You Want Viral? You Can't Handle Viral!

Virality. This is the single most overused and meaningless term in digital marketing today.  With virality, content is being shared by a great mass of people -- which can happen either spontaneously, through great planning or dumb luck. Virality is what we all want, and it’s something many of us will never get.

There are elements that you can manipulate to try and increase the opportunity for something viral to take place, but you can’t control it.   In the immortal words of Dan Patrick from his days at ESPN, “You can’t stop it; you can only hope to contain it.”

You need a few key ingredients to create something that could go viral:

1. Strong, engaging, funny or immensely relevant content. Without truly engaging and relevant content, your message will go nowhere.  You need the kind of exclusive, first-mover-advantage content that people will see, will immediately apply to themselves and their situations, and will share.



2. Share functionality, built-in and noticeable. Think through the user interface and make sure your share buttons are prominent, easy to use, and tap into Facebook, Twitter and email.  Many people forget about email, but the majority of sharing still happens through this channel, so don’t overlook it.

3. A launching pad that stokes the fire for a large initial blast. You need a launching pad, which can be an online campaign using Facebook, banners or in-game text ads.  It can also be a TV campaign, or even a print campaign.  You need something that can reach a large audience all at the same time, in an uncluttered environment.

 4. The launch needs to be a big, fast blitz, not a tempered, gradual release. As they say: Go big or go home.  You need to make a quick splash and you need to do it now.  That’s the only way to spark the attention of fans  and get them to share your content. 

“Funny Or Die” is among the best at this, having figured out all of the above and making viral efforts almost better than anyone.  Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake should be ushered into the Viral Hall of Fame for their recent efforts with the “History of Rap.” These are the kinds of efforts that gain notoriety immediately, and then just keep on going.  They have taken viral to an art form -- one we all desire to emulate.

 Of course, relevant to one of my last articles, virality is impossible without great content.  To be blunt, crappy content will not be viral.  If you are a brand looking to create some viral buzz, or if you are an agency looking to pitch a “viral” campaign (if you are, you should rethink your strategy), then you need to be hyper-critical of yourself. You’d better focus-test that creative to be sure you have something really special.

One last bit of advice: Don’t be afraid to spend money in lieu of virality.  You can drive reach in any number of ways, and viral is the most ideal, but reach is reach.  Sometimes the tipping point requires more mass reach than you thought.

Don’t you agree?

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