Viral Marketing – How it Actually Works!

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The advent of social media has led to the increased usage of a word – VIRAL! People, agencies, companies… everyone wants their articles, photos, videos, advertisements, posts, apps, products and what have you to go viral i.e. be shared hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of times. Most entities try to achieve this by pleading with those in their online networks to share what they’ve uploaded. Do they succeed? Baaaahhh. But some folks do… without much effort. Why? And how?

Scott Stratten has explained the concept of viral content beautifully. In this post, I will repeat what he explains for the benefit of those who haven’t heard it.

When a product (or app or song) is launched, or when content (photo, infographic, video, etc.) is created, people who share it are often from the first circle. They’re either someone from the team which created it, or are people who want to appear in the boss’ good books. These are people directly associated with the product or campaign. When they share it, the content (product, app, video, song, photo, etc.) reaches the second circle. This second circle is actually the first circle of the sharers, which includes their friends and family. Members of this circle are not obliged to share it with anyone. However, when they do, the content reaches the third circle. People in the second circle share it with their family and friends because they genuinely have been impacted by what they see. Forget the terms “adding value” and “Unique Selling Proposition” for a bit. People share because they want others to see what intrigued, entertained, saddened, touched, disgusted or enraged them. People in the third circle then share it with those in their first circle, and the cycle continues. Ultimately, the content that started off in some office or studio ends up going viral.

Think about it. Isn’t this why Michael Jackson and Metallica were popular long before the internet came into existence? Isn’t this why ‘Why This Kolaveri Di’, the Volvo commercial and Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ were such hits? And why Felix Baumgartner’s Space Jump was one of the most watched YouTube videos in 2013? And, of course, Justine Sacco’s infamous tweet, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

99% people who aim to produce viral content fail to remember that only one factor galvanizes people into action… EMOTION! Liking a Facebook post is one thing, sharing it on their timeline with 400+ friends is another. Favoriting a tweet is one thing, retweeting it is another. A person shares something when it engages him/her emotionally. It may evoke feelings like fun, joy, anger or nostalgia in him/her. You can beg people to share your content, but how many oblige? And when something barely crosses the first circle, you can bet that going viral is out of the question.

So stop focusing on creating “viral content”. Focus, instead, on creating something awesome and engaging… stuff which creates an emotional bond with your readers and viewers. Do something outrageous which delights people; give them a reason to share what you’ve created. Then, dear friend, you will have done something which is worth reaching hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people across the globe.

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