Thanks to social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), it only takes a couple clicks for someone to share something special with their friends. And if those friends share it with their friends, who share it with their friends, who share it with their friends, you suddenly have a “viral” campaign.

But getting hundreds or thousands of people to turn your advertisement, video or publicity stunt into a viral marketing campaign is extremely difficult. The idea is very attractive to most small businesses (free advertising on a large scale), but making it happen requires real skill and savvy. Five secrets to success are included below.five-ways-to-create-viral-marketing-campaign

#1 It has to be unique

If you want your ad, video or publicity stunt to go viral, it has to be unusual, different, new, unique. The “content” (the video, photo, message) and the idea have to be things people haven’t seen before. Simply copying another viral campaign won’t work.

For example, in a very unusual YouTube video campaign promoting the kitchen blender Blendtec, the company’s chief executive put random items into the blender. The blender reduced an iPhone to dust in one of the videos. More than 12 million people watched the videos – leading to a 700 percent increase in Blentec sales. See the Blendtec YouTube video.

#2 It has to touch an emotion

The best viral marketing campaigns make viewers laugh out loud, cry, cringe, get angry or stare in wonderment. Once you elicit that kind of a reaction, the person is much more likely to want to share the experience with friends and family members.

The viral video campaign Dove created that shows the before-and-after transformation of a professional model is a great example of an effort that got a strong emotional reaction from the general public. It was viewed on YouTube over 15 million times and is estimated to be worth $135 – $150 million in marketing dollars. See the Dove YouTube video.

#3 It has to make the sharer look good

People put their reputations on the line when they share something. If the act of sharing your content will make the person look cool, smart or in-the-know among their friends, they’re that much more likely to make the effort.

#4 It has to be quality content

Work with a professional writer, photographer or video production company to ensure your content is of high quality. Something people will be proud to share. And make sure the service provider you’re working with has an intimate knowledge of social media.

#5 It helps to ask

If you want people to share your content, it helps to ask. And if you do ask, it’s best to be specific in your request.

For example, in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, each recipient was asked to not only dump a bucket of ice over their own head (and contribute $10 to the ALS association), but also to publicly nominate three of their friends to do the same within 24 hours. The request was very specific. And in just two months, 1.2 million people participated, generating more than $115 million towards finding an ALS cure. See the ALS Facebook page.

A final note

Attempting a viral marketing campaign is a long shot – even if you do follow all five of the suggestions above. Many companies try every day, yet only a handful reach true viral status each year. It’s definitely not something you want to base your annual marketing plan on, but, like so many things, it’s a good compliment to a traditional direct-mail marketing program.

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