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Viral Marketing Is A Myth
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Viral marketing is a myth.

There. I said it.

And, it’s true.

Next to the definition of myth in the dictionary, you’re likely to find the viral marketing myth. The viral marketing myth, believed by most digital marketers is so pervasive, I’ve even seen marketing materials touting the firm’s viral marketing prowess. Well, let me say emphatically, viral marketing is a myth!

Now, that doesn’t mean that some content doesn’t go viral — it does. For instance, I published a post on a client’s blog, shared it on his Facebook wall, and got 1000% increase in website views when the post when viral.

Dissecting the success of this post, I found it contained both a provocative title and a captivating image. The post struck a chord that MADE readers want to know more.


Rather than perpetuating the viral marketing myth, let’s talk about virality — that’s the advice of successful journalist, Benny Johnson of Buzzfeed.

In his presentation, Benny said you can never predict which content will go viral (hence why viral marketing is a myth). You can’t form a marketing plan around something so idiosyncratic.

Virality, to a large extent, is beyond your control because it depends a lot on serendipity. You might publish 100 pieces of really great content only to have some mediocre piece go viral. Uncontrollable factors contribute to virality, such as:

  • It’s a slow news day. I often see some virality around the holidays, when fewer brands publish content.
  • Your post appeals to someone very influential. For instance, a post caught the attention of Mari Smith for some bizarre reason and she retweeted the content. Views of that piece of content when through the roof.
  • Your post gets featured on an important site or covered in the media. Whenever my post gets featured on the front page at Business 2 Community, website visits spikes.

Certainly, creating great content increases the chances of your content going viral, but it’s no guarantee.

Viral marketing strategies

If viral marketing is a myth, how do you develop viral marketing strategies?

You adopt tactics that increase the virality of your content, which increases the likelihood some of it goes viral.

Here are some things you should do as part of your viral marketing strategy (loosely based on Benny’s presentation):

Don’t forget your audience

Always create content with your audience in mind. Who are they? What do they need? What niche do you fill in their lives?

And, never forget the audience wants information, but they also want entertainment. Making your content more fun helps get your information across — and helps it go viral.

To demonstrate this, Benny uses humor in his political reporting. For instance, in exchange for following him on Twitter, he offered congressional staffers images of their bosses as pets. He recently won an award for his “Running of the Interns” piece highlighting Supreme Court decisions.

Humor works in some setting, but be careful. Your content needs to fit your goals. For Benny, his goal as a journalist is to reach his audience and increase his reputation as a political reporter. If you’re managing a brand, humor may not fit your organizational goals.

For instance, Mari Smith developed a very folksy style in the content shared with her audience. People resonate with her folksy, homespun approachability and interact with her. This works well with her audience of small businesses. Enterprise-level firms might feel this approach too trivial; a folksy approach doesn’t give them warm fuzzies about your sophistication and expertise.

And, Benny does a great job of breaking down politics; making it entertaining, but I see him more as a guest on The Daily Show than Face the Nation. Which I’m sure he thinks is just fine.

Which brings up another important aspect of creating virality:

Speak their language

Ignore what you learned in English class — at least to a point. Using colloquial language works just fine, as long as your audience understands and appreciates it. Also, in digital communications, using short paragraphs and lots of bullet points makes your content easily digestible by your audience, even though it violates strict English grammar rules.

Jargon can also help. If your audience knows the jargon, it establishes you as a professional, a colleague. Jargon is also a shorthand for very complete concepts, so it saves a lot of time and ensures effective communication, that’s why jargon exists.

Your audience wants interaction

Digital communication is a 2-way street. Build conversations with your audience and invite them to speak up. Asking questions works especially well in building interaction. Calling out audience members is also an effective tool for building engagement.

Be authentic

While you may not agree with Mari’s homespun approach, you should develop an approach that’s YOU. For instance, when I create content, I’m just writing down the conversations going on in my head — BTW, you talk back to me in my head, which is really weird.

I’m a real person with my own voice. And, that’s what you need. Not some professional team. I share my successes and foibles and invite you to connect with me personally on Facebook, LinkedIN, Google+, and Twitter, where you’ll see pictures of my grandkids and political humor along with my insights about digital marketing.