Does your business have a “viral plan?” Do you even know what a viral plan is?

Any business who is interested in rankings for their website or exposure for their products should have a simple plan for the unexpected success that the internet provides from time to time.  If your business has hired an SEO company who is working toward trying to improve your rankings, you have put in place a system where someone who understands how SEO works is manipulating things for you in order to assist your business in improving the positions on search engines for phrases that are important.  If you have ever hired a marketing agency, PR firm or any other entity that promises to use their talents to gain exposure for your business, then you can benefit from a basic viral plan.  The plan can involve numerous scenarios that will come into play if “viral success” is achieved by some project that you are attempting to “make go viral.” The plan can also be as simple as knowing what to ask for if something that is associated with your business “goes viral.”

The first part of the discussion is obviously to define what “going viral” means, and understand why it is important to plan for it even if it is unlikely.  Advertising agencies like Focus Internet Services are contracted all the time to “create viral marketing,” but what that means has to be accurately defined so there is no misunderstanding on the expectations or the results.  “Going viral” on the internet means that something that you have produced begins to be shared across social media or news outlets from person to person, without you being in control of it.  You gain exposure for your business because that thing that you created is not just being seen in a timeslot you paid for, or in an edition of a publication that cost you money.  Instead, it is picked up by regular people who then share it with their friends for a wide variety of reasons.  The content might be funny or witty, it might be important or groundbreaking, it might be shocking.  There are a million reasons why something might be shared from person to person, but what you need to understand as a business owner interested in “viral marketing” is that there is no way to force the process.  You are asking the public to voluntarily share your information with their friends.  The first question we would ask you when you are considering viral marketing is “why would anyone take the time to share this?” If you can’t answer that you personally share things like this from other companies, then why would someone share yours? Are you paying them? Are you making their lives better? Are you making them look cool to their friends? If you can’t answer these questions, then you probably won’t have much success.

Viral marketing specialists do two things, they create the content that is LIKELY to be shared from person to person, and then they create the SEED that people can find it.  What this means is that the people who specialize in “social media” consider the things that are most likely to be shared, and attempt to create content related to your business that has these elements.  They will then associate your business with that content in an obvious way (because if your content goes viral and there is no way for people to know that you made it, then you just wasted your time.) Most of the time, this concept has to be more clever than a credit on the bottom or a banner in a video.  People are very unlikely to share obvious advertising from companies unless it is something that stands out from the thousands of other advertising pieces they see every day.  After they create an attribution mechanism for the content, then they create the seeding.  What seeding involves is getting the message to the first people who might share it with others.  Most likely, this seed will come in the form of spreading the content through established social media profiles or posting it to a group that has a large viewership.  An example of a social seed would be asking Kim Kardashian to share your content on her Twitter feed.  She will probably be willing to do something like that for a large amount of money, but unless you know her that will probably not work.  She is asked to do that very thing every day by hundreds of companies just like yours.  You will probably need to recreate some smaller method of doing the same thing, perhaps contacting influencers within a certain subculture and sharing with them.  Perhaps that will mean establishing large follower lists on your own social media platforms and then sharing your content across those channels.

Having a plan for viral success involves knowing what to do when something does go viral, either by accident or because you seeded it.  What exactly are you trying to gain from this exposure? Do you want people to go to your website? Then you better put a link to your website in the content itself.  Do you want them to call your phone number? Then your phone number better be in that content.  Do you want them to link to your website? Then you better make them link to you.  Expecting people to work for you is a recipe for failure, you need to define what you want and be ready to ask for it.

This is the point where I will provide an example of how not having a viral plan can add up to huge missed opportunities.  A friend of mine named Felix Rust is a photographer in Boston.  He struggles like all photographers do to get the word out that he is good at his craft, and make potential customers know his business exists.  He has worked at SEO for several months in order to rank locally in the Boston area for certain phrases that describe his photography business, so that people Googling those phrases can find him and hire him.  The typical SEO process involves creating compelling content for your website and getting good links back to that content from established websites.  The process is laborious and not very sexy.  It involves lots and lots of writing and then basic seeding of those pieces of content in order to possibly gain a few links back to the site from other websites who found that content interesting.  While he had a certain amount of success, everyone who does SEO for a living knows that links from big websites or trusted outlets on a subject are worth their weight in gold.  A thousand little links might not have even close to the power of a single, big link with regards to rankings.  SEO guys dream of getting links from big media outlets because it makes the process so much easier.  These types of links are almost impossible to get, so we try but most of the time we expect to fail.

Felix did a photography project for his daughter’s school where he took “yearbook” photos of the children.  The plan was to have a little fun and create a yearbook experience for children that probably wouldn’t have a “yearbook” like you get in high school.  Instead of trying to just take the same boring photograph over and over that a yearbook photographer is tasked with taking, Felix decided to be a little more creative and fun.  He asked the children to make faces, act silly or do whatever they wanted to do.  He would create that “yearbook style” photograph for them, using the silly photo poses that they provided.  Sounds like a fun day, and everyone was happy.

Felix started getting phone calls and emails from huge media outlets one morning, ABC, CNN, Cosmopolitan,, Mashable and many others.  They had begun to discover a particular photograph of a little girl named Ceci Negron making an angry face in her cute “yearbook photo.” They wanted to print stories about the “little scowling girl” and how cute she was.  Naturally, when asked by such big players, Felix gave permission to use the photograph.  The news spread far and wide, and more and more outlets started running the story.  Felix’s work was now being nationally recognized.

The need for a viral plan comes at times like these, when the unexpected successes happen.  Felix called me after the stories started showing up online, and asked what to do to leverage some of that popularity in order to promote his business.  While there were certain things we could do in order to link his business to the photograph, people reading the stories are probably unlikely to seek him out in order to patronize his business.  Most likely they will read the cute story and then click to the next one.  A viral plan means understanding how to gain benefits from things you have created.  In this case, I advised him that if he had secured a link to his website from huge media giants like ABC and CNN within a story about photography, there is a good chance he would never have had to do SEO again.  The plan should have been to ask for a link to his website in exchange for them using his photograph.  Some would have told him no, and in that case he could have negotiated some sort of other credit, but the point is that some would have said yes.  This would have created clickthroughs to his website where people can learn about his projects, and Google would have seen links from large, credible sources to him about photography.  SEO would have been a cake-walk from that point on.

Having a viral plan is as easy as understanding how to get some form of benefit from work that “goes viral.” Not everyone is going to understand how to gain the maximum benefit when exciting things happen, but just like they tell you in the crime movies, “don’t say anything without talking to a lawyer first.”

If you want to hire a great photographer in the Boston area, contact Felix Rust Photographers.  Maybe your child will be the next Ceci Negron.  See, that’s how it should have been handled.