The Two Rules of Viral Marketing: Rule One

Laura Ferruggia December 1, 2014

The internet is a wild place. You may know about internet content going “viral”—being shared on social media sites all over the web and seen by millions of people. It can give you a ton of exposure; in some cases, it has brought fame and money to people who didn’t even expect it. But what exactly is viral marketing? Can it be helpful to growing your business? We tackle these questions and more in our two-part series “The Rules of Viral Marketing.” Here is Part One.

The First Rule of Viral Marketing Is You Don’t Talk About Viral Marketing

If you hear about this trend and are thinking about your own brand marketing, it can be pretty tempting to try going viral. After all, what would be better than a creative, innovative brand strategy that is considered modern and “cool” and gets your name out there?

You should think twice before you try making an internet meme a part of your brand strategy. As web marketing expert Scott Hoover of Miles Technologies says, “The first rule of viral marketing is you don’t talk about viral marketing.”

Ultimately, the most innovative marketing strategy appeals to your customers and doesn’t make viral content for the sake of viral content. If you want to be unique, you need to know what information people want but don’t have, and then you need to step in to give it to them. Before you try to use the internet’s viral sharing tendencies to your advantage, you should think about providing content that will be to your customers’ advantage.Trying too hard is often the downfall of social media brand strategies that are meant to be creative. People can tell when you’re not being genuine, and you can only get away with it for so long. The internet is brutal. Before the internet age, it was easier to put your missteps behind you, but nowadays, someone on reddit with too much time on their hands will pick apart your mistakes.

What are memes and viral content?

Internet memes and viral marketing are strongly intertwined. LOLcats are among the most recognized examples of a viral meme—if you don’t know, those are the pictures of cats with captions like “I can haz cheeseburger.” To someone internet-savvy, this explanation probably sounds painfully obvious and worthy of viral mocking.

The word meme comes from evolutionary biology—memes are best described as the cultural version of genes, transmitted socially rather than genetically. The use of “meme” on the internet is accurate, as viral internet content spreads culturally via shares on social media, though there is sometimes more intent involved with LOLcat-style internet memes than there is with, say, a new slang term that emerges naturally among a cultural group. Other times, viral content spreads online and becomes a meme in a totally organic fashion without the creator’s intention. The true definition of meme is broader than LOLcats—any cultural unit of data can spread as a meme. However, the internet can really jumpstart the process of cultural sharing, which is why it’s so appealing to marketers.

When is viral content marketing a bad idea?

Not all viral content is a good idea, and it may not be right for your business. What you post has to be relevant to your business as well as your customers’ needs. It has to be consistent, and it has to make sense. Something unrelated to your product will not bring positive attention to it, nor will it be useful to your desired customers. Businesses that fail in their web marketing strategies are only making content for their own benefit and not thinking about the benefit to the users.

Some web marketing campaigns that seem creative and current can end up backfiring. For instance, if you ask your customers to make a video about your product, you’re only giving your detractors a platform to bash you.

And because it can’t be repeated too much—you really need to be genuine. For instance, in 2006, Walmart suffered a major PR disaster when they decided to launch their “Walmarting Across America” blog. The blog was supposedly written by two Walmart fans who traveled to Walmarts across America, talking to employees about how great it was to work at Walmart. However, it turned out the writers were being compensated by Walmart and that many of the stories were likely false—and the corporation faced enormous backlash.

What your business produces may never go viral on social media, especially if you’re a small business and/or in a niche area, but remember—quality over quantityReaching the right people is far more important than reaching the most people. If you don’t have a ton of likes or shares for a post, don’t be discouraged—that may not necessarily be a bad thing. If the right people are the ones who are sharing and liking your content, then you’re likely to get more quality leads.

But you might be wondering—how do I get the right people to find my content? And why should I exercise patience instead of hoping to create the next viral meme? Part Two discusses the best ways to reach the right audience with remarkable content. 

Do you have any experience with making content go viral?  What are your favorite examples of viral wins? Let us know in the comments section.

Interested in learning more about how creative marketing generates more leads for your business? Contact us today and speak to an experienced marketing specialist.


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