What Makes Viral Marketing Work?
Social media has significantly increased the power and potential of word-of-mouth and buzz marketing as revenue drivers for the business. In the past, word-of-mouth advertising happened in the context of private conversations between family and friends, and buzz marketing relied on low-velocity communication methods like newspapers to get the word out on any major scale.
Today, word-of-mouth marketing happens through digital marketing channels where users engage with marketing content and share it on their social platforms. A single share on social media can reach hundreds, thousands or even millions of people at the touch of a button. Social sharing is the 21st century version of word-of-mouth, except it can be thousands of times more effective.
As more businesses have realized the huge potential of viral marketing for reaching their target customers, marketers have worked to develop an understanding of what factors contribute to a successful viral marketing campaign. A theory known as the STEPPS model describes six factors that help a message go viral.
If sharing a piece of content makes a user look good to their audience, they will be more likely to share it. Users can derive social currency from their association with your brand or with the content itself or its messaging.
Social currency gets people talking about your viral content, triggers keep them talking about it. A trigger is any kind of stimulus that invokes or connects thoughts and ideas together. The concept of triggers explains why sales of Mars candy bars increased while NASA was organizing its mission to Mars. People saw “Mars” in the news every day and were triggered to purchase the candy bars. Viral marketing should connect with and relate to the daily experiences of consumers.
Humans are emotional creatures, so emotional messages are the best at getting our attention. Whether it’s a cute cat video or a campaign to support disease research, tugging at the heartstrings of your audience is an important step towards getting them to share your content. Emotion ties back to social currency as content sharers may perceive a social benefit from appearing sensitive or demonstrating concern about an important social issue.
When a message is presented in a public place, people are more likely to share the message. Public presentation of a message acts as social proof of that message. If a social media user sees that many of their contacts (or a high-profile person) are spreading a specific message, they may feel more inclined to share that message as well.
A great way to get a message go viral is to ensure that it has some practical value when it is consumed or shared. People love being helpful to others or contributing to a cause, and will readily spread a viral message if it gives them the opportunity to help someone.
Humans think in terms of narratives, and there’s something about a truly compelling story that makes social media users want to spread it to their friends and contacts. Telling a great story about your company, product or customers in a concise, high-impact format (especially video) is a great way to generate social engagement that drives brand recognition.