Clients often ask us to create them a campaign that ‘goes viral’. The truth is, nobody can guarantee creating content that is going to go viral but there are some factors that go into strategy development that can increase this likelihood. So what does ‘viral’ actually mean? Viral content is content that gets engagement and is shared widely on social media channels. It is content that becomes owned by the community - last year’s Ice Bucket Challenge is one of the best examples of this. The simple idea became a social phenomenon. The crux of the campaign was the nomination of two friends to get involved, so for every person engaged, you automatically gained two more, and so on. The best part was that not only did this campaign generate mass awareness for a previously little-known disease, but it also raised an incredible USD220 million for the cause.
The evolution of social media as one of the primary communication channels has enabled campaigns like this to have a reach and impact that would never before have been possible. And for a start-up (or charity) with limited marketing budgets, effective use of social media is a skill that is important to master. I’d like to share with you some insights on how a social media strategy has the ability to go viral.
Amazing Content is Everything
People will only share content if it creates a response from them. It needs to be relevant, engaging and evoke emotion – whether that be awe, sadness, amazement or laughter. Being able to draw on this emotion is critical to gaining a response - generally a share or engagement.
Viral content is visually led. There is a reason you see a lot of cute animal pictures on your Facebook feed, or better yet; animals driving cars, or dressed up in baby clothes. Images and video are far more shareable and engaging than written text. Great images are a key factor to virality as people are drawn to images first and will read the text only after being drawn into the idea by the image.
Video is becoming increasingly important to social media content and it is said that in 2015, more videos will be viewed on Facebook than on YouTube. Even Instagram hosts video content now. Attention spans are diminishing and the emphasis is now on creating short 6-10 second videos; this is proven through the popularity of apps such as Vine and Snapchat. Social media videos are a good medium for start-ups as nobody expects professional quality, so just get out your smartphone and get creative.
Subjects that Matter to the Audience
Charities are often the most successful at generating viral content as they have a subject that matters to the audience. Campaigns that encourage people to ‘make a pledge’ often get participation because they have a feel-good factor. When people share content on Facebook that gets a ‘like’ or interaction from their friend base, they feel a level of social recognition and a chance to connect with others - this helps to accelerate Facebook activity and campaigns.
Many brands create social media campaigns to leverage current topical events and doing this is very clever but it needs to be done carefully, as you risk criticism if you choose the wrong topic and execution. An example of this done well is how Apple leveraged the ‘blue/black or gold dress’ social media phenomenon – they used this trending topic to start talking about the superiority of their new gold Iphones. As it was relevant to their brand, it brought them returns.
By nature, people always like to get something for free and a campaign that has an incentive is always going to be more successful than one that doesn’t. The chance to win a holiday or a new TV will see the activity spike, and competitions like this also offer the opportunity to collect data so you can continue to reach the participants with other messages in the future.
Use of Influencers
The most successful social media campaigns usually involve influencers as their participation will automatically attract interest and add credibility. Using an influencer also enables you to leverage their fan base – increasing your brand’s audience reach. It is worth remembering that there is a difference between a celebrity and an influencer. For most start-ups, enlisting a celebrity would be far too expensive, but an influencer such as a food blogger or fashion writer is likely to be much more affordable and they may even have a more engaged social media following as social media is how they often earn a living.
An example of use of influencer is a campaign we ran for Expedia.com.hk (relatively unknown before we started working with them). We collaborated with a popular Hong Kong cartoonist ‘Jie Jie’ to draw a series of humorous cartoons that depicted the differences between Taiwan and Hong Kong. The cartoons were personal and relatable and funny – and because of that they engaged the target market.
Our social media strategy was comprised of posts, illustrations and games. We also engaged traditional media and bloggers to help generate noise about the campaign from offline to online and vice versa. This simple idea effectively secured over 4.5k new Facebook fans for Expedia, +584,000 fans with +10,000 interactions, and generated over HKD1.4 million in PR coverage over just three months.
Partnering with a brand is another great way to gain credibility and traction for your campaign. Choosing the right brand partner is important and the collaboration needs to be mutually beneficial for you to get them on board.
Recently we designed a campaign for the Singapore Tourism Board, partnering with food blogger KC Koo. The objective was to highlight Singapore as a rich cultural melting pot with a diverse food offering. As KC has such strong credibility as a food authority, we enlisted his help to develop an official Singapore Food Guide and with KC’s involvement, the Food Guide immediately had authenticity.
A key element of promotion for the campaign was social media. We designed a co-branded campaign with Priceline, featuring KC Koo, called “Answer & Win: Singapore Food,” which was launched on the Your Singapore-Hong Kong Facebook page. The game was mobile-friendly, shareable and encouraged conversation and engagement. The major prize winner was awarded a two-night stay in Singapore. The game had over 10,000 participations and there were 6,000 interactions with excited fans.
Facebook advertising is an important component of any social media campaign; it will give you the push you need to get the campaign off the ground and keep the momentum going. Facebook advertising offers you the ability to be really targeted in who you’re reaching and it’s a very cost effective form of advertising. For start-ups, I would recommend using the new ‘Facebook Go’ package where if you spend HKD 200 per day on advertising you get your own advertising specialist to help guide your campaign. They will call you once a week for four weeks to help tweak and refine your targeting so you get the opportunity to learn from their expertise. And as a bonus, at the end of the four weeks you get a free advertising voucher.
The most important consideration for the virality of a campaign isn’t the outcome but the mechanism. For the ice bucket challenge, the objective wasn’t getting millions of people to dump buckets of water on their head online; the objective was raising millions of dollars and gaining awareness.
Make sure you’re clear from the beginning on what your objective is and design a campaign that helps you to achieve that objective. And remember, triggering an emotional response gives you the best chance of triggering action. Make them happy, sad, elated, hopeful, humored - and you will have their attention.
By Kiri Sinclair, founder of Sinclair Asia, a PR Agency: sinclairasia.com