Going viral doesn’t necessarily mean an outbreak: the quality of your engagement is more important than the quantity.  Instead of focusing on “going viral,” think about the sort of content that will engage your target social community.

Viral Marketing Strategy & Video

“Going viral” in epidemic proportion isn’t necessarily the best business goal for any piece of content nowadays.  The “going viral” phrase implies that content that isn’t shared 1.5 million times isn’t worth your time, and this simply isn’t the case.  If your content is shared among your target social community, it did its job whether or not it lands on Buzzfeed.

Back in the olden days of social media marketing (2006 – 2010), viral marketing strategy had one main format: video.  With Twitter being so new and Facebook not having the reach it does now, “viral video” was the big buzzword in digital marketing at the time.

And so, “going viral” was best accomplished via YouTube.  Some brands hit it big: Seagram’s “Tea Partay” is one of my favorite early and successful experimentations with video.  Volkswagen also had a few good offerings, produced by their ad agency.

Here’s the thing about video, though: it’s expensive to produce.  It’s time-consuming.  And very, very few videos will ever “go viral” in a way that justified the time and cost it took to produce them.  This, of course, is why the goal of video was to go epidemically viral: 5 shares aren’t going to justify the production cost.

Once Twitter and Facebook took off, justifying your content production cost became a lot easier: a static pic of a cat is far less labor-intensive than teaching your cat to play the keyboard, after all, and it demands a lot less from your audience than a 2-minute commitment.

A good viral marketing strategy these days is just a sound, consistent content marketing strategy.

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Word of Mouth Marketing = Viral Marketing = Buzz Marketing

We’ve talked a lot about word of mouth being the primary goal of the new social dialogue marketing model.  Word of mouth is just another name for buzz marketing or viral marketing: we’re simply after the personal endorsement of someone who took the time to share your content with a friend.  The reason that we’re so invested in social media word of mouth is because, in a relationship marketing discipline, social media lends itself quite nicely to the awareness and loyalty ends of the customer advocacy funnel – and this is where you’ll often find your social media ROI.

That being said, the term “viral marketing” can still lead people to be disappointed if their content is only shared a handful of times.  But if you have a good social community and content marketing strategy in place, that handful of times is worth a lot more than unqualified impressions off a video that was shared simply because there was a cute dog in it that looks like your grandma’s.  And so, your viral marketing strategy really boils down to a good content marketing strategy.

Your Viral Marketing Strategy is as Good as Your Content

The newest and most buzzed-about discipline within digital marketing is content marketing.  Put simply, this is a strategic way to produce content that services a larger business goal.  Rather than extemporaneously writing a Tweet, for example, a content marketing strategy can involve a list of keywords that map back to your SEO strategy; content that drives online lead capture (HubSpot, for example, puts out template packages for this purpose); longer pieces of content that target customers along a purchase funnel; and an editorial schedule to post, re-use, re-package, and market the content that you’re writing.

One main purpose of a content marketing strategy is to service a solid social media strategy.  (For more on this, check out the 4 C’s of Social Media Marketing.)  It’s rare that you’ll be producing content that isn’t meant to be consumed by a wider audience than the one that exists on your owned media channels, so aligning your content with your social strategy mind is a great way to make sure that your content marketing strategy is, at its core, a viral marketing strategy.

Of course, content marketing isn’t all about writing: video is content too.  Video these days is a great way for larger brands to test the waters on positioning and thematic content before they do a larger media buy, as in the case of KMart’s “Ship my Pants” video.  A good social media campaign has a well-defined business goal – and the same goes for content marketing.  KMart’s business goal here was very likely not just to “go viral,” but rather to test out edgy creative in a low-risk way.

So, remember: the next time your boss asks you if your social media program is going to “go viral,” just remind him or her that every virus isn’t the avian flu.  A sound content marketing strategy takes a consistency approach: keep plugging away with engaging, relevant content for your target social community, and the long-tail effect of good viral marketing strategy will pay off in qualified, consistent shares.