How to Make Viral Marketing Campaigns

For most of history, to describe something as “viral” was to call it contagious, toxic, and at all costs to be avoided. While there are still talks of “viral outbreaks” these days, it isn’t always referring to the newest influenza. Sometimes, it’s actually describing the hottest, most popular content on the internet. From the celebrity group photo at the Academy Awards to pictures of Prince George on his first birthday, viral content spreads like wildfire, for good or for evil. If you can create a marketing campaign that goes viral, there are no bounds to the number of customers you might touch.

So how does one create a viral marketing campaign? It isn’t easy, but it’s a topic that Jonah Berger knows a lot about. Besides being a New York Times bestselling author of the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he also teaches marketing classes at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In a recent interview, he named six principles that drive content to go viral.

Follow 6 principles

“Viral isn’t luck or chance,” Berger explained. “There’s a science behind it. Six key principles drive people to share all sorts of content, both online and off. I use the acronym STEPPS (Social currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories).” Basically, if your content is smart and makes people feel smart for sharing it, you’re doing the right thing.

Focus on psychology

What viral marketing is basically is word of mouth over the internet. People aren’t paid or compensated in any way for sharing your content. You have to make it worth their while. Berger suggested a couple ways for doing this. “Focus on psychology, not technology,” he said. “Think about why people talk and share.” Think about the reasons you share things on social media—is it because you want to endorse a product, or is it because you want to share something funny or thought-provoking with your friends?

Don’t neglect word of mouth

Second, Berger said, “Remember that social is more than social media. Don’t forget offline word of mouth.” Though it’s hard to believe, people do still speak face to face. Berger mentioned, “breakfast with your family, lunch with your colleagues from work, or grabbing a drink with a friend.” These are the original social locations, and though it’s hard to quantify, they still wield enormous clout in the advertising world.

Handle bad reviews quickly

Just as good PR can go viral, so too can bad PR. The recent KFC scandal where an employee allegedly asked a dog bite victim to leave because her appearance was frightening the other customers started a lot of bad press for KFC (though after a thorough investigation, no evidence that such a request was made ever surfaced). Berger said the best way to keep bad reviews from spreading is to “fix the problem. People complaining about bad service or a faulty product? Improve service [or] fix the product.”


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