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How to Create a Viral Campaign: A Small Business Guide

While viral videos might seem like a stroke of luck, they're actually no fluke. Read our guide and help get your message to millions

Virality is the holy grail of online marketing. It can be monumental for a small business if you have something that really takes off and gets everyone talking. But what is the secret formula for achieving this? We’re consuming content at an alarming rate and our online attention span is fickle at best. However, there are a few tricks of the trade to help get you into the mind frame for what content makes people tick.

Firstly, what’s the sentiment of the content; is it laughter, joy or social kudos? One theory from Jonah Berger examined the emotional triggers that explain why things catch on and become contagious. Content is not explicit to one of these categories, in fact, the most successful campaigns seem to branch in to more than one area. Before you begin a campaign, it’s worth thinking which of the following boxes your messaging achieves;

Social currency Most of us like to app­­ear knowledgeable to their friends and ‘in the know’. A great example of a small business that achieved a place in the viral hall of fame is from Blendtec with their Will It Blend campaign. Their videos not only showed the product integrity but also remained simple and cost effective.

Triggers This relates to an event that can be tied back to your business. Therefore, when that day or event rolls around, your brand is front of mind. Think of the Coca-Cola truck at Christmas or even National Hug A Plumber Day. There are some great tools such as Year Ahead that can help you see what events tie into your brand.

Emotion The components of an emotional viral campaign rely on feelings rather than function. The Persil Dirt is Good pledge for children to spend more time outdoors is about as tear-jerking as it gets. As a small business it might not be possible to produce something on the same scale but it’s a good example of how an everyday item can be transformed sentimentally.

Public Jonah claims, “the more public something is, the more likely people will imitate it”. Longevity is key so that it continues to generate public interest and remains popular. Almost the opposite of the ‘trigger’ phase, it leaves a behavioural residue akin to your brand (such as Louboutin’s red soles).

Practical Value Similar to social currency, people want content and ideas that are useful to their everyday lives. You only need to look at the success of Buzzfeed’s life hacks to see how widely shared this type of content is! The key to this type of idea or branding campaign is ‘news you can use’ – inform rather than inspire your readers and make their lives better or easier!

Stories Pick a narrative for your brand and take your customers on a journey. Do you have a strong purpose or driving force behind your business? Innocent Smoothies were a start-up with an authentic brand narrative and offer a purposeful, emotive way of positioning themselves. Check out their ‘tastes good, does good’ video here.

What works for my sector?

As a smaller business, budget may be a constraint so it’s always interesting to see what kind of content flies within your industry. There are some excellent tools out there such as Buzzsumo that highlight which content is the most widely shared, the content type and length.

For example, below is the most shared content in the UK surrounding ‘florists’:

Content ‘deep dive’

So we have a good idea of which content is shared across a sector or around a topic, but Buzzsumo is also a great tool for seeing how your competitors’ content is performing. For example, here are the findings from florist start-up Bloom and Wild;

It’s always worth seeing which social platforms content performs well on so you know where to concentrate your efforts.

Another common question surrounding virality is ‘when is the right time to post my content? ‘You may have the right campaign and idea, but it’s crucial you launch it at the right time, so gauge if there are any particular days of the week that you get more engagement and plan to launch the campaign then. The below is also taken from Bloom and Wild and you can see that Tuesday and Wednesday seems to resonate most with their fans. This will in turn, help you maximise any paid social budget by picking a day your fans are most ‘tuned in’. For further reading on social media promotion considerations then check out this guide here.

So whatever stage you are in your content marketing, try not to be too hard on yourself if something you produce doesn’t achieve nationwide acclaim. Good things will come to those who respond to the wants and desires of their customers and by keeping an ear to the ground.