Viral Marketing: The Definitive Guide
This is the complete guide to viral marketing.
In this new guide you’ll learn:
- How to launch viral campaigns from scratch
- How to make viral videos
- Helpful tools, strategies and pro tips
- Lots more
Let’s dive right in.
What Is Viral Marketing?
Viral marketing is a marketing practice that leverages network effects and word-of-mouth promotion.
Put another way:
Viral marketing is an approach designed to get others to share your product for you.
In other words, traditional marketing is where you blast your marketing messages to a group (like with TV commercials).
And viral marketing is where you encourage other people to spread your product or service.
That said, in the real world most products don’t have a realistic chance of going viral.
And if you’re in that spot, you need to create a piece of viral content instead.
(More on that later)
Benefits of Viral Marketing
So you might be wondering: why bother with viral marketing at all? Aren’t you better off sticking to traditional marketing approaches, like online advertising and SEO?
To be clear: going viral isn’t going to replace traditional marketing anytime soon. But it’s a great way to complement what you’re already doing.
Specifically, here are the top 5 benefits that your business can see from a successful viral marketing campaign:
- Increased brand awareness
- A spike in website traffic
- More leads and sales
- Decreased marketing costs (viral content is WAY cheaper than ads)
- Increased connection with existing customers
Why Things Go Viral
I recently teamed up with BuzzSumo to learn why things go viral.
Obviously, it’s impossible to quantify exactly why certain content gets shared more than others. There are a million variables involved. But this industry study at least gives us an idea of what traits viral campaigns tend to have.
So: what did we find?
First, when it comes to blog content, longer content gets significantly more shares than short articles.
Although we didn’t find a big difference in terms of publishing days, content published on Sunday seemed to do best.
We also discovered that longer headlines (14+ words) tended to get a higher than average number of social media shares.
Our last finding was that people LOVE lists. In fact, list posts generate more shares than any other type of content (even video).
So yeah, interesting stuff. And now it’s time for our next chapter…
Find a Hot Topic
Your first step is to find a topic that people will WANT to share.
In other words:
A red hot topic that people are already talking about.
Why is this important?
Well, most products and brands that go viral leverage an existing trend.
For example, this Squatty Potty video went viral (it currently has 36 million views).
Sure, the video is professional. And funny.
But the REAL reason this video did so well is that it piggybacked on the emerging interest in gut health.
If this same video came out in 2012 or 2013, people wouldn’t have been ready for it.
The question is:
HOW do you find these hot topics?
First, use Google Trends.
Google Trends shows you hot topics (actually, keywords) that people are searching for in Google.
To use it, just enter a broad topic that describes your brand or product.
Then, scroll down to the “related topics” and “related queries” boxes.
This shows you hot topics related to the keyword you just typed in.
You can also use BuzzSumo’s Content Research feature.
In my experience, this tool is actually better for finding hot topics than Google Trends. But I actually use both.
Anyway, all you need to do is search for a few keywords related to your business. Then, look at what types of content gets the most shares.
For example, if you search for “Keto” in BuzzSumo, you’ll notice that contrarian content (“’No One Should Be Doing Keto Diet’ Says Leading Cardiologist”) and recipes (“Keto Chicken Quesadilla”) tend to do best.
Don’t Make it “Salesy”
Should your content relate to your product?
But it’s important to keep in mind that your viral campaign isn’t a traditional advertising campaign. There shouldn’t be a logo, slogan or other traditional marketing assets.
Instead, the focus should be on creating something cool that people will WANT to share.
Let’s look again at The Squatty Potty video I mentioned earlier.
This video 100% relates to the product. But it’s also educational and funny.
They only show the product about halfway through the video.
And even then, they only talk about the product itself for a few seconds. Then, it’s back to hilarious content.
Viral videos aren’t for everyone. For example, if you sell something boring like B2B supply chain software, it probably doesn’t make sense to make a funny video.
That’s where data comes into play.
Data is a SUPER underrated way to get shares and targeted traffic.
For example, my business is an online education company. It’s a pretty small niche. Which means that there’s no point in making a funny video that’s designed for a large audience.
Even if that video DID go viral, it wouldn’t get in front of my target audience of marketing professionals.
So instead of funny stuff, we focus on data-driven content that our audience is interested in.
It may not rack up millions of pageviews, but we do go viral in our small niche.
For example, this search engine ranking factors analysis we did racked up over 8k social shares.
