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Going viral. It's the holy grail for anyone putting content on the web. Viral marketing has been around since the days when the Internet was primarily just an email system. People would email "make money fast" Ponzi schemes. I doubt anyone made money. I don't see many of these in email anymore. It's probably not because people have figured out pyramid schemes are doomed to fail. It's more likely email spam filters are really good at catching these things.
But Ponzi schemes are probably a bad example of marketing going viral. The recent Old Spice commercial is a better example of positive viral marketing. Although I don't think I'm more inclined today to buy the stuff. Heck, I thought my father was the last known user of Old Spice and even I quit buying it for him circa Christmas 1982. But a TV commercial that went viral ended up increasing sales by over 100%.
Now there are a lot of companies that will claim they have the secret to making your company message go viral but that's like someone claiming they have the formula for writing the next great Canadian or American novel. It's easier to say "this became popular because" than say "this WILL become popular because" with any accuracy . In other words, "retro-dicting" is much easier than predicting.
Going viral is a bit like making someone fall in love with you. You can't make someone fall in love with you but you can do a lot to make it possible: dress better, read some good books, don't over do it on the Old Spice. So if you're dreaming of going viral, you can do a lot to make it easier for people to find and spread your work.
Some Things to Think About
Most everything that goes viral is cute in some way. Case in point: LOLCats.
Check out this Youtube video:
Six seconds of maximum cuteness and nearly 2 million people have viewed it. It's cute. It has great natural timing and surprise. One little puppy comes charging out and then he's quickly followed by a stampede. The camera low to the ground gives it a sense of immediacy. It makes you feel good and it will make the people you pass it on to feel good.
Also most everything that goes viral involves video or a compelling image. So, hone those video editing and Photoshop skills.
Keep it short and leave them wanting more. Viral works because people have very short attention spans. They don't want to devote more than a couple minutes and you need to catch them in the first second or two. At the same time, you need to let people's imaginations fill in the blanks. The brain is still the ulimate rendering software. The movie Jaws is the classic example of using this to good effect. You don't see the shark for most of the movie. But you know it's there. The movies Cloverfield and the earlier Blair Witch Project both got a lot of mileage out of minimalist viral videos.
Get It Out There
Your message won't go viral if you're not putting it out there. But remember, don't force it. People like the feeling of discovery and letting others know "Look what I found!" Don't spam it. Be strategic where you initially place it. If you need to use a couple confederates to prime the "Look what I found!" pump, make sure their message seems genuine and placed appropriately.
Help people find it. If it's a Youtube video, think hard about the title, description, and tags. What phrases would people likely use to find a video with your content? Facebook might have a fan page or two where you can place your viral video or image appropriately.
Go for the Gold but be Happy with the Bronze
Sure, 10 million site visitors within three days are great but for most companies the vast majority are just using your bandwidth. Consider a strategy for going viral within a specific, relevant community. Your hits are going to be more likely to buy or understand your brand and message. You're more likely to understand the psychology of your audience and what might click.
1) Let it go viral organically.
2) Try to go viral but within a more narrow scope.
3) Be cute.
4) Be original.
5) Be immediate.
6) Leave a lot to people's imagination. Don't spell it out.
7) Keep it short if it's video.
8) Think about how people will find you.
9) Use confederates but be responsible.
10) Help people feel like they've stumbled on something amazing.