Practical Guide to Viral Marketing

Giant Stars Viral Video by Dejan Petrovic & Brad Schwede

Practical Guide to Viral Marketing

Viral Content Development Example

Viral marketing. We’ve seen it, enjoyed it, passed it on, and most marketers have thought “I could do something like this for an xyz client.” Most of us, however, do not pass the “I could” stage while others experiment with varying degrees of success. The whole thing is a little bit chaotic and unpredictable. One thing is for sure, a well-executed viral marketing campaign can have a profound effect on traffic and branding. This post will reflect on main characteristics of successful campaigns and cover observations with two successful viral content experiments. Before jumping on the bandwagon you need to consider whether this strategy will be an effective use of your time and resources. Here are a few common scenarios worth exploring:

  • Branding
  • Positioning
  • Product Launch
  • Link Building

Although the effect of viral content can unleash incredible traffic, keep in mind that its targeting and immediacy in conversions and ROI isn’t likely to be as high in the initial stages. For example, if you are trying to create an immediate boost to sales of a specific product you’re probably better off running a “blitzkrieg” PPC campaign instead.

Selecting Your Content Type

For something to truly “catch on” you need to generate a truly original, brave and fresh concept. Here are some risky concepts:

  • Controversy
  • Scandals
  • Sensationalism
  • Conspiracy
  • Taboo
  • Dark Humour
  • Shocking Material
  • Sexual References
  • Patriotism

Also on the relatively safe side we have:

  • Comedy
  • Games
  • Tools, Services & Information
  • Artistic Content
  • Top Ten Lists
  • Collections
  • Celebrities
  • Patriotism (again)

Looking for Inspiration

There is no best way to do your research but to give your email address to “one of those” friends who constantly forward stuff to everyone else. Yes we are all sick of it and mostly delete emails titled “FWD: FWD: RE: Funny Cats”. Those things keep circulating, however, which means that they still have a high degree of popularity among internet users, workplaces, social networks and circles of friends. Pick the one (or more) you find could work for your industry and work on a new concept or… well simply look at ways or re-hashing the freestyle version into something you can control. Try not to kill the FWD spirit in the process by being sneaky. Stay open about your message and incorporate humour if applicable.

Media Format Choice

A good way to package things is to develop a flash movie or (if you have to) a PowerPoint presentation. Those media types (especially flash) tend to get less edited in the process which ensures the integrity of your message is untouched and prevent any negative distortions. People will of course do it if they really want to, but if you make it too easy it’s almost an invitation to get creative at the cost of your brand. If you are creating a video, maybe incorporate a non-intrusive logo or watermark throughout the length of the feature followed by the end screen credits. If you have a flash file link it to a permanent URL (which can of course be redirected) at the end of the feature. Multimedia content will be plucked and hosted elsewhere if it’s interested enough and you don’t want to lose its primary function in that case.

Portability Issues

Decide whether you want the content to be freely distributed or locked to a domain. If the sole purpose of the viral is to be a link bait then you would certainly want to lock it to a domain name (unless we’re talking about a site/blog widget that contains your link). Otherwise if we’re talking about increasing brand awareness then by all means let it spread everywhere and use tools like “Send-to-Friend”, social media buttons, feeds and copy and paste code snippets for bloggers and site owners.

Be Ready

If you spend lots of money and time on development of your viral, make sure that your technology doesn’t let you down when it takes off. Make sure your hosting arrangements allow for scalable bandwidth. A popular video or a flash file can easilly consume a terabyte of bandwidth in a short period of time.

Deployment & Expectations

Probably one of the best ways to launch a viral is to send it to your friends and colleagues, sit back and watch. In case things aren’t going as you expected, give it a light nudge with your site(s) and social media. At the end of the day if it doesn’t take off at all, do a post-mortem and learn for the next time. If the content proves to be good enough the viral will soar and traffic will peak. This usually happens when the link appears on a big traffic news website or a front page of a big social bookmarking website. The initial traffic will suprise you and then likely exceed your expectations, after that, there is an eminent drop followed by a steady flow of traffic from a vast variety of links accummulated in this short period of time.

Viral Experiment I: Acid Trip

I conducted my first viral test a few years back after receiving an email linking to a page talking about an old government experiment with an artist under influence of LSD. The original set of drawings was packaged up in a single flash file with the usual back and next buttons, selectable flash text and a link to a target page on the final click. The flash movie was simply linked from the main site’s home page. No other means of promotion were applied. This simple flash movie gradually became a hit among savvy users and earned lots of natural links which pushed the page up in the search engines (search term: Acid Trip) which in turn resulted with even more traffic exposing it to a wider range of audiences. I eventually decided to make use of this traffic and promote my favourite online radio station.

Viral Experiment II: Giant Stars

The second test has been conducted deliberately with a great deal of research and planning. For me it was important to know whether it would be possible repeat the success of the first flash, not by accident but on purpose. This piece uses a superlative approach which usually works well (eg: biggest, tallest, fastest, ugliest…etc). There was a twist to it though, it also contained the “wow” factor – a comparative element that blows people away as they go through it. This is what I believe was the key component that contributed towards the success of this experiment – a comparson of things and play on audience’s perspective. So, to get to the point – I used an already circulating set of images comparing the sizes of planets of the solar system, their size relative to the sun, and likewise, our sun measured up against some pretty big celestial bodies out there. This time the page was promptly distributed via usual social media channels and eventually ended up on the front page of one of the main sections of StumbleUpon. This brought a wonderful flow of traffic to the site and within a few days generated lovely natural links. Soon after that we rolled out a video version which was distributed via TubeMogul. I monitored the traffic growth and decline with great interest and attention and am amazed that once stabilised, the traffic continues to flow steadilly for years.


Bottom line – it’s all about the quality of your content. There are things that you can do to make the whole process smoother though, so plan your viral carefully and make sure you’re not harming your brand in the process. There are lots of little annoying things that can get in a way, you will spend time and money to develop it, so do take time to also optimise your viral. Finally, sit back, relax and watch what happens next!

Taking Action

Viral marketing is an extraordinary internet marketing strategy for traffic generation, link building (SEO) and brand building. If you believe your business could benefit from a viral marketing campaign contact us on 1300 123 736 and we will explore your ideas further.

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Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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