The Viral Effect

Erin Niimi Longhurst
30 Aug 2017

The No Makeup Selfie, the Ice Bucket Challenge, the BBC Interview Kid – these events have become part of the public consciousness due to the viral effect, having been shared frequently by thousands over a short period of time. And charities, of course, are keen to create their own viral content.

While some like the Ice Bucket Challenge have had positive real-world impact, there’s no real set formula or way to have your campaign or content go viral. It’s important to remember that it’s all relative – and that content doesn’t have to be shared millions of times to be successful. It’s all about engagement – and making sure that the environment is right when it’s being shared.

‍Most viral campaigns do have these six elements in common, so whenever you create content you should always keep these steps in mind.

1. Know your audience

Don’t fixate too much on the numbers – the important thing is to get the content in front of the right people, and know who you’re targeting. With any content on social, think about the intended audience in mind. Running a bake-sale fundraising campaign? Share your favourite Pinterest fails to an engaged (and possibly sympathetic) audience! If you’re trying to target the ‘general public’ with a piece of content, it’s probably too generic and boring and will fail to be interesting to anyone.

2. Build sharing into the campaign

The ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach never applies to anything digital, ever. If you spend all of your marketing budget on a glossy video which then sits on your channels without it being shared properly, that is a waste of time, money and resource. Publishing content and hoping that someone will come across it and start sharing it is not going to help you achieve your goals – you need to factor in time to outreach and promote the content into your workflow. Which brings us to the next point…

3. Influencers

Working with influencers is the best way to get your content out to the right audiences. Whether it’s working with bloggers, vloggers or celebrities, it’s important to remember that social media is a conversation between people – and working with influencers to help them push out your content is going to give it the best chance for success.

4. User-Generated content

Most successful campaigns have a user-generated aspect – the collaboration between Make-A-Wish and Disney with their ‘Share Your Ears’ Campaign is a great example of this, as is Movember. Users like to show their best selves online, and being able to insert themselves into a positive narrative is a great way to get engagement.

5. Useful content

In the same way that most users like to show their best selves online, being able to share useful content with their networks is also appealing. Worldwide Breast Cancer managed to reach over 7.3 million people with their ‘Know Your Lemons’ posts, which cleverly got around Facebook’s restrictive content filters while educating the public around the first signs of breast cancer.

6. Be on the pulse

Timing is everything – strike while the iron is hot. The Helen Titchener Rescue Fund was set up by an individual fundraiser to benefit Refuge, a domestic violence charity, in response to a storyline in The Archers. The charity reacted to the outpouring of public support by complementing the fundraiser’s promotion, resulting in a campaign that raised over £170,000, and an increase of calls to the National Domestic Violence Helping by 17%.

Erin Niimi Longhurst
@erinniimi

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