Viral Marketing Initiatives

There is no recipe for success when it comes to viral marketing, but there are several factors which can contribute to a campaign’s success.

Li and Bernoff (2011) suggest that social media has contributed to the explosion of viral marketing because it “has enabled people to connect with each other instantaneously on a global basis” (p. 11). While no message is guaranteed to go viral, there are some things marketers can do to increase the chances:

  • 176565026targetaudienceA key factor in creating a successful campaign is to know who your audience is and what interests them.  You can then craft a message that will resonate with them.
  • Content2Create great content that your audience will find interesting enough to pass along.
  • 163539702loudspeakerGenerate awareness. The only way people are going to notice your message is if you promote it. Feature it on your website, post it on YouTube, submit it to social aggregator sites such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon, and cross promote it on social channels like  Facebook,  Twitter, and Google+.
  • Make it easy to share. Add RSS feeds and social buttons to your website and blog.  A popular sharing widget is AddThis which offers free social buttons, follow buttons, and recommended content.  You can also try a viral plug-in such as the ViralURL WordPress plugin which displays hidden content once shared. Another way to promote sharing is to encourage viewers to “like” the content and comment on it. Likes display on newsfeeds thus increasing visibility. Facebook Badges can also be used to share photos, profiles, and likes (Baruch, 2013).


What prompts us to share content? We have an inherent need to connect with each other and share information. Certain content characteristics can increase the likelihood of sharing and the potential for a message to go viral. Below are five of these characteristics:

1The content is entertaining and fun. An example of this is The Gangnam Style video where Korean pop star Psy dances with celebrities to hypnotic music. The video has reached 1,828,880,477 views since being posted on July 15, 2012.  Psy had a following before the initial posting which helped spread the message.  Also, featuring popular entertainers attracted media attention. The video was reviewed by Gawker and Billboard which resulted in a high number of Facebook shares and likes and drove traffic to Youtube. This exposure led to appearances on the MTV music awards, the Today Show, and Ellen. Celebrity tweets continued the momentum leading to further searches, likes and tweets. (Edwards, 2012, n.p.).

2The message appeals to loyal fans who are passionate about the subject (Scott, 2008). Take for example, how Universal Orlando introduced the new attraction Wizarding World of Harry Potter at their Islands of Adventure Theme Park. Instead of spending millions on advertising, Cindy Gordon, the VP of Media Marketing at Universal relied on Harry Potter enthusiasts to spread the message. Gordon and her team told a small group of socially connected fans and invited them to participate in a webcast held at midnight on May 31, 2007.  Following the webcast, a microsite was launched and an email was deployed. The campaign spread to 350,000,000 people!


3The subject is amazing, thrilling, and has never been done before. RedBull’s Stratos Jump involved Felix Baumgartner, an extreme sports athlete, who jumped out of a capsule 128,000 feet above Earth, reaching speeds of over 800 miles per hour. Baumgartner broke the world record for the longest free fall jump. Approximately 8 million people watched the jump live, and the YouTube video has been viewed over 30 million times. The jump was also broadcast on 40+ TV stations. The Facebook photo received over 210,000 likes, 10,000 comments, 29,000+ shares, and it was trending on Twitter worldwide (Sprung, 2012, n.p.).

4Another characteristic of viral messages is that the subject makes a statement that the audience identifies with, reinforces their views, and appeals to their sense of justice. An example is the Kony documentary created by Invisible Children about the need to capture and prosecute the Ugandan Warlord Joseph Kony for kidnapping children, abusing them, and forcing them to participate in his resistance army (Astle, 2010, n.p.). Since its posting on Youtube in March of 2010, the 30 minute film has been viewed 98,667,083 times, has 1,397,788 likes, and 263,965 subscribes. Celebrities including Oprah, Taylor Swift, P. Diddy, and Alec Baldwin spread the message over their social networks which led to a dramatic increase in Youtube views, Facebook likes and Twitter followers. By spreading the message, people felt empowered by participating in a cause (Choney, 2012, n.p.).

5The subject is cute. Who can resist watching something that provides a light moment in our otherwise hectic, stressful lives? The Surprised Kitty Video posted on Youtube resonated with animal lovers everywhere with over 72 million views, 300,000+ likes, 13,000 subscribers, and over 66,000 comments!

Can you identify other reasons why people share content?


Astle, R. (2012, Mar 10). Kony 2012, viral videos, and documentary ethics. Retrieved from

Baruch, Y. (2013). Viral marketing and widgets [pdf]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Website:

Choney, S. (2012, Mar 8). How a 30 minute documentary protesting an African world went viral. Retrieved from

Edwards, L. (2012, Nov 7). How did Gangnam Style go viral? Retrieved from

Fame Foundry (2011, Mar 3). The Anatomy of Viral Marketing. Retrieved from

Hepburn, A. (2011, Dec 5). Infographic: How content goes viral. Retrieved from

Scott, D. (2009). World wide rave. (p. 8- 11). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Sprung, R. (2012, Dec 17). 10 of the most memorable marketing campaigns of 2012.  Retrieved from

This entry was posted in content marketing, Internet Marketing, Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Viral Marketing, Viral Videos and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Viral Marketing Initiatives

  1. Sharon VanDell says:

    Very interesting and helpful Judy! You did a lot of research!

  2. jonnymaggs says:

    These are all excellent ways for a marketing campaign to go viral and as you pointed out, there are plenty of examples that support your case. My personal favorite, and different people will have different feelings on them, it the first video which is funny, and would probably fall into category one that you post about entertaining and fun. My blog was around that same campaign in some ways of how Old Spice really made something plain and simple such as body wash / deodorant and made it comedic. Not only does it take creativity, but it takes a big leap of faith that it will work, which can be said about most of these campaigns. Great work!

  3. Ayham says:

    Very Interesting Judy, I think because humor is a social nature, people tend to spread and engage with funny stuff than anything else, I really like the surprised kitty video, there is nothing about it but Humor, so sometimes Humor attribute is enough to make the content to go viral, concerning banding and marketing, it is important to know what your audience considered as funny and how far you can with it. However there is no exception when it comes to using humor to encourage them to spread and share the video that make them feel happy. Do you think Judy that sad stories or depressing content would have the same effect? Or Humor as a characteristic is not enough to drag such attention?

    • JA Silva says:

      Thank you Ayham for taking the time to read my blog. Yes, humor is a characteristic that is common to messages going viral. I think that somber messages that make us stop and think and or confirm our beliefs and senses of justice can also can go viral. Other factors also come into play when a message goes viral. The content must be interesting enough that people want to share it, the messages must be promoted, and it must be easy to share.

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