Viral Marketing Initiatives

It’s easy to see why so many organizations are trying to “go viral”: content marketing can drive results for brands by increasing awareness and loyalty, driving engagement, increasing website traffic, and using exposure to turn fans into customers. Unfortunately, with so many brands diving into the content marketing space, the competition for audience attention is going to get more and more steep. You may find yourself asking, why does one campaign go viral while countless others see only moderate success (at best)?

Here are a handful of characteristics of that help to drive the success of viral campaigns:

1. Write a meaningful headline that communicates both context and the potential value of the content.

In order to go viral, first you need to get people to view your content, and a great headline is just the tool you need to get those clickthroughs. The best headlines grab your attention, then make you curious, while simultaneously offering the potential for value. You can find great examples of top-performing headlines on this list from content-aggregator Digg. If you need help getting started on your own headlines, take advantage of resources like this infographic , this handy chart of the top- and poorest-performing words in viral headlines, and even this fun “Mad Libs” list.

2. Your content should elicit a strong, positive emotional response from the masses.

According to Libert’s research, some emotions perform better than others. Emotions like amusement, surprise, and joy all perform much better than images that inspire despair, anger, or doubt. This is another reason that visual content, like photos, videos, infographics, and memes all tend to go viral. They are easy to understand, and they cause the user to feel an immediate, visceral reaction. Ideally, your content will appeal to the masses; it’s hard to have a viral hit if you’re catering to a small, niche audience. For a great example of a viral video that crosses country borders and language barriers to tug at your heartstrings, check out this video from Pampers Japan.

3. Make it timely and “authentically helpful”, or tie it to the “public good”.

One reason that initiatives like #BringBackOurGirls, #KONY2012, and the “Ice Bucket Challenge” perform so well is that they are tied to causes that people care about. However, brands can think carefully about a social issue that they may be able to support with their own marketing. For example, AT&T’s “It Can Wait” video raises awareness about the dangers of texting and driving (while simultaneously creating buzz around the AT&T brand).

4. Focus on “shareabilty”–creating a viral coefficient higher than 1.

“Shareability” means that users want to, and are able to easily, share content. Ideally, every 1 person that views your content will share it with more than 1 other user (indicating that your campaign is growing). Providing social widgets (like “Add This”) and using Facebook OpenGraph and Twitter Cards all help to facilitate easy sharing. One reason that YouTube videos in particular go viral is that they are just so darned easy to share: YouTube seamlessly integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, search engines, and e-mail. Make it easy for your users to find the “Share” buttons while they’re still feeling that initial, emotional reaction and motivated to take action.

Create great content that people want to share, then make it easy for them to do so.

Create great content that people want to share, then make it easy for them to do so.

5. Plan a well-coordinated, multichannel launch.

Libert believes that the “viral cycle time” (or the time that it takes for a viewer to see the content, then decide to share it) needs to be less than 1–2 days. Why is this important? Because for the your content to truly make waves, you need to hit the ground running and take advantage of every bit of momementum. One great example in 2013 was the launch of Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” initiative.

With the video serving as the anchor for the campaign, Dove worked the media circuit, discussing the campaign with media outlets prior to launch, including viral content masters Mashable and HuffPo. Dove also promoted the #wearebeautiful hashtag, and created a web landing page. The campaign went on to become the most viral campaign of the year, and the most viral video of all time. Take a page from Dove’s book, and focus on rolling out your content using other tools in your marketing mix (especially traditional and earned media placements).

Further Reading

Garrett, C. (2009). How to create headlines that go viral with social media. Social Media Examiner. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Libert, K. (2013). The secret recipe for viral content marketing success. The Moz Blog. [Web log message] Retrieved from

Libert, K., & Tynski, K. (2013). Research: The emotions that make marketing campaigns go viral. Harvard Business Review Blog. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Stampler, L. (2013). How Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ became the most viral video ad of all time. Business Insider. Retrieved from

Toure, M. (2013). Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ is viral campaign of the year. Advertising Age Digital Edition. Retrieved from

Zarella, D. (2013). Viral math: R-naught and Zarrella’s hierarchy of contagiousness. [Web log message]. Retrieved from



pepsi and coke Facebook and twitter page screenshots

The “Pepsi Challenge” was my childhood introduction to one of the most fundamental questions of all time…Coke or Pepsi? The two soda companies have one of the most legendary and long-lasting rivalries in American history. It’s no surprise to see them taking their battle into the social media ring.

