Viral Marketing – 6 Tips for Helping Your Content go Viral

Why Viral Marketing?

Virality is a very attractive goal for any marketing campaign, simply because the public does the marketing for you. They share your content with people they think will value from it, taking a huge burden from your marketing efforts. Each new acquisition could quite possibly cost you nothing.

It's no secret that word of mouth (WOM) is the most effective form of marketing, and now that we are well into the digital age, “word of mouth” has been taken to new levels. Those new levels include the phenomenon of “going viral” thanks to giants like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.

Don’t sell

Viral marketing is all about sharing, and people won’t want to share your campaign if it’s an obvious advertisement.

A great campaign can be ruined so easily if it gives off a “telemarketing” vibe. Remember, you’re not trying to sell your product. You’re trying to provide free value to your audience, value that they want to share.

In this day and age, where people have been desensitised to advertisements, you need to provide something better. People don’t care how hard you’ve worked on your product, neither do they care how expensive it was. They want value or free.
Now, "value" in this context does not mean “bang for buck”. It means they want something that is beneficial to them in some way. Whether that be free information or a free product.

Take the growth of the online payment behemoth, PayPal. The company had struggled to gain customers until a referral incentive was offered, which deposited $10 into the accounts of new users. This caused PayPal to grow exponentially. Despite being costly, this was an extremely effective viral marketing campaign.

Your product or company should never be the focus of a viral marketing campaign, just the support. Naturally, when the campaign begins to be shared, people will become curious and investigate your company or product more closely.

Invoke an emotional response

When it comes to viral marketing, invoking an emotional response will increase the likelihood of your content being shared immensely. These “emotional responses” can usually be split into two main categories - High arousal and low arousal.

High-arousal emotions will generally cause a higher level of stimulation and increased sharing. Whereas low arousal emotions cause a lower level of stimulation and a decreased probability of becoming viral.

This image shows the effects emotions have on the likelihood sharing. 

high arousal and low arousal sharing graph for viral marketing

From Viral Marketing Expert - Jonah Berger


Here you can see 16 basic emotions; Stress, Envy, Anxiety, Anger, Excitement, Awe / Inspiration,  Humour, Happiness, Contentment, Serenity, Relaxation, Calm, Fatigue, Depression, Sadness, and Shame.

Each of these emotions can fall into two categories, positive/negative and high-arousal / low arousal.

Just from looking at this graph, it's easy to see the reason why inspirational quotes and shocking videos tend to make rounds on social media. These are usually high arousal, and people tend to feel more compelled to share content which fits this category.

Take this video from Google ATAP (Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group) which went fairly viral, showcasing a product they are developing called PROJECT SOLI.

If you haven’t already seen it, think about the way you feel and how they fit on the graph.


This is probably one of the only exceptions where physically promoting a company or product is effective. It provides free value, promotes the company and invoked awe/excitement for the viewers.

Don’t Try Appealing to Everyone

Unless your company is truly mass market (no company actually is), you have nothing to gain from attempting to appeal to everyone. You can never truly invoke high arousal emotions if your content is geared to everyone, in the pursuit of neutrality you’ll be left with something few people genuinely care about whatsoever.

By projecting an opinion, you’ll be able to gear your content to your customers. You’ll be able to excite them, inspire them, and encourage them to share your campaign. Which leads me to the next tip. -

Who, Not How Viral

Most people when they think of viral content immediately think of millions of shares, website visits, app downloads etc. By considering the impact of your campaign rather than how far it spreads, you’ll be able to focus your efforts on the people who actually matter to your business. Gear the campaign towards the psychographic that actually will use your services and you will see a greater impact on your growth.

Regardless, even if you’re only trying to raise brand awareness, raising awareness with the people who will use your product will still be more effective.

Encourage Sharing

People are lazy. Hence the need for “Call to actions” and many other marketing tools. You need to guide people and tell them when they need to do something and how they do it.

By encouraging people to share, you’ll increase the likelihood they will share. It could be as simple as adding social sharing buttons - like this post, or some kind of incentive to nudge them into taking action.

It’s a small thing, but in a world where changing the colour of a button increases the number of clicks, a small amount of encouragement can make a world of difference.

Promote Your Campaign

Many people make the mistake of painstakingly crafting and optimising their campaign, only to release it into the wild expecting it to just take off. Big mistake.

Even if you made the greatest campaign in history, without an audience to share it, it's not going to go anywhere. Creating the content is just the first part of the process.

Every virus needs a host, and the more potential hosts you expose it to, the greater the chance of spreading.

Share it with your audience, share it on social media, blog about it, show your friends. The more people you show the better. Especially if they fit your buyer personas.

Conclusion and Resources

There is so much to effective viral marketing, the best way to learn is to try it yourself. There’s no secret manuscript for making content go viral, your best bet is to follow this advice and try it yourself. Do not try and emulate the success of other campaigns, provide value to your potential customers, that way even if you fail at going viral, you’ll still have some great content people will love. 


Viral Marketing Cheat Sheet - By Kissmetrics

The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing

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