Viral marketing aims to get organic peer-to-peer sharing of branded content, catalyzing rapid growth in reach and exposure. With social platforms like TikTok reshaping opportunities, creative and strategic viral campaigns will be more important than ever for brands in 2023.
This article explores the ingredients for viral success and provides practical tips to help craft contagious content optimized for key platforms. Follow these latest viral trends and tactics to break through the noise and authentically engage audiences.
Crafting Compelling Content That Spreads
The cornerstone of an impactful viral campaign is content that motivates your audience to actively share it. Use these creative strategies to develop engaging content with viral potential:
Tap Into Timely Pop Culture and Trends
Leverage timely cultural trends, current events, or viral memes to create content that feels fresh and relevant. This topical connection helps ideas resonate better with your audience and provides a natural hook to spark shares.
For example, Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches" campaign in 2013 leveraged the insight that women tend to feel less beautiful than they think. The emotional ad featured an FBI-trained sketch artist drawing women first based on their own descriptions of themselves, then based on a stranger's description. The resulting uplifting message struck a chord, powering the video to over 65 million YouTube views.
Spark Controversy to Fuel Engagement
Thoughtful controversy can drive engagement if handled strategically. Select divisive issues or debates that authentically align with your brand values. Share uncommon perspectives that challenge the status quo, but in a way that logically relates to your brand positioning. For instance, eco-friendly brands could spark healthy debate by advocating against excessive consumerism.
Use shock tactics carefully, as going too far risks damaging your brand reputation. Edgy stunt marketing or risqué celebrity partnerships may work for some brands where it fits the image, but it's not for every company.
Turn Critics into Collaborators
Don't delete or ignore negative reactions. Respond judiciously to foster understanding, potentially transforming critics into engagers.
With strategic care, brands can drive reach through timely issues. But ensure discourse enriches cultural understanding versus sowing division. Wield controversy responsibly to boost engagement.
Use Humor and Entertainment
Humorous, funny or entertaining content tends to spread more readily on social media. Experiment with lighthearted humor styles like parody, satire, absurdism or even cringe-worthy jokes. Or develop engaging series content, like BuzzFeed's wildly popular Tasty food videos.
The iOS game Dumb Ways to Die created a quirky 3-minute music video in 2012 to promote rail safety, showing cute cartoon characters meeting absurd, irresponsible deaths. The catchy song and funny animation led the video to see high engagement with over 180 million YouTube views.
Encourage Audience Participation
Campaigns that inspire audiences to co-create content or actively participate tend to see high involvement and sharing. Contests, polls, hashtag campaigns, challenges or content prompts can spur your audience to engage more actively instead of just passively consuming.
For example, Lay's crowdsourced new chip flavors by having audiences submit and vote on flavor ideas for a chance to win $1 million. This generated widespread buzz and participation from fans to promote the campaign.
Spark Intrigue and Curiosity
Pique viewer curiosity by revealing something unexpected or teasing upcoming content. Cliffhangers, plot twists, surprises and mysteries all build suspense that compels audiences to watch closely and pass content along to others.
The team behind the Serial podcast leveraged the intrigue approach extremely effectively. The ongoing true crime story revealed new clues and twists week to week, prompting intense speculation and word-of-mouth discussion.
Optimize For Shareability
Consider shareability upfront when developing content. Craft content specifically designed for social sharing instead of just your owned channels.
For example, adapt videos for horizontal mobile formats, use bite-sized images or snippets ideal for platforms like Instagram or TikTok, and incorporate clickable tags and mentions to make assets more inherently shareable.
Leverage Influencers and Advocates Authentically
Influencer marketing will continue playing a pivotal role in viral efforts. But branded influencer content needs to feel organic and authentic, rather than forced or overly promotional.
Carefully Select Relevant Influencers
Seek out influencers who authentically connect with your brand first, rather than chasing the biggest names. Micro-influencers with small but highly engaged niche audiences can be very effective for niche viral campaigns. The goal is credible third-party endorsements that appeal to specific target demographics.
Give Influencers Creative Freedom
Allow influencers freedom to add their own spin and style to campaign content. Avoid overly prescribed or strict instructions. Granting creative license results in more genuine influencer activations that appeal to their unique followers.
