“Going viral” has been a saying for so long, it's almost a joke by now. But the fact is that for brands, there really is a lot of value to be had if a piece of your content ends up going viral.
Virality revolves around social sharing, and it's a goal — direct or indirect — for many companies' content marketing strategies.
And it's one of those things you can't really predict with any genuine accuracy.
Can you intentionally design content so that it has maximum viral potential?
If you're a huge global corporation, you can also pay for some astroturfing to try to give your content the little initial boost it needs to take off and go viral.
But even though most viral content ultimately comes from massive companies with astronomical marketing budgets, it can happen for small brands, too.
These five companies experienced a massive surge in brand awareness, along with the sales and profits that come with it, after going viral.
1. ALSA (The Ice Bucket Challenge)
In 2014, the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association launched one of the most successful viral campaigns of all time. Justin Bieber, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates were a handful of the celebrities who took the challenge and dumped buckets of ice over their heads to raise funds and awareness for ALS research.
By the time the videos had stopped filling newsfeeds around the world, the campaign had raised more than $220 million for ALS organizations worldwide. Awareness of the disease rose and it reached the fifth most popular Google search for all of 2014.
In 2015, a year after the the ice bucket challenge went viral, money from the campaign was said to fund research that identified a new gene, NEK1, that contributes to the disease.
Viral Best Practice: They Looked Outside Their Target Audience
2. Metro Trains Melbourne (Dumb Ways to Die)
Are you already humming that catchy little song in your head? You're welcome for that all day.
Melbourne's metro system didn't have a safety campaign in market before “Dumb Ways to Die” (DWTD). They had information at stations, but nothing that was really influencing safe behavior or showing that the company cared, so they brought agency McCann Melbourne on to help.
Metro Trains' Chloe Alsop explained, “We kept coming back to the same thing: it's really hard to get hit by a train. A wrong or careless behaviour is required.” Without a serious tone or tugging at heartstrings, an impactful, memorable, and shareable campaign was built.
By April 2014, the campaign had been viewed 77 million times on YouTube. The accompanying game became the No. 1 free app in 101 countries, and in six weeks, DWTD had garnered an estimated $60 million in earned media. The most important stat that came out of the campaign? A 21% reduction in railway accidents and near misses following the campaign.
Viral Best Practice: Launch Outside Your Target Market to Build Buzz
3. Niantic Inc. (Pokemon Go)
Are you still recovering? Is it still too fresh to talk about?
Niantic Inc. was as surprised as you likely were when Pokemon Go became a global obsession. The company had prepared their server load for game launch with a ‘worst case' estimate of five times the normal volume.
What they got was an astounding 50 times the expected traffic — within 24 hours of the game's launch. But frustrated players and downed servers eventually gave way to 2016's hottest trend.
Viral Best Practice: Focus on Quality and Innovation
4. Cards Against Humanity
You know it, you love it, and you're embarrassed by it when your mom asks what it is. Your answer is invariably, “It's like Apples to Apples … but different.”
This self-proclaimed “party game for horrible people” did not come from some hip Silicon Valley incubator. Instead, it was the brainchild of eight friends who'd known each other since grade school in their hometown of Chicago. They had no major outside investment, unless you count their one small crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, and it took them a while to even have a business address. “Our main priority is to be funny — and to have people like us,” says game co-creator Max Temkin.
Viral Best Practice: Know Your Brand Voice (and Stand By It)
5. Dollar Shave Club
At this point, Dollar Shave Club‘s (DSC) inaugural video is legendary. My first reaction to a shaving subscription service was, “huh?” But with a single video, DSC flawlessly spoke to shaver pain points, poked fun at themselves, and announced to the world that they were ready to shake up a previously forgettable industry
Co-founder Michael Dubin wrote the video, starred in it, and had a friend shoot it in a single day for less than $4,500. It crashed the company's servers 90 minutes after it went live and catapulted the company to become the second-largest men's razor seller in America.
Viral Best Practice: Don't Be Afraid to Poke Fun at Yourself
Seeing a pattern here? These brands took some risks and made some bold moves in order for this to happen. Going viral might mean shooting for a demographic that's not in your target audience, or it might mean sticking by a controversial brand image.
Either way, the benefits of virality are very real. With some creativity, cleverness, and savvy marketing, it could happen for you, too.
You can find 7 more examples over at HubSpot.
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