By Matt Golding, creative director at Rubber Republic.
In the early days, Rubber Republic fielded numerous enquiries about potential viral marketing campaigns from people who couldn't afford any advertising. They were hoping viral was both free and magic.
It is undoubtedly true that viral marketing offers serious bang for your buck compared to more traditional and expensive forms of advertising if it’s done right.
And there’s a certain mystique to the viral effect in terms of catching the zeitgeist and watching something being shared among overlapping communities of interest across the globe, which makes viral a fun space to work in.
But if viral marketing was free and inherently magical, it begs the question "why isn't everyone doing it?" In short, "Viral is not a free lunch" and, clearly, not everyone is doing viral.
Thankfully, those initial calls are fewer and far between these days, but over the years we have learnt some hard and fast rules, which you should give your content a decent shot at expanding beyond its initial paid-placement and PR push into the wider social web. It goes without saying that creating something funny, shocking, or rude is a route to success, but the process of creating viral content is more complex than just ticking these boxes.
1. Know your audience
It’s surprising how often people fail to define their target audience. A viral campaign should identify its audience or community of interest and how to engage them at the outset.
This insight should be incorporated into an integrated bottom up approach before shooting begins, with seeding and distribution planned at the same time as the creative idea is written to ensure the video reaches those you want it to.
If it's just fame you’re chasing, with an idea designed to appeal to everyone you’re on a very sticky wicket because you'll almost certainly end up not resonating with anyone.
In every other marketing discipline, targeting is essential but more often than not marketers assume for 'virals' that the internet is an amorphous mass, endlessly bingeing on disposable content. What’s more, they perceive that the success of their 'viral' can only be judged by numbers.
As most will acknowledge, it’s more accurate to think of the internet as a myriad of loosely clustered groups of people who congregate around stuff that genuinely interests them. If you give them something interesting they will reward you by sharing that content with friends, peers and networks.
2. Be upfront and honest to gain permission
Strive to be honest, straightforward and interesting when engaging online communities. I could add daring, dramatic, funny or innovative, but you should never over reach and claim your product or service can do things it can’t.
If an analogy were to be made with a party, how would you encourage a stranger to strike up a meaningful conversation with you, if you met them at a party?
A good approach is to be genuinely interesting, honest, passionate, and engaging. People don't tend to trust people who tell them how great they are. And they don't tend to trust brands that adopt the hard sell.
You also need to recognise the online environment you’re aiming to be successfully welcomed into is someone else’s patch, so you need permission or at the very least relevance to be present.
Gate crashing and abrupt interruptions at a party aren't socially unacceptable in most social spheres, but the uninvited guest could be excused if they turn out to be entertaining or generous.
3. Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk.
So you want to tell people you are about joy and happiness? Then make a film that gives them some joy and happiness. And don't ask for anything in return.
Want to express that your company is all about innovation? Then why not make some innovative advertising, rather than making some traditional advertising that tells people how innovative you are?
4. Respect your audience
The web is a fantastic medium insofar as your audience can become massive if you produce good work, while it’s also brilliant for connecting with niche audiences.
But never forget the internet is user-controlled. The internet does not provide a captive audience. People have to choose to watch your video and hopefully re-watch the content, so your video should look as good as it possibly can.
While production costs for the web can be lower than TV, video standards are improving rapidly, so beware of the false assumption that it’s quick and easy to bash out an idea for the web that people want to watch. It’s worth investing in quality production standards, which increasingly online audiences expect.
5. Be engaging
On TV you bought their attention. In the online world, you have to work harder without the benefit of a captive audience. Give your intended audience something of value that happens between the start and end of your film.
This could be an idea, entertainment, laughter, visual pleasure, inspiration, or information that will improve people’s lives. You could educate or move your audience.
Or you could be downright daft and put a smile on their faces. But you must do one of these things. As a litmus test, try your idea out on someone you know and watch their reaction.
In truth, there’s no alchemy as such when it comes to creating a worldwide viral smash hit. The biggest problem people face when getting into online video is applying the old rules of advertising.
In fact, the web is far more human than the traditional advertising world has become; it’s more honest, straightforward and interesting.
Be those things, and you'll be fine. If all else fails, throw in a few kittens and you’ll be racking up six-figure viewing figures in no time.
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