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10.3 Preparing to Go Viral

Learning Objective

  1. Learn the steps necessary before a viral campaign goes to market.

Viral campaigns are unpredictable. As the market becomes saturated with more campaigns competing for attention, it is increasingly difficult for marketers to ensure a hit. However, careful planning means that you are ready when your campaign takes off. Careful planning also means that you have given the campaign the best chance of success.

Step 1: Define the Aims of the Campaign and How You Will Measure Success

A video created by your department and watched by millions of people on the Internet is certainly an attractive proposition, but if it does nothing to contribute to your business goals, it is a fun but pointless exercise. Can this medium reach your target market?

Determine if your campaign will be aimed at building brand awareness, driving traffic to your Web site, growing anticipation for a new product, building lots of SEO links, or making sure customers make a purchase right away. Viral campaigns should always build you links, whether or not that is a main aim of the campaign. Because of this, you should try to influence the anchor text—or the visible, clickable text in a link—being used.

Step 2: Plan a Message or Content That Users Want to Share

On the Internet, there is a lot going on. For a campaign to be worthy of sending on, it has to stand out from the clutter. You need to be original by doing some of the following things:

  • Make something scarce
  • Make something free and abundant
  • Be very funny
  • Be very interesting
  • Be very informative
  • Be very educational
  • Be very unusual
  • Be a little cryptic
  • Be the best
  • Create something users want to copy
  • Present the tools for a mashupWhen content from two or more sources is combined.


A mashup is when content from two or more sources is combined. Search for “mashup” on YouTube to watch some examples.

Burger King created the Web site “Subservient Chicken” (, where anyone could tell a man dressed up in a chicken suit what to do. It is very funny and quite bizarre. It got a lot of traffic. Hotmail made their e-mail service available to anyone. When Gmail was launched, it was by invitation only, and Google ensured that the invites were scarce. People talked about both services quite a bit.

Using controversial or enticing names for viral content makes it more likely that your audience will want to investigate further. For videos, thumbnails are exceptionally important in enticing visitors to hit the play button.

Step 3: Make Your Content Easy to Share

The easier a message is to pass on, the more likely it will be passed on. E-mails should include “forward to a friend” links, and a “send to a friend” link can be added easily to any Web page.

Viral marketers can make use of existing social media both as an environment in which to host their message and as a means to share their message. For example, using a popular video-hosting site, such as YouTube, for a viral video makes it easy for users to embed the video onto their own sites.

For best response, personalize e-mails automated by the sharing process (with subject lines like “Your friend Mark Hunter thought you’d find this amusing”). And for best SEO practice, tell users how to link to your content.

Step 4: Make It as Simple as Possible for Users to Get Involved

For campaigns that require interaction, it should be as easy as possible for users to sign up and get interacting. Lengthy sign-up forms asking for lots of information will slow and can even halt your campaign.

Step 5: Be Authentic and Transparent

It’s a viral marketing campaign for a brand, and marketers who pretend otherwise can see the attempt blowing up in their faces. Studies have shown that branding does not have a significant detrimental effect to the contagious nature of a viral campaign.

Step 6: Provide an Incentive for Sharing and Interacting

The greatest incentive for users sharing your content is social currencyA measure of a person’s power and influence within a defined social group.: something that users will want to share. People like to be seen by their friends and colleagues as resourceful, caring, or humorous, and the content you create should tie in with those values. Tailoring your content for your target market will give you even better results.

Incentives can be financial: a gift voucher for every five friends the campaign is sent to. Or users could be entered into a competition for every ten friends they refer. However, campaigns work best when the prize does not eclipse the content. Increasing social currency works for a brand, too; it will increase brand equity.


Alternate reality games (ARGs) are often used successfully as viral marketing campaigns. One prominent successful campaign was “I Love Bees” for the launch of Halo 2. Do a quick search online—it’s fascinating.

Step 7: Make the Message Available

Sophisticated alternate reality games (ARGs)A game that takes place in both the real world and in a fantasy world, and usually involves an online component. usually involve hiding messages and making them cryptic, but for the most part, marketers want their campaign to be very available. Research your target market and make sure that they can access your campaign easily based on their usual online habits.

With any successful campaign, the spread of the message can usually be traced to several core influencers: those people responsible for the viral growth. Influencers tend to affect a large number of people either by sending the message to lots of people or by causing lots of people to want to emulate them. However, influencers are difficult to identify prior to success, and so seeding a campaign should attract as large an audience as possible.

Be aware, as well, that editorial mentions in traditional media can also create a huge amount of traffic for a campaign, so press releases still need to be part of the seeding process.

Using forums and inciting blog comments can all help get content out there.

Step 8: Use a Strong Call to Action

Be sure that the medium does not eclipse your message. If you have taken the time to create compelling and engaging content, make the most of the interaction you have with a potential customer. Be very clear about your call to actionCopy that encourages users to take a particular action., or the action you want the user to take next:

  • Send this video to a friend.
  • Play now!

Step 9: Track, Analyze, and Optimize

Monitor interactions with your brand from consumers so you can see growth and response. Make sure you are aware of the many ways that users could be talking about you. Chapter 11 "Online Reputation Management" provides guidelines for the process of listening online. If the campaign is growing, but the message is not as intended, there might need to be some adjustments made.

Figure 10.2

Viral marketing uses communities to broadcast your message.

Analyze what elements of the campaign work, so that when the next one is launched, these can be optimized.

Tracking software ForwardTrack ( shows the geographical spread of a campaign over time and also lets participants see the spread of the campaign. This tracking solution can become a part of the marketing of the viral message.

TubeMogul ( and VidMetrix (http://www.vidmetrix .com) both provide tracking and audience analysis for online videos.

Step 10: Get Lucky

Careful planning and great content with an enticing incentive should all result in a campaign that is successful. A little bit of luck is usually required for a campaign to fly.

Key Takeaways

  • Viral marketing campaigns can be unpredictable, but careful planning can go a long way to ensuring success.
  • Define the aims of the campaign and determine how success will be measured.

    • Create something that people want to share.
    • Use social media to ensure that content is easy to share.
    • Remove all barriers to participation.
    • Be authentic.
    • Provide incentives.
    • Make the message available.
    • Use a strong call to action.
    • Track, analyze, and optimize.
    • Get a little lucky.


  1. Why is planning so important to viral marketing campaigns?
  2. Are viral campaigns better suited to a niche audience or a mass audience?