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Bite-sized blogging

Would you describe yourself as a busy person? Let’s pretend that you’re tasked with taking on a new assignment every week. You can choose between two tasks: one that takes three hours of your free time (roughly 20 minutes a day), or one that takes about seven hours. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to save those four hours for some quality TV time and tackle the three hour task instead!

When it comes to blogging effectively, you have a choice. Let’s face it—not everyone is passionate about banging out 800 well-written words regularly. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then microblogging might be a much better fit for your personal style. Microblogging allows you to post regular content updates, respond to comments, and interact with other users (as long as you stay “bite-sized” at about 140 characters or less). Rather than managing a full web presence with a domain and site design like you would with a traditional blog, microbloggers use a service (like Twitter, but there are others) and manage a basic user profile. While on a regular blog you may struggle to hit readership in the double digits, a microblogging platform will give you much broader reach more quickly. On Twitter, for example, there is a huge community of people constantly seeking original content created by other users that they can interact with.

If you decide to microblog, The Tao of Twitter has a handful of best practices that can help you to effectively use Twitter in just 20 minutes a day.

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Top 3 Challenges Creatives Face When Using Social Media

To date, I have discussed some of the tools that you can use to incorporate social media into your personal brand. Now, I’m going to take a few minutes to discuss what I consider to be the top challenges that creatives face when using social media.

The problem: Complicated “Terms of Service” agreements

Let’s start with the biggie—there’s an inherent risk with sharing your work using social media, especially via a third-party platform like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, or similar. Each of these sites requires you to accept a lengthy of “terms of service” agreement. Buried in paragraphs of legalese, they will describe the rights that they have over the content that you post to their site. At best, they will state that they can use your work to promote their platform. At worst, once you share your content, it becomes part of the public space. There can even be a clause that states that they can change the terms of service at any time.

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Creative pros need social media too!

social media icons on a rainbow of chalk

If you’re a design professional, you’re probably familiar with how social media is driving change in our industry. As print budgets continue to shrink, our clients are looking to social media to increase the reach and effectiveness of their products. From websites to online marketing materials, infographics, and more, we are designing the content shared on social media. Unfortunately, even though we spend hours and hours creating content for our clients, we often fail to manage our own professional presence online.

According to The Creative Group, companies aren’t just investing more dollars into social media marketing—they’re looking to hire designers with experience and expertise in this area to lead social-centric marketing campaigns. It’s not enough to have an online portfolio of work you have done for other campaigns. You need to show that you’re savvy with social by managing your presence on both personal and professional platforms.

Get started with these 5 simple steps:

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Three social media tools to make your posts pop

Facebook. Twitter. Google+. Pinterest. Instagram. Tumblr. What do all of these platforms have in common? They all feature a stream of content updates dominated by images. According to March 2014 research published on eMarketer, photos accounted for 75% of content posted by Facebook pages worldwide, with a whopping 87% interaction rate from fans. For comparison, no other post type received more than a 4% interaction rate.

Whether you are using social media to connect with friends or your consumers, your audience is over 20x more likely to engage if you include an image. Think about the images that catch your attention when you scroll through your latest updates. How many of those images are bland stock illustrations? How many photos are poorly lit or out of focus? As a graphic designer, I can promise you that a bad image is never going to effectively promote great content. How much more would your audience engage if your content featured a powerful visual?

Take your presence from uninspired to click-worthy with these top tools for creating and sharing visuals on social media (no design experience required).



infogram screenshot

PicMonkey is an intuitive cloud-based photo editing tool with integrated sharing features. Described as “ridiculously easy to use”, this agile application is the key to creating highly shareable images. PicMonkey’s tool panel is extensive, featuring:

  • Basic tools for beginners: crop, image adjustments, adding text, and collage
  • Advanced tools for more experienced users:  blemish remover, airbrush, clone, dodge, burn, and lighting effects
  • Special effects tools: filters, stickers, textures, and frames

If you feel a bit lost, the PicMonkey blog offers video tutorials available to guide and inspire. I have a suite of professional photo editing software on my computer that costs hundreds of dollars, but I still find myself using PicMonkey for a quick edit and share on social media.

infogram screenshot

I probably don’t need to tell you that infographics have taken social media by storm. Don’t believe me? Then check out this, this, this, this, and this. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

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