Viral Marketing: The Definitive Guide

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.

Viral Marketing

Chapter 1:Viral Marketing Basics

Viral Marketing Basics

In this chapter we’ll cover the basics of viral marketing.

(Including what it is and how it works).

So if you want a quick overview of why things go viral, this intro chapter is for you.

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:

  1. Increased brand awareness
  2. A spike in website traffic
  3. More leads and sales
  4. Decreased marketing costs (viral content is WAY cheaper than ads)
  5. Increased connection with existing customers

Why Things Go Viral

I recently teamed up with BuzzSumo to learn why things go viral.

Backlinko and BuzzSumo – 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.

Longer content gets more shares

Although we didn’t find a big difference in terms of publishing days, content published on Sunday seemed to do best.

Content published on a Sunday does best

We also discovered that longer headlines (14+ words) tended to get a higher than average number of social media shares.

Long headlines are correlated with increased social sharing

Our last finding was that people LOVE lists. In fact, list posts generate more shares than any other type of content (even video).

List posts get a high level of shares

So yeah, interesting stuff. And now it’s time for our next chapter…

Chapter 2:How to Create a Viral Campaign

How to Create a Viral Campaign

In this chapter you’re going to learn how to create a viral marketing campaign from scratch.

So if you’re ready to get started on your first campaign, you’ll love the actionable tips in this chapter.

Let’s get started.

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.

"gut health" statistics – Google Trends

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 - Search

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.

Google Trends - Search for "mattresses"

Then, scroll down to the “related topics” and “related queries” boxes.

Google Trends – "mattresses" results

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.

Contrarian content example

Don’t Make it “Salesy”

Should your content relate to your product?

Of course.

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.

Squatty Potty collage

They only show the product about halfway through the video.

Squatty Potty video

And even then, they only talk about the product itself for a few seconds. Then, it’s back to hilarious content.

Use Data

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.

Data-driven content

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.

Search Engine Ranking Factors post

And brought in a flood of traffic from blogs, news sites and social media.

Flood of traffic

Chapter 3:Viral Marketing Examples

Viral Marketing Examples

Now it’s time for the fun stuff: real life examples!

In this chapter I’m going to breakdown 4 successful viral marketing campaigns. I’ll reveal why they worked… and how you can replicate their success.

Let’s kick things off with our first example…

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.

Purple Egg Drop Test video

This 2018 video combined multiple factors that make content go viral:

  • Humor
  • Intrigue
  • Data
  • Emotion

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.

Purple Mattress flaws video

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.

Dollar Shave Club – Funny video

And it worked!

The video went viral pretty much on day 1. And it now has over 26 million views.

Dollar Shave Club video – Total 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.

Viral map

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.

Dove "Real beauty" video

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).

Harvard Business Review – Emotional content

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

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.

Now what?

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.

Community promotions examples

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.

I have a complete guide to outreach here.

Blogger Outreach post

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:

Spammy personal email

Here’s an example of a GOOD outreach email:

Good outreach email example

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.

Videos are highly emotional and highly visual

Two things that are HUGE for going viral.

Second, YouTube videos can spread naturally on the platform.

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.

North Face Wikipedia campaign

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.

Chapter 5:Viral Marketing Case Study

Viral Marketing Case Study

In this chapter I’m going to show you how one entrepreneur used viral marketing to generate 17,584 unique visitors to a brand new website.

In one day.

And he accomplished this despite having:

Zero connections.

Zero Twitter followers.

Zero marketing budget.

Here’s the exact step-by-step process that he used.

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.

Bootstrap Bay

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.

Chris Gimmer – Traffic spike

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.

Chris Gimmer – Daily traffic stats

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 called, “Stock photos that don’t suck”.

Stock photos that don't suck

Despite being a bland list of links to stock photo sites, that post racked up an impressive number of social shares.

After reading that 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 article lacked the meat that makes a blog post great.

In fact, it was really just a list of links:

List of stock photo websites

Chris rounded out his content with a strong intro and conclusion that made his blog post feel more like, well, a blog post.

Chris Gimmer – Strong introduction

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:

Exact license for each source

3. He added sample pictures from each resource

This made his content much more visual.

Sample photos for each source

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 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:

Reddit thread 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 (basically for web designers):

Chris Gimmer – Blog article

That single LayerVault submission has brought in 1,915 visitors:

Chris Gimmer – Layervault traffic



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.


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