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Three Key Strategies Behind Viral Marketing Campaigns

Update: In November 2018, Full Sail’s Internet Marketing programs were updated and are now Digital Marketing Bachelor’s, Digital Marketing Master’s, and Digital Marketing Certificate.

Digital marketing professionals are tasked with a big challenge: In today’s online, product-saturated world, they’ve got to find a way to make their product or service stand out. The most memorable campaigns are the ones that go viral; but launching a viral marketing campaign is much easier said than done.

“You can’t just sit around in a boardroom and say, ‘Let’s make a viral marketing campaign,’” says Rob Croll, a digital marketing consultant, Internet Marketing program director at Full Sail University, and one of Social Media Marketing magazine’s Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. “When campaigns go viral, it’s not necessarily accidental, but it is certainly something that is very hard to plan.”

While digital marketers may not have the secret to viral success, they can hedge their bets in the right direction by leveraging characteristics of successful viral campaigns. Below are a few of the strategies for creating a campaign that has the legs to go viral.

Target the appropriate channels.

“The first step in developing a viral marketing campaign is to find out where your target audience lives online,” says Genon Murray, a seasoned product development consultant. She teaches the Internet Marketing Campaign Development course in Full Sail University’s Internet Marketing master’s degree program, which requires students to create a comprehensive digital marketing plan for a real business or client.

Utilizing existing social media networks is always preferable to trying to drive traffic to a brand’s own site. Marketers should make the effort to go directly to their audience. This is why the most successful viral content includes easily sharable assets like videos, hashtags, or memes. If a consumer feels that they’re able to develop a rapport with a brand, they’re more likely to pass their awareness on via the share button.

“When Universal Orlando Resort announced the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, they decided that instead of spending money on advertising, they were just going to send out the story to seven bloggers; but they carefully selected which seven,” says Maria Ferguson, previously an Internet Marketing Manager for Tribune Interactive, who currently lends her expertise to Advanced Internet Marketing Strategies students as a course director at Full Sail. “From those bloggers, within 24 hours they had 1.5 million people visit their website. Social media users started to share the story, and then mass media picked up the news. Their campaign went viral because there was strategy involved; not because they blindly sent something out.”

Stay true to the brand’s voice.

“Don’t spend time on something that is inconsistent with what people expect of a brand,” says Croll. “Look at Old Spice’s ‘I’m on a horse’ campaign. That really wasn’t consistent with the old Old Spice brand, but it’s more of what their voice is now, which is a little bit funny, quirky, and edgy. I think if Chipotle suddenly decided to come out with something ridiculous, that wouldn’t match their brand. Those kinds of things tend to fall flat.”

For marketers who don’t have the resources to funnel a ton of money into a campaign, aligning with a cause is a good way to foster an image of authenticity associated with the brand they’re trying to promote. Beyond the value of a product, people like to know that they’re supporting a company that’s invested in the community as a whole, and the best way to demonstrate that is by engaging with consumers in an effort to give back.

Credibility counts.

According to Murray, many marketers make the mistake of trying to emulate the voice of their target demographic. While this may help them grab the attention of a younger crowd, it still pays to consider proper grammar and sentence structure when developing marketing materials. Speaking to an audience correctly will give a campaign a wider appeal and raise a company’s credibility within a target demographic.

Also, don’t present information that isn’t factual. Since the goal of a campaign is to get users to pass on information about a product with their social network of peers, presenting false information has the potential to make them look less credible to their friends as well. This could have a devastating effect on a campaign.

“In this day and age when information is so readily available to all of us, over exaggerating or lying about anything is going to derail all of your hard work,” says Murray. “So stick to the facts.”

Full Sail University’s Internet Marketing Master’s program equips students with the techniques that brands and businesses need in order to engage with consumers in the constantly-evolving digital world. To learn more, click here.

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