And brought in a flood of traffic from blogs, news sites and social media.
Purple Mattress’ Egg Drop Test
This video (which has 55 million views to date), Purple Mattress dropped a guy onto a bunch of eggs held only by a mattress.
This 2018 video combined multiple factors that make content go viral:
But this video also has something that your viral campaign doesn’t NEED… but it helps.
I’m talking about controversy.
That’s because lots of people pointed out flaws in the way this “study” was conducted.
This wasn’t anything that derailed the video. But it was just controversial enough to drive up interest.
Takeaway Lesson: As long as you nail the fundamentals, adding a touch of controversy can definitely help. This doesn’t mean that you need to take a stand on a controversial issue. But you can add a touch of controversy by doing something that sparks a conversation, like running an experiment, bucking a common practice or doing something outlandish in a boring space (like mattresses).
Dollar Shave Club’s Intro Video
When Dollar Shave Club first started, they had a problem:
How do we explain our unique service to our core audience of young guys?
You have to remember that in 2012 monthly boxes were brand new concepts. Which meant that Dollar Shave Club had to explain why people should stop picking up razors at CVS and sign up for razors-by-mail instead.
So they decided to create a video that explained what they did using lots and lots of humor.
And it worked!
The video went viral pretty much on day 1. And it now has over 26 million views.
But more important that views is that the video put Dollar Shave Club on the map. The brand awareness they got from that video is worth millions (even though the entire campaign cost them $4500).
Takeaway Lesson: If you have a product or service that requires an explanation, make the explanation fun. That way, people will actually WANT to learn about what you do.
Wage Needed To Rent a House Map
Maps are a SUPER underrated form of visual content.
Unlike things like videos and infographics, maps are a CINCH to make. And the right map can go viral.
For example, this simple map racked up 877.5k social shares.
As you can see, that map isn’t going to win any design awards. But it strikes a nerve that pushes people to share it.
Takeaway Lesson: Like I mentioned in Chapter 2, data is HIGHLY shareable. And maps are a great way to package that data for maximum shares. That’s because people that live in places on the map (or know people that do) will want to share your map.
Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches Campaign
This single video has racked up 68 MILLION views.
How is this possible?
Well, Dove hit on multiple emerging trends: new ways to define “beauty”, confidence and a focus on self-care.
And the video wasn’t some fluff piece that said: “All women are beautiful in their own way!”.
Instead, this video is a touching piece of content that increases high-arousal emotions.
And, according to a study by Sorbonne University, emotional content is more likely to get shared (and therefore go viral).
Takeaway Lesson: This campaign worked because it was highly EMOTIONAL. And considering sharing is an emotional decision, pushing the right emotional buttons can help your content spread. This sort of thing is not easy to pull off. But as you just saw, when it works, it REALLY works.
Chapter 4:Advanced Tips and Techniques
Now that you have a handle on the fundamentals and have seen real life examples of viral marketing in action, it’s time to go advanced.
Specifically, I’m going to show you a four advanced strategies that will increase the odds that you go viral.
Promote in Communities
So you just created something that you’re SURE can go viral.
Well, it’s time to promote your content in communities.
The exact community depends on what you’re looking to promote.
But in general, places like Quora, Product Hunt and Reddit can work well.
Obviously, you don’t want to spam these communities. That’s going to do more harm than good. Instead, you want to casually mention your content with the group.
If it resonates with that group, members will comment on your post and upvote it… which can be the initial “push” that every viral marketing campaign needs.
Use Email Outreach
Email outreach is another way to get eyeballs on your content.
But as a quick summary, you want to target people that are SUPER interested in your content.
For example, let’s say you just published a video about The Paleo Diet. Well, you’d want to reach out to bloggers that write about Paleo. Simple.
Targeting the right people is 90% of the game.
The other 10% is sending people personalized, non-spammy messages.
In other words, you want to avoid stuff like this:
Here’s an example of a GOOD outreach email:
Focus On Video
As you saw from the viral marketing examples in Chapter 4, videos are PRIMED to go viral.
So if you’re deciding between different formats, definitely go with video.
There are two reasons that videos tend to work better than blog posts, infographics, ebooks… and pretty much anything else.
First, videos are highly emotional and highly visual.
Two things that are HUGE for going viral.
Second, YouTube videos can spread naturally on the platform.
In other words: your videos can spread on YouTube without you needing to hustle for every view. You still need to give your video that initial push.
But if people start to watch, like and share your videos, YouTube will start to promote the video on its platform.
