With a world of internet users congregating online each day, shared digital experiences have become a fundamental part of our lives. All it takes is a chain of shares for one campaign—and therefore, one brand—to captivate the attention of consumers everywhere. Through viral marketing, your brand can take advantage of the internet and move toward exponential growth.

The internet, especially social media, is a massive forum for just about anything and everything. But at any given time, there are “trending topics” that dominate online conversations. Getting on the trending list is a surefire way to cultivate brand awareness quickly, which is why plenty of today’s marketers are aiming for virality with every campaign.

Below, we’ll explain what viral marketing is and provide some effective techniques that you can use to build a successful viral marketing campaign. 

What is viral marketing?

Viral marketing is a promotional technique that aims to spread a campaign quickly and widely. When using this marketing strategy, content is created to encourage sharing by an initial target audience. The goal is to make it appealing and approachable enough to inspire the masses to engage.

While viral marketing tactics have roots in word-of-mouth marketing, they amplify the power of peer recommendations by using social networks and other online channels. Viral marketing messages don’t just spread from person to person. When one person shares, you gain hundreds or even thousands of eyes on your campaign from their followers.

Viral campaigns can create real results in record time. Consider these viral marketing examples, which you’ve likely heard of and may have even shared or discussed:

  • The Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign: This marketing effort centered around one witty commercial launched during the Super Bowl in 2010. Once uploaded to YouTube, the video gained over 220,000 views in just a few hours.
  • The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: What started as one viral video led to over $115 million in donations for the ALS Association in the course of eight weeks. Widespread awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease was also achieved.
  • The 2019 Spotify Wrapped campaign: Brought users a decade’s worth of data about their streaming. Soon after its launch, it was shared by users—including major influencers—across multiple social media channels.

5 key viral marketing techniques

While there’s never any guarantee that your marketing campaign will go viral, there are a few proven strategies you can use to increase its chances of taking off. After all, viral content usually doesn’t happen randomly and is more often the result of careful attention to consumer behavior.

In this section, we’ll describe the techniques you can use to make your marketing efforts as share-worthy as possible.

1. Capture attention fast

Consumers are surrounded by loads of content every second they spend on the web, whether they’re on a computer or mobile device. To get them to pay attention instead of scrolling past your campaign, you must have an immediate attention-grabber that stops them in their tracks.

Having a visual element in your digital marketing content can help. Beyond that, you need to pull your target audience in with a message that instantly translates as bold, funny, wild, awe-inspiring, or something in between.

Additionally, your strategies need to adapt to the changing media consumption. In recent times, Instagram Reels, TikTok videos, and Clubhouse Rooms have become increasingly popular. Adapting your strategies will assist you with leveraging your viral content.

As an example, the 2019 campaign to make an egg the most popular picture on Instagram was insanely successful because of how weird and hilarious it was. There was no rhyme or reason to it, and that was exactly what drew people in to “like” the photo.

2. Engage your audience

A piece of content will rarely go viral if it doesn’t encourage its audience to engage. Viral marketing works best when it’s designed for the audience to interact and easily share.

At the very least, your content needs to include some sort of call to action (CTA), telling users what action they should take after hearing your message. Some of the most successful viral marketing campaigns also include opportunities for the audience to comment, create their own content, or otherwise play along. 

Your goal is to ensure your viewers don’t take their eyes off the screen until they’ve shared your content with their own networks. If your campaign can engage media outlets as well, that’s all the better to help you gain publicity.

3. Appeal to emotions

Consumers are heavily driven by how they feel. When you create viral marketing content that leads to a strong emotional response, your viewers are more likely to engage.

Think about some pieces of viral content that you remember. They may have made you laugh or cry. Perhaps they’re particularly heartwarming or appeal to your sense of nostalgia. In some cases, the content may have been shared by a celebrity you already follow or admire. Whatever marketing campaigns come to mind, it’s likely because it impacted you in some way.

Bland informational ads don’t do well when you’re aiming for virality, so make sure you’re helping your audience feel something that spurs them to action. Take a look at P&G’s successful “Thank You, Mom” campaign as an example of how you can inspire your audience.

4. Keep the message simple

All viral campaigns have one thing in common: their messages can be summed up in just a short phrase or sentence. Having more than one CTA or overarching message can confuse or distract your audience, reducing the overall effectiveness of your campaign. Limiting your viral message to one simple takeaway makes it memorable and approachable.

The whole of your content should be fairly simple, too. When sharing on social media, don’t overload your text with hashtags, which can create a cluttered look and distract from your main message. Ideally, keep videos to no more than 30 seconds long—just enough to get your message across without any fluff.

Keep in mind that simplicity shouldn’t limit creativity. When brainstorming for your viral marketing plan, think outside the box to express your message. This viral video from Dove’s “Evolution” campaign, which helped the brand become well-known for its commitment to real beauty, is a great example of how you can send a big message without saying much at all.

5. Set objectives

During a viral marketing campaign, ensure your team is working behind the scenes to enhance your targeting, re-engage audience members, and keep the world focused on your brand. To do so successfully, you must have marketing objectives guiding you to improve your strategy in real-time.

A marketing objective should be a specific, measurable goal. This way, your data can tell you whether you’re on the right track or if you need adjustments. Think about how many people you want to reach in the first hour, and how many shares you want by the end of three weeks. How should the campaign impact your company financially, and how can your organization track the results?

Doing some market research about any of your competitors’ past campaigns can further help you define a realistic goal without selling yourself short.

Master viral marketing to captivate a world of users

The internet—especially since the rise of social networks—presents an enormous opportunity for businesses to reach thousands, even millions of people in a day. When your brand creates compelling and shareable content, you can spread your message further using the power of online connections, rather than just using the power of your budget. The viral marketing techniques in this guide can help you increase the likelihood of your next campaign taking off.

Of course, not every marketing campaign needs to go viral to be successful. See three of our digital marketing strategy examples to learn other ways you can get the results you want on the web.

Nico Dato
Nico Dato Executive Vice President of Marketing

Nico Dato is the EVP of Marketing at Podium, the premiere messaging platform that connects local businesses with their customers. He fuses his passion for statistics, design, and digital marketing to produce measurable results.

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