The challenge of planning viral campaigns

An electron micrograph of a rotavirus particle...
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A viral marketing campaign seems like the ideal form of marketing: Lots of ROI for your marketing dollar.

The theory is sound: You create something that gets passed virally around to other people, thereby creating a word-of-mouth buzz that results in more traffic for your business at no cost. Unfortunately, businesses waste millions of dollars every month on content that they hope will go viral.

A viral video doesn’t  get viewed by millions just because you created a video and posted it on YouTube. A viral article doesn’t get read by millions just because you posted it in an article distribution site.

Viral content becomes viral because people are motivated to pass it on. Viral content is…

  • Surprising
  • Provocative
  • Humorous
  • Engaging
  • Controversial
  • Quick to digest
  • Easy to pass on

Unfortunately, most businesses lack the guts to put these elements into their content. All too often I see good potential viral content edited out by round after round of stakeholders who want viral but are afraid “we’ll exclude too many people by saying this” or “we don’t give a clear “buy now” call to action at the end” or “we’ll lose control of this message if we don’t also add another 2000 words of detail about our company’s history and background”.

Soon, what was once supposed to be engaging and viral content ends up as bland baby formula content: Soft and mushy without any substance. It appeals to key stakeholders… but not to anyone else.

If you want to have a viral marketing campaign, step one is “Get a backbone”.

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