By Stoyan Vlahovski 

Going “viral” seems to be social media gold these days. Everyone wants to become viral and conquer the world. Unfortunately, most marketers consider going viral as a “happy accident” without realizing the same strategies can be used to make another piece of content go viral.

Now, am I saying there is a 100% guarantee you will go viral? No, I’m not. But there is also good news. Extensive studies have discovered the key elements in a successful viral marketing campaign and I am going to cover them in this article. They can be applied to any small business for free (with the proper execution). 

How “Emotions” Can Make You Viral 

No one shares boring content. How many times have you shared a video which made you feel like “Meh”? The answer is probably 0. 

There are certain emotions that will cause people not only to view your content but also to share it. According to HubSpot, the following ones are the most important:

  • Amusement 
  • Delight 
  • Interest 
  • Affection 
  • Surprise 
  • Happiness
  • Joy 
  • Hope 
  • Excitement 
  • Pleasure

To create an impact on your marketing campaign for your target audience, your content must have an emotional appeal. Extensive analysis has shown that positive emotions are more effective as far as sharing content is concerned. Viral marketing is 100% about emotions. 

Ask yourself “Would I share this video if it was not mine?” “Why would I share it? Is it because it will make my friends laugh? Is it because the video almost made me cry?” “How did my content make me feel?” (if it doesn’t make you feel anything, it won’t go viral…).

What Does “Viral Content” Mean

There are enough articles online explaining how your videos must be of extremely high quality, how to make great images, etc. so I am going to focus on the key requirements for viral content. The rest depends on you. 

One of the key requirements for going viral is to get people to share your content/ads. You have to give them a reason to do so. 

In the book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” Jonah Berger covers the 6 steps to Virality:

As you can see, the first step is to create Social Currency. People will share your content only if it makes them look smarter or cooler. If it doesn’t achieve this, your viral marketing campaign is probably going to fail. 

Another point often overlooked is keeping the content current. This is a very basic step in developing a viral campaign. Viewers want exclusive content, so try to come up with fresh ideas that are engaging, and at the same time provide value.

For example, think about the Harlem Shake in 2013. It was extremely popular in the beginning because it was something new, novel, never seen before. People were curious and wanted to be a part of the show. If you made a Harlem shake in 2014, no one would care because it’s not current anymore. 

The content used must be relevant. In other words, the majority of your target audience should be able to understand it. Don’t make it something super specific. Why do cat videos go viral all the time? Because everyone has seen or had one and can relate to them. They also evoke emotions. 

Choose Who to “Infect” with Your Marketing Message

A vital step in creating any marketing campaign is to find out who your target audience is and where they are active. Nothing goes viral on its own, you need to send the right message to the right people.

The process of going viral happens in several stages. Each stage has its respective messengers (people who share your information). It spreads like a virus from person to person.

The first (and most important) category is “market experts.” These are people who have knowledge of different trends, know how and are considered to be authorities or influencers. Since they are so deep into the matter, “market experts” are likely to share your content. Why would they do it? Because it will make them look good in front of their audience and will be something novel for the regular person.

Once the first group starts sharing, a snowball effect takes place. Here the second category — followers — comes to play. The social followings of the first group spread the information around different online subcommunities, with friends or family. Those friends share the information even further and before you know it, you will be viral.

Creativity (Rewarding People’s Brains) 

Studies have shown that our brain feels rewarded by novel ideas. Your brain will flood your body with dopamine as soon as you discover something new.

Based on this, it only makes sense to think outside the box. The traditional methods may work to bring in some sales and traffic, but they definitely won’t help you go viral. If you want people to notice your marketing campaign, you need to do something unexpected. People won’t pay attention if someone has done it before.

Timing and Environment Can Make or Break Your Viral Marketing Campaign 

Choosing the wrong marketing channel (environment) will cause you many headaches and ultimately the failure of your viral marketing campaign. If you are marketing in the wrong channel -> you won’t be able to reach your targeted audience -> you won’t be able to peak their interest -> no virality.

Last but not least, timing is also a crucial element. Will a Christmas video go viral in May? No, it won’t. You have to choose the right time to start your viral marketing campaign and the proper medium to share it through.

Action Steps

Reading this article would be a waste of time unless you can apply some information from it. 

Here are a few action steps you can follow (and possibly go viral):

  • Define your target audience (if you haven’t already).
  • Choose what kind of emotion you want to create (use the list in this article to choose one). 
  • Brainstorm novel ideas for your content. As a general guideline, if it won’t surprise anyone, it’s not novel. 
  • Create a piece of content that will evoke that emotion and is relevant to your target audience.
  • Ask yourself “How I feel after consuming this content?”/ “Is it current?”/ “Is it relevant to a big enough number of people?”/ “Is it creative?” 
  • Pick the right first messengers.
  • Choose the best channel and time to run your viral marketing campaign.
  • If it doesn’t work out, start again from Step 1. There is no 100% guarantee of success but as long as you follow the principles, you have a chance.