Develop Advocate Programs
Consider formal advocate programs that proactively recruit and leverage passionate customers. These brand evangelists provide credible user-generated content, authentic recommendations, and honest reviews that appeal to their own trusted networks.
Seed Products to Drive Organic Buzz
Send select influencers or advocates free products to feature, review or demonstrate before general market availability. This type of pre-launch "seeding" helps spark organic buzz, reviews and anticipation. Luxury brands often rely on seeding campaigns to hype new product launches.
Optimize Content and Strategy For Each Platform
With the social media landscape continuing to shift, brands should tailor viral content for the unique nuances of each platform rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
Lean Into TikTok Trends
Given TikTok's meteoric rise, optimizing viral content for the platform is more critical than ever before. Hashtag challenges, viral dances, duets, reaction videos and other trends unique to TikTok all represent opportunities. Encourage TikTok creators to generate their own branded content using your products.
For example, Chipotle's #ChipotleLidFlip challenge that had TikTok users flipping Chipotle lids before catching them went massively viral, generating over 230 million video views.
Craft Instagram Reels and Stories
Leverage Instagram Reels for short-form, catchy video content. Create interactive ephemeral Stories content like polls, questions, quizzes and AR filters to encourage engagement. Also have influencers take over your brand's Instagram Story for raw, unpolished content.
Foster YouTube Video Content
Longer-form entertaining or educational YouTube videos lend themselves well to going viral, especially if resonating with video creators. Encourage YouTubers to develop ongoing series around topics relevant to your audience. Provide B-roll footage and brand assets to naturally incorporate into organic video content.
Adapt Messaging For Facebook
Given Facebook's broad, aging demographic, lighter and more uplifting content tends to spread better than serious or gloomier messaging. Use short video ads to reach bigger audiences with your viral content.
Resonate With Reddit's Culture
Winning over Reddit comes down to providing value, sparking discussion and understanding specific Reddit culture. Ensure content offers useful information or an insightful perspective instead of overtly promoting your brand. Target specific subreddit communities that would find the content relevant.
Prompt Sharing Via Email and Messaging
Optimize content for email and chat forwarding by crafting easily shareable assets. For example, add share buttons and copy like "Check this out!" to prompt forwarding of helpful articles, entertaining videos, quizzes and more.
Track Performance and Continually Optimize
Robust analytics are crucial for understanding what content resonates and how to refine your approach over time.
Monitor Engagement Metrics
Analyze engagement data across platforms to see how different content performs. Watch for standout trends in metrics like clickthrough rates, completion rates, bounce rates and other engagement behaviors.
Assess Organic Sharing Activity
Measure key sharing indicators like social shares, link clicks, embeds and click rates on share buttons. This reveals how well content spreads organically to earn added reach.
Run A/B Testing
Test different elements like headlines, visuals and calls-to-action to learn what resonates most with your audience. The insights can inform content optimizations to increase virality.
Analyze Earned Media and Brand Mentions
Use social listening and brand monitoring tools to assess organic brand mentions, hashtag usage, and unprompted references. This helps gauge growing brand awareness and interest as content spreads.
Continuously Optimize Paid Promotion
For campaigns using paid promotion, relentlessly optimize elements like targeting, placement and creative based on performance data. This helps amplify the reach of your most effective content.
Key Takeaways for Viral Marketing Success
- Craft compelling content that entertains, informs or intrigues audiences enough to share it.
- Work with credible influencers and advocates to generate authentic buzz and endorsements.
- Tailor messaging and content for each social platform's unique audience and format.
- Analyze sharing behavior and optimize based on performance data.
- Promote organic peer-to-peer sharing over hard promotional messaging.
Viral content that captivates audiences with humor, surprise or utility tends to spread further through organic word-of-mouth in 2023. Brands that perfect the art and science of crafting contagious content will earn attention and engagement in an increasingly crowded digital landscape.
Focus on providing value and entertainment first and foremost. With creative, strategic viral campaigns optimized for today's social platforms, brands can expand reach exponentially and build communities of loyal brand advocates.