The majority of successful viral marketing campaigns owe their success to a handful of viral marketing techniques. This list makes a great starting point for anyone who is brainstorming something they can build that will go viral.
The most viewed section of YouTube is always littered with funny videos. Most viral campaigns rely strongly on humor. There are other ways, and humor can certainly be combined with other methods below, but humor is by far the most common method of going viral.
2) Content That Piggybacks on Current Events/News
If you can react quickly, you can piggyback on a search term people are just starting to search for because of a recent event or news story.
Because it is a new term, you’ll have very little competition. This can result in a lot of people finding your content. Even if there is some existing competition, posting content built around hot topics people are searching for isn’t a bad strategy.
3) Content Which Helps People Achieve a Goal
How-to articles and videos often go viral on the web. However, the standard here is quite high. It has to be extremely useful and produced in high quality.
It also takes a good distribution strategy to build the initial traffic. However, if your content is strong enough, people will quickly take-over for you by linking to your content and recommending it on social bookmarking sites for you.
If you can come up with something nobody has seen before, you may have the starting point to a great viral marketing campaign. However, it can be quite complicated to tie such a strategy back into your business and actually make money off the traffic it brings you.
The most successful implementation I’ve seen of this is the “Will It Blend” campaign in which blender manufacturer Blendtec blended iPhones, credit cards, golf balls, marbles, and other strange items.
Creating a satire or spoof of a popular television programs, movies, or celebrities is a very popular viral strategy. First, by piggybacking on a well established name that people are already searching for you receive additional traffic. Second, since your content plays on already recognized people it’s much more likely to be enjoyed and recommended to others.
A warning about something that is harming people in some way, or an impending change that could have negative effects on people, can make a great piece of viral content. If people believe the danger is real (and that’s usually the big if here) they won’t hesitate to send it to everyone they care about.
7) Shocking/Controversial Material
This is by far the riskiest viral strategy for a business. If you can really shock people, they’ll need no encouragement to forward the content to others.
One of the safer approaches to this strategy involves shocking statistics. Hunt for some startling statistics about your industry, and post them in your storefront, in your marketing materials, on your website, and talk about them when networking. Shocking statistics often get repeated, often with credit to the party that originally mentioned them.
8) Sex Appeal/Attractive Models
Hollywood pays millions to get the right men and women to headline their shows, and the same rules apply to viral marketing. Pick the right characters for your campaign, and your viral campaign could go just a bit more viral.
On YouTube, videos showing an attractive person in the thumbnail will almost always get more views than another video with the same title and no attractive model. Don’t manipulate the image for the sake of getting more views though. Views that are obtained through manipulation never go viral, and result in a lot of “Dislikes” of your content.
9) Thought Provoking/Inspirational
If you can really inspire people, or help them see a problem/issue in a new way, then people are likely to share that content with their friends and family. This can be especially true in a smaller city or town. For local viral marketing campaigns, content that makes people think or inspires them to do better can generate some very favorable attention to your business.
10) “Is It Real?” Content
“Is It Real?” content involves creating something that people will argue about whether it is real or not. The debate then fuels the traffic. This is another area companies should tread carefully in. There can be some blowback when the content is determined to be fake.
11) Secrets/Insider Information/Never Before Seen Content
People love secrets, and they love sharing secrets (nobody can keep a secret – nobody). If you can design content that offers information “others don’t want you to know about” you may have the beginning of a viral marketing campaign.
12) Music (Which falls into any of the above categories)
Music isn’t really a category by itself. I’ve included it because music dominates the most viewed videos of YouTube, and it isn’t just the superstars whose music videos are making the cut. It’s videos made by ordinary people and businesses which use music as the basis of their campaign, but use other methods in this list to stand out and get millions of views.
To go viral, your musical content needs to meet one or more of the criteria above. It could be funny, related to current news or events, strange, satirical, shocking, or controversial.