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Sharing Is Caring: How Viral Marketing Really Works

The phrase “going viral” is simply part of people’s everyday lexicon. But as a conscious marketing strategy, going viral is a much more complex, if inexact, science.

What factors make a piece of content go viral are the answer to the million, or more likely trillion, dollar marketing question. And what makes a particular article, video or meme go viral is never just one thing. Instead, “going viral” depends largely on extrinsic factors affecting consumers that marketers can no more control than predict.
That doesn’t mean companies can’t use this type of wide circulation as a marketing strategy. Viral marketing techniques play a valuable role in modern content marketing, helping companies and their creators make the most of their work by putting it in front of the most viewers possible. After all, viral marketing reaches customers at an exponential rate because customers become the marketing team.
While it’s impossible to control viral marketing because it, by definition, requires releasing control of a brand and its message into the hands of the masses, it does have a structure. Dr. Ebiz, Ralph F. Wilson, defines the elements that represent the features most often contained in successful viral marketing campaigns.
“Free” is one of marketing’s most powerful words — users are more likely to engage and share messages that promise something in return. Whether a company is hosting a contest or awarding a free product or service, giveaways are a powerful gateway to sales and generate plenty of buzz.
If it’s successful, a viral campaign can go from very small to very large very quickly, but marketers can’t allow the virus to kill the host. They need to plan ahead with more servers, more customer support and more power to accommodate a viral audience. They also need to keep messages short — they’re less likely to degrade or lose content during the sharing process — and ensure share buttons and other social media tools are easily accessible.
It might sound too straightforward, but marketers should take time to think about what consumers want. It’s usually simple: free goods, popularity, love and acceptance, to name a few. Give the people what they want and they’ll want to let the world know about it. That’s how social marketing works; the more universal the motives and behaviors a marketer can exploit, the more the consumers will want to tell their friends about the viral content. Whether through an email list, a social network or a blog following, using people’s established relationships and their established communication pathways ensures that a viral message has a smooth journey ahead.
The less work a marketer has to do, the better the ROI on a viral campaign. Using social networks, affiliate marketers, other people’s blogs and even press releases can expand a message without taxing or exploiting personal connections. With 57 percent of customers noting that they’re influenced by positive comments they see about brands online when they’re researching, there’s no reason not to tap into as many marketing channels as possible.

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