Expanding Quality Conversations : A Look at Viral Marketing

What makes things go viral? Why do some videos get 10 million views while others don’t? Why do certain products get talked about more often than their competitors? How can a picture get shared to over hundreds of media channels? What is it about a silly dance step that makes it so appealing?

Wharton Marketing Professor Jonah Berger set out to answer these questions. According to Berger, viral marketing is not about luck, it’s also not random, and most definitely not about cats. “There’s a science behind it. We have to understand the psychology and the social transmission process.”

What Makes People Talk and Share

A study by Harvard psychologists found out the reason why we share – it’s the mesolimbic dopamine system. The study stated that the area of the brain responsible for producing the ‘pleasure chemical’ is activated when we talk about ourselves.

This explains why humans devote 30-40% to express and inform others of their own subjective experiences. No wonder majority of social media output today are vanity – your bad customer service experience, the best apple pie you ever tasted, your boring office environment, the enlightenment you got from a polar bear, and you and you and more about you.

So what lesson do marketers get from this scientific approach? It’s simple: Connect with your target audience. People will most likely share news, information, videos, and stories if they can relate to it. Study your target market and find out what topics they want to read and learn more about. Your company or organization should use technologies effectively to get to your market.

This approach is easier said than done. So let’s take a look at three strong pointers that can lead your content to marketing nirvana.

Talk about what’s Current

Marketing Professor Jonah Berger used the term “social currency” when talking about viral marketing. He explains that social currency “is the idea that people share things that make them look good. We talk about the time we got upgraded to first class, or forward a funny video, because it makes us look smart and in-the-know.”

People always want to be the first to know. If you make the audience think they are all “insiders” to something cooking, they will feel they are more informed than everyone else, and they like that. The more you get that desired impression from your audience, the bigger the chances of your content being shared.

Brands that transform their products into content and their content into social currency will succeed.

To do this, you have to always be on the lookout for the freshest, and most interesting information out there. From the buzz about Google glasses to the Pope’s recent shopping cart or Lindsay Lohan’s recent hang-over to the UNICEF’s relief efforts – you have got to be in there! Of course, not every bit of information is relevant to your business or to your target market. So what should you do? Read more about your industry, your business, and your niche. When you present topics and trends that are valuable to your readers, you give them a reason to value you.

Appeal to People’s Emotions

Content that evokes emotions often goes viral. In one of Berger’s papers, he states that the sharing of stories or information may be driven in part by emotional responses. He suggests that feeling fearful, angry, or amused drives people to share news and information.

“If something makes you angry as opposed to sad, for example, you’re more likely to share it with your family and friends because you’re fired up,” explains Berger.

Create content that draws emotion from your readers – appeal to their desires to spend more time with loved ones, be a part of a movement, get the upper hand in business, be the first to know information, grab the best deals, or keep up with Taylor Swift’s love life. Write articles, create infographics, and produce videos and webinars that tap emotions related to success, anxiety, fear, accomplishment, competition, security, and more.

Offer a Practical Value

Watch this video of an 86-year-old talking about the most mundane task ever – corn. How did Ken Craig’s video become a huge hit? He offered a solution to a problem millions of people encounter in their normal lives.

As a marketer, you might find yourself lying in bed thinking of the most clever, creative, and original way you can get your brands out there. The video you just watched proves that you don’t have to have the most brilliant idea to be viral – you just need to be practical!

You might be surprised how clueless people can be. A quick look through Yahoo! Answers will prove it. People ask questions about the simplest things with the most obvious answers. Use this to your advantage. As a business, company, or organization, you need to think of the following:

  • How can I make people’s lives easier?
  • What solutions can I give to my target audience’s problems?
  • Why are my services/products relevant to the people I am offering them to?

Answer these questions as truthfully as you can, then evaluate your content strategies. If all you do is promote yourself, people might stop listening and caring. If that happens, then you’re out of the game!

Knowing these facts about viral marketing helps you assess your business’ marketing efforts. Understanding how your market behaves and knowing the things that are important to them, then using these to leverage your marketing strategies, are your tickets to effective viral marketing.

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