How to Go Viral: The Science and Social Media Behind Creating Online Epidemics
It hits you when you least expect it. There you were, picking up your annual report from the printer when you notice a few of your coworkers crowded around Bob-from-accounting’s smartphone. Intrigued, you peer over their shoulders.
“What are you all watching?”
“Wait, you haven’t seen this yet?”, a coworker jeeringly asks, “It’s SodaStream’s new ad campaign with Paris Hilton.”
Oh yes, you had seen it. How could you not? In a matter of days, every one of your social feeds was inundated that ridiculous video, featuring a reality star trying to vaguely sell you that odd contraption you pass by at the superstore. Despite the video’s vague, soft sell of the actual product, it worked–they gained your curiosity and your attention.
The video in question is quite perplexing. One drop of a miracle liquid is said to have the hydrating effect of one full glass of water, putting an end to the disastrous environmental effects of plastic bottles. The claim is preposterous, but you are thirsty for more information and follow the link to purchase a SodaStream, the in-home soda and sparkling water maker.
The question is, how did a campaign that was intentionally misleading and only tangentially related to the actual product become so pervasive on social media? Why do some campaigns go viral and others never seem to reach the ever-important untapped target audience? There really is no one-size-fits-all solution that will tell you how to go viral. However, successful viral marketing campaigns have a few commonalities that can be replicated and turn ripples into waves. Viral marketing campaigns act very similarly to their etymological counterparts, viruses.
- Attachment: Viruses are useless without their host and must identify, then attach themselves to a living cell in order to reproduce. If you want your social media campaign to spread, you must identify, and “attach,” to the target audience who is most likely to engage and spread your message.
In the case of Soda Stream’s campaign, their target audience was the environmentally conscious and social-media-obsessed millennial. SodaStream not only ensured that the subject matter, messaging, and aesthetics of their campaign appealed to their target audience but also understood the economics of that audience. SodaStream understood that a larger portion of the millennial audience is beginning to acquire more disposable income to spend on products they want, instead of just need. To put it bluntly, SodaStream’s Nano Drop is essentially how to go viral 101.
- Entry (Into the Market): In order to spread, viruses must enter an unsuspecting host cell by penetrating the protective membrane and then releasing the nucleic acid that will facilitate further growth and development.
In order for a social campaign to penetrate the market and begin proliferating the brand’s message, one must take the information gathered in the stage above and ensure that it is released at the most optimal time. Start too soon and the message will fizzle, too late and you’re simply riding in the wake of someone else’s success.
Timing is vital. If you want your campaign to go viral, you have to be willing and able to follow and seize the opportunity that comes with popular trends at a moment’s notice. SodaStream understood that millennials LOVE their reality stars, past and present. SodaStream also understood that millennials value brands that are environmentally conscious. By taking a non-essential product, packaging it with a socially conscious mission, and using a pop culture icon to spread the word in a tongue in cheek way, SodaStream capitalized on phenomena particular to the times we are living in.
- Replication and Assembly: Once a virus penetrates the host cell it must replicate to ensure it spreads. In order for social media content to go viral, just like the virus, it must be replicable. In other words, it must not only attract the attention of the audience but also be engaging enough for it to be shareable.
All viral content on social media has one thing in common: It’s enjoyable enough that users want to share it with the rest of their peers. This piece is vital. Unlike most traditional marketing tactics, the success of viral content is not rigidly tied to the amount of money behind the campaign but rather the intrinsic likability of the subject matter. It’s not about how much money you spend, it’s about creating the right content that moved the company’s target audience to like and share the content for FREE.
The bottom line is, the question should NOT be how to go viral, but how to produce beneficial and relevant content that appeals to your target audience. If you do it right, the audience will do the work for you!