What Is Viral Marketing? (With Steps for Successful Implementation)

By Indeed Editorial Team

October 5, 2021

Viral marketing provides marketers with a powerful strategy in which to get word of their product or service out faster. When viral marketing is implemented successfully, businesses can use this strategy to increase their reach and achieve a higher return on investment (ROI) in their campaigns. Viral marketing is an essential strategy to learn for marketing professionals who wish to boost visibility and engagement. In this article, we discuss what viral marketing is, how to create an effective viral campaign and the benefits of doing so within your organization.

What is viral marketing?

Viral marketing is the method of promoting products or services on various social media platforms with the goal of receiving engagement and exposure at a national or global level. The success of a viral marketing strategy depends on customers sharing promotional videos or posts with their social media connections. The more times a marketing campaign gets shared by users who have greater reach or more connections, the more successful a campaign is likely to be.

For viral marketing to succeed, the messaging must be persuasive enough to encourage people to click the "Share" button. In some cases, viral marketing campaigns may go viral because they are humorous, while others may be highly valuable and informative to the target audience. Understanding the audience and producing content that appeals to them and their connections is what separates shareable content from promotions that receive fewer likes and shares.

Related: Creating a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy

How to create a successful viral marketing campaign

Viral marketing requires careful planning and an in-depth understanding of the content the target audience likes as well as how they share information. Here are six steps to implement a successful viral campaign in any marketing strategy:

1. Know the audience

The first step toward a successful viral campaign is to understand the audience and what media they find most appealing. Newer companies can achieve this by developing several campaigns and A/B testing their promotional material to collect more data on engagement. Meanwhile, established companies can better understand their target demographic by studying their past and current social media analytics.

Metrics like audience engagement, keyword traffic, social interactions, page impressions, clicks and reach can help companies identify which content their audience enjoys most and which marketing platforms to launch those campaigns on for maximum engagement. With a better understanding of the audience, companies can tailor marketing campaigns to their audience's needs and guarantee that their promotional materials appeal most to them.

2. Conduct a competitive analysis

Viral marketing campaigns are often unique in nature, making it challenging to conceptualize effective viral promotional material without inspiration or prior examples. Conducting a competitive analysis of viral campaigns in an organization's own industry provides marketers with a better idea of what their own audience may wish to engage with as well as how they can offer their own unique take to garner better results. Conduct competitive analysis early on to create multiple viral campaign ideas to test with an audience.

3. Have a goal for the viral marketing campaign

Viral marketing is typically employed to generate a feeling of excitement around a specific product or service. Some companies may leverage viral campaigns to boost their visibility and attract more customers to their brand. Other brands may produce viral content to get their audience excited about a product or service that has yet to launch. Whatever the reason for developing viral content, having predetermined goals for the marketing campaign and defining its purpose is crucial to understanding its success.

4. Create shareable content

Understanding what each unique platform has to offer and which type of content performs best on that platform can help you define the viral marketing experience and make it easier to create shareable content. For example, written content often performs best on channels like a website's blog or an email marketing campaign. Meanwhile, visually based campaigns are typically best suited for platforms like Instagram or Pinterest, with video content performing well on YouTube or TikTok. Conduct deep research on each social media platform and set KPIs for each viral campaign to track the campaign's progress and assess its impact.

5. Find trends with hashtags

Trends offer marketers an easy way to increase exposure without having to generate buzz on their own. You can achieve this through trend-jacking. Trend-jacking refers to the process of creating promotional material and messaging that reflects a trend that's currently viral and popular on various social media platforms. Through the use of popular hashtags and an understanding of why users gravitate toward these trends, brands can easily leverage these popular videos and messages to their advantage. Better yet, trend-jacking can help brands reach even more customers beyond their target audience, offering additional marketing segments to use in the future.

It's important to know that engagement plays a key role in the success of a viral campaign as well. When using hashtags specifically, make it a point to ask the audience questions or make a statement that spurs conversation. Another common method for increasing reach through hashtags is to establish social media challenges, where users take pictures of their own related to the branded hashtag and share them with their friends. Put simply, there are multiple ways to use existing trends and hashtags to make marketing campaigns go viral.

Related: Learn About Being a Social Media Manager

6. Develop a brand that meets consumer expectations

A successful viral marketing campaign may not produce the intended results if the brand behind the campaign doesn't meet consumer expectations. The product or service mentioned in the promotional material must be of the level of quality that is being promised in the viral campaign. Additionally, brands must ensure that their marketing materials, website and other platforms offer the experience and functionality that visitors want. If a brand does not meet the image it's conveying in its marketing strategy, it can impact its reputation.

What are the different channels employed in viral marketing?

Businesses have multiple channels they can use for their viral marketing campaigns. These channels include:

  • Social media sites: Social media accounts for the bulk of viral marketing in the modern age. With the majority of internet users having their own social media accounts, making content that's capable of going viral is relatively simple.

  • Video sharing sites: Platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Vimeo make it easy for low-budget promotional material to reach viral status in less time. The key to getting the most out of these platforms is to convey a strong, authentic message to the audience and compel them to take action through the use of powerful statements and creative visuals or shots.

  • Word-of-mouth: While word-of-mouth is no longer the most effective channel for viral marketing, businesses that rely on a local customer base can leverage this original viral marketing strategy to get existing customers excited about new products or services.

  • Email: Email marketing campaigns can leave quite an impression on the recipient when you employ the right message or strategy. Today's viral email marketing campaigns use visuals and short, punchy copy to impact their readers.

  • Web forums: Web forums are the perfect way to launch a viral marketing campaign because these resources give marketers a way to connect with audiences that share the same interests and passions. You can achieve success on web forums by developing a strong, trustworthy reputation within the forum and posting once users have become well-acquainted with the personality behind the account.

Related: What Is Buzz Marketing?

Who can use viral marketing?

Anybody can use viral marketing as part of a larger promotion campaign or a standalone sales strategy to increase awareness about a product, service or brand. This method is a favorite among companies with low advertising budgets because it's more cost-effective than classic marketing techniques and paid social media ads. Additionally, viral marketing campaigns can give businesses a more successful launch if they have yet to develop a dedicated consumer base of their own.

Related: How To Market a Small Business: A Complete Guide

Benefits of viral marketing

Viral marketing offers several benefits that make it a favorite among small businesses and larger enterprises alike. A few of the most notable advantages of viral marketing include:

  • Reduced marketing costs: Viral campaigns shift the bulk of the work to the audience, making it easier to reduce marketing costs that are associated with paid ad campaigns and traditional marketing strategies. The only upfront cost involved in a viral marketing campaign is the creation of the promotional material itself.

  • Extended reach: Successful viral campaigns have the potential to reach a large domestic audience and, potentially, an international one. This makes it an ideal marketing method for small businesses and self-employed professionals who have modest advertising funds but offer a stellar product or service.

  • Appealing to the audience: Traditional marketing isn't always the most appealing to consumers, especially if it pops up while they're browsing the internet or watching a video online. Viral marketing campaigns are much more appealing to audiences and give them the opportunity to engage with a company's advertisements rather than having to consume them via traditional marketing channels.

  • Effortless brand awareness: Generally speaking, marketing to anyone and everyone is not a cost-effective way to market a product or service. However, viral marketing eliminates the overall cost you have to pay for brand exposure and offers greater visibility with greater efficiency.

  • Increased data for business growth: Most small businesses have identified their target audience, and this audience typically fits into a smaller niche. Viral marketing can enable you to collect more data as sales skyrocket, allowing you to identify new customer segments and develop buyer personas to implement into your overall marketing strategy.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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