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Ten Viral Marketing Best Practices

A colleague of mine recently asked me if I had a list of viral marketing best practices.
I guess I do – in my head – so it’s about time I jotted them down to share with others. And before I forget.

If you’re plotting the next Subservient Chicken or Liberal Leadership on eBay, here are 10 best practices to keep in mind:

  1. First and foremost, think high concept: The viral ‘thing,’ whatever shape or form it takes, has to be highly provocative in some way. This, of course, is easier said than done, otherwise we’d all be drowning in these things. (And thank God we’re not.)
  2. Work backwards from the headline: Think about what the headline of the blog entry – or the subject line of the email – about your viral marketing concept would be. Hint: if it won’t make a concise headline or subject line, then it probably won’t make a good viral marketing concept.
  3. Keep it simple: You have to hook people fast, so don’t overburden your concept with too many elements or distractions. (Yes, sometimes you can be TOO clever.) Your concept should be able to work when plugged into the following fill-in-the-blank sentence, "Hey, did you hear _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____?" For instance, "Hey, did you hear that Canadian Websites now need to be licensed?"
  4. Humour Sells: Nothing says viral better than a good belly laugh. If you can have people laughing in their cubicles (admittedly not an easy task, even for comedy writing experts), you are well on your way to viral fame.
  5. Sex Sells: But that’s way too easy and probably not appropriate for what you, sophisticated Internet marketer, are trying to promote. Leave the ‘naughty hotties in a hot tub’ concept for the beer company ad agencies.
  6. Big Names Sell: A viral marketing concept that leverages a well-known person, place, or thing may work better because less explanation is required to understand what the concept is about, and the association with the known entity will strike a common chord with many people. Get legal advice before you use a Big Name, though. Or not, depending on your appetite for lawsuits.
  7. Topicality Sells: A viral marketing concept that is ‘torn from today’s headlines’ can have a leg up over the competition. Since everyone is already talking about the topic in the first place, the communication pump is already primed. The trick here is that it can sometimes take a while to come up with a killer concept, and by then it may no longer be a topical subject.
  8. Don’t Try Too Hard: If you ask, or beg, for viral pass-along status, chances are people will see right through you. A really compelling viral concept will stand on its own and people will want to share it with others without being prodded by the folks behind it.
  9. Reality Sells: People are overwhelmed and usually unimpressed by what they perceive to be ‘corporate’ advertising; what often works best in the viral space is unvarnished content by real people, or at least made to look that way.
  10. Mystery Sells: Everyone loves a good mystery, so a viral marketing concept that keeps people guessing will only contribute to the buzz factor. At some point in time, however, there must be a payoff, otherwise you’ll really piss people off. Unless that’s the point in the first place.

Off you go. Have fun. I’m going to watch the Honda "Cog" commercial again…

One Comment

  1. Videopreneur AdrianLee
    Videopreneur AdrianLee August 14, 2007

    I strongly agree with point number 8 – A really compelling viral concept will stand on its own and people will want to share it with others without being prodded by the folks behind it.

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