply like it using whatever mechanism is provided by the platform, it will generally not move past that point unless there is an algorithmic aspect that moves it to a publicly accessible page. Tik Tok is an example of this, where the more engagement on a post happens the more it will be presented on the “for you page,” which is essentially suggested videos chosen using the things you have liked in the past. Other platforms are beginning to experiment with sections of this type, but in 2020 only Tik Tok has rolled it out in a way that is gaining traction. The majority of viral marketing still relies on shares from person to person, which is quite difficult to orchestrate. It happens naturally, with content being singled out as special by users who then feel that it will reflect on them if it is part of their feed. People get the same feeling of accomplishment that they would making someone else laugh by telling them a joke that they heard the day before. It doesn’t matter that you are not the one who made up the joke, because you are the one getting the laugh. This is the personality trait that viral spread plays into, where people feel that sharing this piece of content makes them appear a certain way to their friends. This is why the best place to begin a discussion on how to use the viral anomaly as marketing is content.
Content is the core of all viral marketing. In order to create something that will “go viral” you must first create something that is more interesting than everything else. People are presented with thousands of pieces of content every day through their social media, and in order to create something they will share you must stand out from all that content. This means that your presentation must be superior to everything else they are seeing at that time. It also means that it must be so powerful that they are willing to make it a permanent piece of their social history, as well as being judged by their friends for it. We all have that friend who becomes a salesman for perfume, jewelry, tupperware or a slew of other products, then uses your friendship to guilt you into buying from them. They become an irritation to people, who ultimately avoid or ignore them as a result. Social media is like this on steroids, with people being able to mute or block those they find irritating. This means that if you share something with your friends, it better bring value to their lives. Viral marketing needs to understand this in order to succeed even a little bit, because if the content is rejected it will not be shared at all. Look at YouTube channels for businesses that post commercials, and notice that they will usually have somewhere between 10 and 100 views. That is their friends viewing it because they are directly connected to the owner. The reason it never “went viral” is because liking it and viewing it is the bare minimum that friends will do, and it simply did not have the power to make them share it. You must create something worthy of them taking time out of their own lives to share it. That share must bring value to them, either in the form of something that they view as so valuable that they are willing to work for it, of something that will elevate them in the eyes of their friends. Anything less than this will fail.
When business owners look at certain viral video successes and believe that “anyone can do this,” they are wrong. Many people look at the success of Bella Poarch on Tik Tok, who has more than 30 million followers on an account that has existed for less than a year, and who derived the majority of her followers from a single video of her simply bobbing her head to a song, and think that viral success can be had by anyone who puts out a video. What you must understand is that this comparison is not helping you succeed. Yes, Bella Poarch gained success making a video that essentially had no production value, but she is a single case of success on a platform that has millions of videos that did not go viral. The reason that particular video was successful is that it was seen and shared by people who were interconnected in a way that brought it to the right second and third tier of viewers. There is no way of forcing the process, it simply went down the correct channel to get it to a critical mass that made other talk about it. That conversation fueled it’s success beyond even those that shared it, and brought it into conversations outside those circles. She was literally famous for being famous at that point. Attempting to create a video or image that will do this is like trying to predict a lightning strike, you can go to the storm and have the right products to look at the clouds, but the strike itself is outside your control.
So how do you accomplish viral marketing success? The only way is to continually make content that is interesting and valuable, content that has the things necessary for people to view it as important enough to share. Do this relentlessly, putting out video after video and image after image with no intention of stopping. Seed it by sharing it among your friends and family, and possibly even send it to “influencers” in your space who might share it themselves. After that point, allow the viral phenomena to happen. If it doesn’t (which it probably won’t) you are on to the next video that possibly could. If it does, then you will have impressions beyond anything you could possibly purchase with a limited budget. The key is to not count on viral success, and instead be satisfied with talking to your customers in an interesting way, the same way that traditional marketing does. The videos and pictures that go viral are never the ones you expect to, and they are usually the ones that you spent the least amount of time thinking about. This is because they come across as real, and not as a marketing message being pushed on people. The best way to “go viral” is to be valuable and entertaining.