Viral Media Marketing: A Quick Introduction for the Entrepreneur
Almost all of us remember hearing Alec Baldwin yelling at his daughter through a recorded cell phone message, recall Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl clothing malfunction, and recall the shocking images from Abu Ghraib. Some media is literally so compelling that it flies from person to person around the world in a matter of days.
Occasionally someone with a commercial venture manages to come up with content that is almost that compelling. Recently Irish Spring ran an outrageous set of commercials which got them hundreds of millions of impressions they could never have paid for on Youtube and millions of links on social media sites they couldn’t have bought. Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video on Youtube, which contains more than a dozen product placements, has had more than 465 million viewings and that is on just a single iteration of a video that has been widely pirated worldwide carrying the brands in it along for the ride.
There’s a misimpression that because things go viral by accident, going viral is always accidental. The truth is that you can learn how to create viral content quickly, reliably and cost effectively if you understand the mechanics behind the phenomena.
How far the content will travel, and what benefit you may derive from it, has everything to do with you, your product or service, and the nature of the people you most want to reach. But the principles of viral marketing with media are easy to master.
In this article we review what viral media is, how to create it, and how it can best serve your business marketing objectives.
What is Viral Media?
In order to create viral media, you must first understand how it differs from the kind of content we see every day.
We are all exposed to thousands of headlines, slogans, images, recorded sounds and videos every day. Often we ignore this input and we are particularly adept at ignoring messages we perceive to have a commercial payload. There’s only so much time any of us want to spend being sold to. Several specific characteristics set viral media apart.
Viral media is content that has a very high rate of transfer. People see it, or hear it, and immediately want to share it with others. Sometimes the content is shocking, sometimes it is funny, sometimes it is heartwarming, but it always triggers a very strong emotional response. More often than not the response is a positive one. This is particularly true for viral media made for commercial purposes. From a product or service marketing standpoint, “going negative” with the viral media you create is not usually a great idea because it associates your product or your company with strong negative emotions. These emotions are not usually conducive to increased sales.
Viral media is free and easy to transfer. These days the content that goes viral most quickly are links to videos on Youtube or links to content people can download from you website. Emails can be viral, and in the past they’ve been a very effective channel for viral media marketing, but these days SPAM filters often sense when the same message has been sent millions of times and they begin to block it. This is because, in the past, such messages have been the product of computer viruses trying to self-propagate.
Viral media often incorporates “high value” elements that people frequently search for online. A movie star, a celebrity musician, a politician, a well known event or location, a current fad, a song that everyone knows, a story everyone remembers, are all elements can make media interesting and relevant to large number of consumers. These same elements make the content interesting to writers, editors, radio talk show hosts and TV news producers. Very high value viral media can use mass media as a channel to reach people who never go online.
Now that you know what viral media is, you can see that it should be possible to intentionally create content which meets all these requirements. To make the content promote your product or service effectively you must add the additional requirement that the elements in it target the market you want to reach and communicate your brand message efficiently.
Designing Viral Media for Marketing Purposes
It is not an accident that the first Shrek used songs from the 80’s and 90’s. That’s the age group of parents who had children going to see animated features at the time. It is also not an accident that Walt Disney’s first film was Sleeping Beauty. It was a very popular and well known fairy tale and it was a high value story Disney could tell without having to license rights from anyone first. Making a film about Iron Man means you’ll get millions of fans coming to the theater as a guaranteed audience, and with a good film you’ll find you can get millions more.
If you think like a movie producer, you’ll find creating viral media easier. You may not have thousands to spend on hiring a writer, acquiring actors or licensing songs but you can still create viral media that effectively connects your company to your target market without making you pay for every single click you get.
To do this, open the Google External Keyword Search tool and enter in the keywords most relevant to your product. You’ll see the words and phrases that millions of people search for every month. These can serve as high value elements in your media.
Why are they high value? Because people search for them. That means people are looking for content that specifically addresses these topics and that is something you can provide.
Incorporating those keywords into the title of a talking head video or a PDF ebook means that members of your target market who see the content will find it interesting enough to open. If the content inside is emotionally compelling because it is incredibly helpful, shocking, funny or heartwarming it will be forwarded from person to person.
If the content cleverly also carries your brand message and your company’s URL, you’ll get people who follow the link back to your site to learn more about you.
Think this doesn’t work?
Blendtec blenders got hundreds of millions of hits by destroying an iPhone. It was a shockingly effective demonstration that their professional blenders really can grind up anything. Since then the Will It Blend? viral media series has destroyed hundreds of things.
Initial Deployment of Viral Media Marketing Content
Once you’ve created your viral media and carefully tested it to ensure that sending it to one person in your target market results in an immediate transfer to others, you are ready to deploy it on a larger scale.
Ideally your initial release can be via email to your current customers and those who have signed up for your newsletter. Posting it on your website, making it available on Facebook and promoting it with some frequency on Twitter are also good strategies.
If you do not have a significant database of people to start with, you may want to promote your media with ads on Google, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter just to get the ball rolling. These tools make it easy for you to target the people who are most likely to enjoy the media and those who are most likely to purchase your product if they visit your site.
Creating viral media content doesn’t mean you never have to advertise. It just means that you pay far less for the promotion you get.
Viral Media Marketing is an Art, but it isn’t Rocket Science
It takes a bit of trial and error to figure out how to make viral media work really well for your business. What is viral in one market won’t be with another, and content that transfers easily may not gather the kind of customers you want. Still, learning how to create this media can dramatically reduce your marketing expenditures over time and it can create a new relationship between your business and those you serve.