The current holy grail of marketing is to achieve “viral” status. Everybody hopes their campaign will suddenly explode in popularity and receive widespread circulation.

However, this is not easy to accomplish. While going viral is often a case of catching lightning in a bottle, there are steps companies can take to make it more likely.

1. Pick a Target Audience

Before the planning even begins, you must settle on a target audience. It is exceptionally difficult to create viral content that appeals to everyone. This is why most campaigns tend to focus on certain groups and markets.

Once you’ve picked your audience, get to know them better. Research what tends to attract them and what does not. Try to tailor the content to their needs, interests and desires. The more the content speaks to them on a personal level, the more likely it will catch on and be successful.

2. Set Clear Objectives

The next stage before creating content is setting objectives. It is not wise to rush into these things without a plan or goal. Ask yourself the following question: What do I hope to accomplish by launching a viral campaign?

Some campaigns are created with the intent of selling a product, while others are geared toward spreading awareness of the brand as a whole. It is important to establish your aims early, as they will help guide and structure the development process.

3. Make it Visually Oriented

Viral campaigns tend to rely heavily on visuals. This is because visual content is the easiest to quickly process and distribute. It will also catch more people’s attention, as a video or an image tends to be more interesting than a block of text. Gen Z has an attention span of 8 seconds, so this is crucially important.

However, it’s important to be cautious about the visuals you use. A single picture packs a lot of explicit and implicit meaning, and sometimes visuals can be interpreted in a way that is counter to a brand’s intent or public image.

4. Be Provocative

While you should be selective about the visuals and text you use, you should also be bold. Viral content is never bland or safe. It has a tendency to provoke strong reactions from the viewer. The element of surprise is often an important part of getting noticed in an increasingly crowded virtual landscape. However, sensationalism isn’t always necessary.

You don’t want to make the campaign too overblown, as it could lead to the viewer leaving disappointed. Often just a little mystery can be enough. For example, an intriguing thumbnail image or title could be enough to capture people’s imaginations and lure them in.

5. Stir the Emotions

The ability to incite emotions is central to a viral campaign’s success. It is one of the main reasons that people tend to spread viral content across social media. Whether it made them laugh or cry, something about it inspired them to share it.

Choose the emotion you want your audience to experience and try to maximize its impact. Do you want them to feel happy? Do you want them to be scared, or get a thrill of anticipation? Do you want them to be inspired and feel hope?

Note that, while positive emotions tend to be the most popular, negative emotions can also yield effective results.

6. Deliver a Message

Think about what your audience should take away from the campaign. In particular, you should consider what ideas it will communicate about the brand. Comedy can be used to show a brand as playful and irreverent. Content that shows kindness and charity toward others will paint the brand as humane and caring.

There is a lot of disposable content on the internet: it is consumed and immediately forgotten. Having a deeper message about the brand will help make it more memorable. It will also spark people’s curiosity and make them want to learn more.

7. Don’t Overcomplicate It

Viral content should be simple. The audience does not want to be overloaded with information. Whether it is a video or an image with text, it needs to be quick and concise. Otherwise, a viewer might see it as a major time investment and pass over it.

Always keep in mind that you will be competing with other campaigns for attention. Try to make the biggest impression in the least amount of time.

On a similar note, keep the branding to a minimum. Plastering the brand’s name all over it distracts from the content itself.

8. Have a Call to Action

A viral campaign ultimately needs to prompt its audience into action. Optimally, it will result in more people seeking out the brand and engaging with it. After all, the whole purpose of the campaign is to profit and gain from the exposure.

Consider what action you want your market to take in response to the campaign. Do you want them to buy a product, or to participate in an event? Whatever you want the viewer to do, be sure to incorporate a means to accomplish it into the content.

9. Maximize Visibility

While launching the campaign, be sure to choose the most appropriate platform for it. A video, for instance, belongs on a site like YouTube and Vimeo. Images and text propagate quickly on sites like Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr and Instagram. Videos also do well on these platforms, so content can be spread across multiple outlets.

10. Avoid Pushing Too Hard

Viral content cannot be forced. By its very nature, it is random and hard to predict. The most innocuous and trivial things can become viral sensations overnight.

Many campaigns make the mistake of trying too hard to become instant viral hits. It’s best to avoid touting its “viral nature” before it has even taken off. That will just make people roll their eyes and move on. The best option is to let the campaign grow naturally. If it doesn’t work at first, it may not have the right ingredients, and you should probably try a different approach.

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