All marketing teams create content hoping that their message will spread like wildfire across every consumer touchpoint. Viral marketing is the name given to promotional methods that naturally explode through word of mouth and digital buzz.

Viral marketing naturally generates interest through valuable, entertaining material that spreads like a virus throughout the internet. Just like a virus, viral marketing spreads from person to person and from channel to channel, earning attention at incredible speed.

Because they’re designed for sharing, social networks are the typical habitat for viral marketing. For instance, an inspiring video may appear on YouTube; then followers will share that video across Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

The fundamentals of viral marketing

Viral marketing takes a customer-centric approach to promotion. Though there’s no concrete formula for creating content that goes viral, the best campaigns are those that understand:

  • What people want to see
  • Why people share content
  • How customers share content

Viral marketing depends on content’s ability to align with the needs of a specific audience and inspire them to share. Most viral campaigns are defined by their:

  • Utility: People typically share content that they see as valuable or useful to themselves and others. Content that includes useful information previously untouched by other companies will always get more attention than generic material.
  • Emotional impact: Messages that arouse emotions among a specific audience cultivates sharing. However, to go viral, most campaigns need to build an emotional connection quickly. A viral campaign may inspire both positive and negative emotions.
  • Scalability: Viral content needs to spread quickly and naturally. Including social sharing buttons on blogs and encouraging people to share, retweet or post content on their own social feeds is often helpful.

Businesses can track the viral nature of content through analytical and social media tools like Sprout Social.

Benefits of viral marketing

Viral marketing is a fast and effective way to generate attention and engagement online. The benefits include:

  • Exceptional reach: Through word of mouth, viral content reaches customers and markets that your campaigns would never have touched by themselves.
  • Natural approach: Your customers share viral content with friends and family because they want to offer up useful information or connect over an emotional experience. Viral marketing grows naturally and isn’t invasive or annoying to your audience.
  • Low-cost ROI: Because viral marketing’s impact expands organically, businesses don’t need to invest much in promoting their content. With minimal initial cost, viral marketing generates enormous results.
  • Brand building: Viral content gets people talking about a business, and the impact lasts months or years after the original campaign.

Importantly, the quick-spreading nature of viral content can be a double-edged sword. It’s possible that some messages will go viral for the wrong reasons. When that happens, it’s difficult to protect your brand reputation. The key to successful viral content is carefully sharing material that’s designed to cater to your target audience.