Digital marketing: 3 ways to go viral on social media – in a good way

InsightFeatures Wed 22nd Mar 2023 by Katrina Bell

Digital marketing: 3 ways to go viral on social media – in a good way

Digital marketing: 3 ways to go viral on social media – in a good way

Feature by Katrina Bell | Wed 22nd Mar 2023

Katrina founded boutique digital agency Aardvark Multimedia in 2003, and has been a B2B journalist for over 25 years. She was the author of the Web Dr column for Essential Kitchen & Bathroom Business magazine focussing on online marketing strategies for KBB businesses. More

Lighting the social media touch paper can do wonders for your business's profile, but it's not so easy to achieve. Katrina Bell reveals 3 ways to go viral – and one way you definitely shouldn't.

Having a post go viral is a mix of psychology, timing, persistence and a whole chunk of luck. Any marketer will tell you that panning for social media gold doesn’t guarantee success, although there are ways to increase your chances of a big splash. Even if there isn’t an immediate tangible return on investment, a boost in name-recognition can have longer-term results.  

The Digital Marketing Institute pegs 250,000 as the minimum views to constitute a mildly viral hit, while one million is the medium viral mark. This doesn’t account for where it goes viral of course. Being the hottest property in Malaysia is great, but only if that is part of your customer base. 

And remember, online history is packed full of horror stories of brands becoming Internet-famous for the wrong reasons...

1. Get emotional
Most viral posts create an personal connection. Take the experience of US cinema chain AMC. The Nicole Kidman-led ad campaign had a shaky start in September 2021 when it seemed to have hit every cringe button possible. After a while, it went from naff to inspirational, became a meme all of its own and birthed an ever-growing, ad hoc appreciation for its message of lush movie nostalgia. 

The same success story plays out every Christmas, as audiences pour over the supermarket’s annual effort to hit the seasonal jackpot, the winner always being the one that captures a spirit rather than tries to sell it. Your job is to find that emotional button for your brand. 

2. Be more relevant
Keep a canny eye on the headlines and the social weather so you spot an incoming opportunity. If it’s trending already or there is a wave of participation trends, you may have the ingredients on hand to take part. Bandwagons can sometimes turn into Hell Rides, but if it is already a trending topic it is probably safe to get involved.

You could also consider how you can be useful – that often means you are shareable. Social media is over-saturated with loopy life hacks, very few of which are either novel or helpful. Your experience might have a morsel worthy of sharing. 

3. Don’t try to sell anything
It’s a big ask and there are no guarantees. M&S’s March 2023 lingerie ad campaign suffered a constant barrage of snark on TikTok in particular, mostly surrounding the issue of how the model could afford to walk around in her undies and must have a massive heating bill. But the underlying problem with the ad was that it was an ad – not that it didn’t hit right during a cost-of-living crisis. A blatant money grab that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth of social media app users is viewed as a lack of authenticity, and is often the reason a marketing effort turns sour.

Contrast M&S’s heavy-handed, throwback attempt with campaigns that fail to sell anything, but still capture the moment and resonate in a positive way. Who can forget the early-lockdown videos of Wellington the Penguin taking a turn around the Shedd Aquarium while the world stayed at home? Millions of views and likes later, it stands out mostly because there was nothing on sale. Wellington and his friends are still on their adventures thanks to one zero-cost idea. 

The final big no-no
Do not automate anything! Walkers crisps learned this lesson the hard way when Gary Lineker held up a selfie frame in their TV ad and said: “Thanks for joining the Walkers Wave and celebrating the UEFA Champions League Final.” People cannot resist throwing digital spanners in the works and even beloved brands like Walkers won’t get a free pass. The bot was designed to put your face in front of the presenter in a picture frame. Taste didn’t enter anyone’s minds, hence the insertion of notorious well-known names, the least offensive of which was Stalin.

Tags: insight, features, digital marketing, social media viral, kitchens

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