Make Sure Your Campaign Is In-Line With Your Product
For example, IBM’s “A Boy and His Atom” video is closely tied to computers.
As an example of what NOT to do, The North Face recently defaced Wikipedia in an effort to get higher Google rankings.
Then, in a lame attempt to go viral, they bragged about it.
Needless to say, gaming Wikipedia is not in-line with The North Face’s brand.
How Chris Gimmer Generated 17,584 Visitors
(In One Day)
Chris Gimmer is the founder of BootstrapBay, a new marketplace for themes built using the popular web development framework called Bootstrap.
Make no mistake:
The Bootstrap theme niche is REALLY competitive with dozens of entrenched competitors.
It gets worse:
Chris wasn’t some hotshot startup founder with years of experience under his belt.
In fact, Chris recently left his 9-5 gig in the finance world to launch his startup.
Despite those setbacks, Chris launched a campaign that brought in 17,584 visitors in one day to his brand new site.
Companies like Blendtec, Old Spice, GoPro and Dollar Shave Club all created viral videos that have generated millions of views.
Thanks to their videos going viral, brand awareness and sales shot up like a rocket…
…and never went back to square one.
And it was a similar story with Chris’s campaign.
Before the massive traffic surge, BootstrapBay was averaging around 150 visitors per day.
Now they average over 2000 visits per day.
Bottom line: A single viral marketing campaign can make a huge long-term difference in your site’s traffic.
With that, here are the steps that Chris used.
Step #1: Find Content With a Proven Track Record of Success
One day Chris stumbled upon a post on Medium.com called, “Stock photos that don’t suck”.
Despite being a bland list of links to stock photo sites, that Medium.com post racked up an impressive number of social shares.
After reading that Medium.com post, Chris thought to himself:
“If that list of links got people that excited, what if I made something way better?”
Which leads us to our second step…
Step #2: Improve On The Content That You Find
Here are the techniques Chris used to dramatically improve the base content he found:
1. He turned the content into a full blog post with an introduction, body and conclusion
The Medium.com article lacked the meat that makes a blog post great.
In fact, it was really just a list of links:
Chris rounded out his content with a strong intro and conclusion that made his blog post feel more like, well, a blog post.
2. He indicated which license each website used
People love to share insanely useful stuff.
Believe it or not, but creating something super-useful isn’t that hard.
You just need to give your content that extra umph that most people are too lazy to add.
Case in point: Chris’s post.
Chris told people the exact license each free stock photo site had:
3. He added sample pictures from each resource
This made his content much more visual.
Adding images seems like a no-brainer. But a fair share of “here’s a list of free stock photo sites” articles don’t feature images (including the Medium.com post).
At this point, you’re probably wondering:
How long did all these improvements take?
Chris must have handcuffed himself to his laptop and worked non-stop for 87 days.
Actually… it took Chris a grand total of 6-hours to create his epic resource.
Here’s the breakdown of those 6-hours:
- 1.5 hours to search the web for additional resources
- 1 hour to determine which license each site falls under
- 1.5 hour to gather all the pictures
- 2 hours to write the post and put it all together
So at this point Chris had an epic piece of content live on his site.
But with no following and no connections, how could he possibly go viral?
Well that’s where step #3 of this process comes into play…
Step #3: Promote Your Content
I mentioned this back in Chapter 4…
If you want your content to get results, you can’t rely on the ol’ “Publish and Pray” approach.
Instead, you need to promote it.
How did Chris promote his content?
I’m glad you asked…
First, Chris submitted his post to a place that his target audience hangs out.
Web designers make up a huge chunk of Chris’s target audience.
And where do they hang out?
The web design sub-reddit on Reddit. So he decided to share his content there.
As you can see, his Reddit thread quickly racked up 181 upvotes:
Upvotes are great and all… but what about TRAFFIC?
That single Reddit thread drove 2,168 visitors to Chris’s content overnight:
Next, Chris submitted his content to a bunch of web designer communities.
Chris realized that the web design subreddit was just one of MANY places that his target audience hung out.
So he submitted his content to web design communities, like LayerVault.com (basically GrowthHackers.com for web designers):
That single LayerVault submission has brought in 1,915 visitors:
That’s it for my complete guide to viral marketing.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
Which campaign from today’s guide was your favorite?
Chris’s stock photo campaign? Or are you a big fan of The Dollar Shave Club video?
Either way, let me know in the comments section below.