Using Social Media to Create "Viral" Marketing Campaigns

As my inaugural blog post, I wanted to discuss one of my favorite topics – social media marketing.  I was in college when MySpace and Facebook were founded, back when only certain colleges were allowed Facebook accounts, and I had just graduated when Twitter was founded.  Starting my career in marketing and public relations, it quickly became a core job function to figure out the whole “social media craze” to best enhance my employer’s brand.  Well, it’s no longer a craze and is now a major marketing tool for many companies.

Companies want to use social media to create more awareness around a brand or product.  But one pitfall is thinking that just because you promote a campaign online, it will “go viral.”  While YouTube has been around since 2005, it didn’t become a huge marketing tool until much more recently.  Every day there is a new video going viral whether it’s a cat video (75+ million views) or a clever marketing campaign like Kmart’s “Ship My Pants” or Evian’s “Baby and Me.”

Forbes contributor, Dan Schwabel, interviewed Jonah Berger, a Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, on this very topic.  Berger believes making a campaign “go viral” isn’t just luck, but rather that following his STEPPS (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories) formula will drive people to share content both on and offline.   As an example, his first principal – social currency is the notion that people want to share content to make them look smart or “in-the-know.” So how do you capitalize on this? You create a campaign that makes people feel like they are insiders.  This is just one example and you can check out the full interview for all six principals.

While Berger has seemingly figured out the perfect recipe to creating a viral campaign, here are some pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Trying to be cool – don’t try to be something you’re not; stick to what your brand knows.
  2. Target the wrong audience – if you don’t understand whom you’re marketing too, you’ll never appeal to your demographic no matter how exciting your campaign is.
  3. Failing to integrate your message – you can’t throw a microsite up or create a video and expect that to be enough.  Content lives everywhere and needs multiple touch points to be successful.  This is where PR and social media outreach can be incredibly helpful.
  4. Make it hard to share – Think about all of the social sharing tools and do the work ahead of time, make it easy for users to share/promote your campaign in seconds.
  5. Set out to create a viral campaign (my favorite tip) – The chances of creating a viral campaign are less than one percent, so concentrate on creating great content for your brand.

When it comes to marketing a campaign through social media, what are your best practices or pitfalls to avoid?